Eagles Left Winging It
Team Will Close Season With a Number of Replacement Parts

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 30, 2005

PHILADELPHIA -- From Donovan McNabb to Mike McMahon, from Brian Westbrook to Ryan Moats, from Terrell Owens to Reggie Brown, the Philadelphia Eagles just aren't what they used to be. What once was a "Who's Who" offensive lineup has been reduced to a "Who's That?" version.

Eagles players vowed this week to give everything they have Sunday against the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field in an effort to knock their division rival out of the NFC playoff race and end their own miserable season on a winning note. But everything that these Eagles have given simply has not amounted to very much lately.

"I'm not trying to make excuses," kicker David Akers said as he looked around the team's locker room. "But when you have so many quality players who are hurt who were used to playing with each other year after year and you replace them with players who are young and aren't used to playing with each other, your likelihood of winning is going to go down."

The Eagles began the season with four straight NFC East titles and with McNabb at quarterback, Westbrook at tailback and Owens at one wide receiver spot. That offensive triumvirate rivaled the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison as the league's most fearsome. But the Eagles will finish the season in last place and with McMahon at quarterback, Moats as the primary ballcarrier and Brown starting at the wideout spot opposite Greg Lewis. It has made for a plodding, error-prone offense.

"Anytime you have a rookie player or a young guy in a new offense, they're going to make mistakes," veteran safety Brian Dawkins said. "As they get older, those mistakes tend to not happen as much. But when you have a whole bunch of young guys in there at the same time, mistakes are going to be made. . . . You kind of have to deal with it because you know that's going to happen."

After McNabb underwent season-ending surgery for a sports hernia, Coach Andy Reid went with McMahon, a former part-time starter in Detroit who had signed with the Eagles as a free agent in the offseason, at quarterback instead of McNabb's longtime backup, Koy Detmer. Reid likes McMahon's athleticism. But, like the Lions before them, the Eagles have found that McMahon lacks instincts for the game and isn't much of a passer. He has completed only 44 percent of his throws this season, and he's had as many interceptions returned for touchdowns (three) as touchdown passes.

"It's been rough," the fifth-year pro said this week. "Things don't always go the way you want them to go. It's not always the ideal situation that you'd like to be in. But you're out there. You're fighting. You want to play. You want to be successful."

The Eagles managed only 189 yards on offense in last weekend's 27-21 loss at Arizona. They trailed the lowly Cardinals 27-7 before McMahon threw for one touchdown and ran for another in the game's final 10 1/2 minutes. Still, Reid stuck with McMahon as the starter this week, perhaps wanting to give him one last chance to prove he deserves to remain with the team next season. Reid says his depleted team hasn't given up; it just can't seem to function smoothly on game days.

"I think the guys have prepared well," Reid said. "They've had a good attitude out at practice. [But] we've had too many mistakes in the games."

Moats and Brown are among four Eagles rookies who started against the Cardinals, along with defensive linemen Mike Patterson and Trent Cole. A fifth, Todd Herremans, had taken over recently at left tackle for the injured Tra Thomas but then suffered a season-ending injury of his own. Rookie linebacker Matt McCoy might be worked into the playing rotation Sunday.

The starting offensive line includes two guards, Shawn Andrews and Adrien Clarke, and a center, Jamaal Jackson, who combined had one game of NFL experience entering this season. Only Andrews, a first-round draft choice last year who missed almost all of his rookie season after suffering a broken leg in the opening game, was originally slated to be a starter this season.

Brown, a second-round draft pick in April from the University of Georgia, became a starter under the most difficult circumstances of all, being inserted into Owens's spot in the lineup after the Eagles first suspended the controversial receiver, then deactivated him for the remainder of the season. The Eagles still were hoping to turn around their season when Brown took over for Owens, and the spotlight on him was bright.

"I really tried not to worry myself about it," he said. "I just tried to go out there and do what I can do and play up to my standards, and not try to play up to anybody else's standards or try to imitate anyone else."

Brown had a 56-yard touchdown reception against the Redskins in the teams' Nov. 6 meeting en route to a five-catch, 94-yard performance in the Eagles' loss in their first game without Owens. But he had a costly drop in the closing moments of a Nov. 14 defeat at home to the Dallas Cowboys in a Monday night game that might have been the Eagles' last chance at salvaging their season. He said this week that his rookie-year performance has been "mediocre at best."

"I just felt like I left a lot of plays on the field that should have been made in crucial situations. I'm going to judge it from that point of view," said Brown, who has 36 catches for 494 yards and two touchdowns. "It should have been better, a lot better."

Even so, he said he's hopeful that the experience the club's rookies have gained will be helpful next season and beyond. Moats, a third-round draft pick out of Louisiana Tech, was limited to 13 rushing yards on nine carries against the Cardinals but ran well in the two games before that, totaling 192 yards on only 23 carries. Dawkins said the Eagles will need some of the young players to develop into reliable contributors by next season if the team is going to return quickly to contender status.

"Even though they had to play, it was still a test for a lot of guys to see who's going to be around here," Dawkins said. "There will be some changes this offseason, but by no means does that mean this is any type of rebuilding thing. That's one thing that you can make . . . crystal clear."

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