The Philadelphia Eagles were feeling just a little bit sorry for themselves after losing tailback Correll Buckhalter for the season Friday night.
"It's hard to lose guys, period,'' quarterback Donovan McNabb said of Buckhalter, who tore his right patellar tendon on the second offensive play in Philadelphia's 26-17 preseason win over Baltimore. "For the last two or three years, I don't think any other team has lost as many guys as we've lost in the preseason. To lose a guy like Buck, who's been working extremely hard in the offseason and came to camp ready to go and was having a great training camp, for him to go down with an injury like this is tough. It's hard for us to swallow right now, and it's probably going to be hard for a while to kind of get over it.
" . . . You go through these minicamps. You go through training camp. You go through an offseason of working well together and getting that chemistry. Then when an injury happens, now a person that you haven't worked with as much has to step in and you're kind of starting over.''
Brian Westbrook, Duce Staley and Buckhalter shared the duties at tailback last season, combining to rush for 1,618 yards and 20 touchdowns on 339 carries. But Staley left as a free agent in the offseason and the team passed up chances to fortify the position. The Eagles traded up in the first-round draft order in April but selected Arkansas offensive lineman Shawn Andrews instead of Oregon State tailback Steven Jackson, and didn't sign veteran tailback Eddie George -- a Philadelphia native -- after he was released by the Tennessee Titans in July.
The team was content to go with Westbrook and Buckhalter in its Super Bowl-or-bust season. But only three days after defensive end N.D. Kalu was lost for the season after tearing a knee ligament during practice, the Eagles lost Buckhalter when he tried to plant on his right leg on a running play and crumpled to the turf at Lincoln Financial Field without being hit. An MRI exam Saturday confirmed the season-ending injury.
"It's sad to see,'' Eagles Coach Andy Reid said. "Correll came in in great shape. It was kind of crazy. No one really hit him. He just went to plant and the thing went out. But we understand that's going to happen in this sport. The next guy has got to step in and do a good job.''
The Eagles have summoned veteran tailback Dorsey Levens and likely will make his signing official today. Levens, 34, spent last season with the New York Giants after averaging 5.5 yards per carry for the Eagles in 2002 as a replacement for Buckhalter, who missed that season because he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in an April minicamp. Club officials say they like second-year tailback Reno Mahe and rookies Eric McCoo and Thomas Tapeh. (Rookie Bruce Perry, a seventh-round draft pick out of the University of Maryland, already has been lost for the season to a dislocated shoulder.)
But Westbrook, 24, probably will have to carry the load in his third pro season if the Eagles are going to be the team they want to be. A product of DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md., and Villanova University, Westbrook showed flashes of greatness last season when he led the Eagles with 613 rushing yards and scored 13 touchdowns -- seven rushing, four receiving and two on punt returns. But he will have to prove that, at 5 feet 10 and 205 pounds, he has the durability to be the lone featured runner. He missed the playoffs last season because of a torn left triceps.
"It's tough,'' Westbrook said in the locker room late Friday. "Injuries are part of the game, part of what we go through. A good team has to find a way to persevere. Adversity is one of those things that makes us stronger and shows our true character. We'll be fine. . . . I think I'll have to play a little bit more. But at the same time, I think I can handle it. . . . I don't feel any pressure at all. Right now I just feel disappointed for Buck. That's the only thing I feel right now.''
McNabb said he's confident Westbrook can do the job by himself.
"Just buckle your seat belt and get ready to watch him,'' McNabb said. "The guy is an exciting player. When the ball is in his hands, you never know what can happen. He's a big play waiting to happen. He's electrifying. The guy can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can pick up the blitz. He can run the ball between the tackles. He may be small in stature, but the guy has a big heart and he's a guy that you can feel confident in carrying the ball and catching the ball.''
But wide receiver Terrell Owens said the Eagles can't withstand too many more significant injuries.
"It's like there's one every day,'' Owens said. "We've got guys dropping for whatever reason. . . . We've got key guys going down. For us to really have a chance at achieving the goals we'd like to, we need everybody healthy. In order for that to happen, we need key guys on the field.''
The Eagles' first offensive play Friday was quite a bit more effective than the second. The Ravens sent safety Ed Reed on a blitz, and the Eagles made them pay with an 81-yard touchdown pass from McNabb to Owens, who got behind cornerback Gary Baxter.
"Hopefully that's just one of many to come,'' Owens said.
It was great football theater, with Owens victimizing the team he spurned in the offseason and officially introducing himself to Philadelphia fans, who showered him with adulation during training camp practices at Lehigh University.
"The fans are great,'' Owens said. "That's what they came here to see.''
But for the Eagles, it was more important than that. It showed that they perhaps can have the explosive offense they envisioned when they added Owens.
"I think it's important that you try to attack downfield,'' said McNabb, who celebrated the touchdown by immediately drawing the letters "T-O'' in the air with his index finger. "Everyone knows the West Coast offense is pretty much an intermediate passing game, and in most cases they were expecting us to come out and probably run the ball. That's why you see seven and eight [defensive] guys in the box. And what we wanted to do was present them with a play-action and attack them down the field. . . . We do have those [downfield passes] in the game plan. It's just a matter of when we run it. For us to come out and do it on the very first play of the game sends a message that we might go deep on the first play.''
Said Owens: "That was definitely something to really make a statement. This was why they brought me here. This was why I wanted to come here. I wanted to play with [McNabb]. I knew we had some offensive weapons on this side of the ball.''
Owens, being Owens, couldn't resist taking a verbal jab at his former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia, saying he has to get accustomed to running hard the entire way on his deep patterns with McNabb after getting into the habit of slowing down and waiting for the ball during his 49ers tenure.
"I'm a long strider,'' Owens said. "Everybody is going to question my speed, but I know what I can do. I've shown it time and time again. . . . I've learned some things in training camp. I kind of slowed down because I was in that mode, that pattern like in San Fran, I did slow down because there were situations when the ball didn't always get there. But you can't slow down here because he can really put it out there. I learned from that mistake. That's what training camp is all about. I kind of underestimated Donovan's arm there. That's what I'm here for, is to go out and make those plays. I'll take it one step at a time.''
Owens earned early bragging rights in his feud with the Ravens and their leader, middle linebacker Ray Lewis. But Owens said he and Lewis were on friendly terms during the game.
"I didn't get to talk to him prior to the game but we had a little war of words in between plays,'' Owens said. "At one point, we did kind of come together toward the end of the field. I told him I loved him, and he told me back. It was just the media blowing a lot of things out of proportion. From the beginning, I told you that Ray was always my friend. A lot of guys were upset over there. I don't understand. Again, if they were in the same situation, they probably would have done the same thing.''
Owens wasn't as kind to Ravens cornerback Corey Fuller.
"He was just running his mouth,'' Owens said. "He didn't have anything to do with the play. But honestly, I was hoping I had run that route on him. Watching film, I knew he was playing that corner spot. I was like, 'Okay.' I knew over the years, he was one of those mouthy guys. You have to match guys' intensity. For whatever reason, he came from way over on the back side after I scored, the play was over with, and he had to add his little two cents.''
Not everything went smoothly for McNabb and Owens on Friday. Owens didn't have another catch in the game, and he and McNabb were on different wavelengths on a second-quarter play that resulted in an interception by Reed and a Ravens' touchdown. Philadelphia's starting offense amassed 143 yards on two plays -- Owens's catch and a 62-yard catch and run by wide receiver Freddie Mitchell -- and 32 yards on its other 20 first-half plays.
Owens berated himself for the miscommunication with McNabb on the interception, and said: "I'm still in a learning mode. I'm trying to put myself in a situation where if I'm the missing piece, let's be on time with one another.''
But the Eagles at least saw first-hand what McNabb and Owens can accomplish.
"When you have a guy like that, defenses have to pay a lot of attention to him,'' McNabb said. "You know they're going to roll coverages to him and try to take him out of the route. It's going to be incumbent on us to come up with a plan to try to get him in different positions so we can get him some one-on-one coverage or mismatches. But for us to come out that way kind of sends a message to let guys know that we have the ability to go deep now, and we will do it.''
Said Westbrook: "That was exciting to show we can go over the top and make a big play and score a touchdown quick. We definitely have the capability to do that. Now we've got to get better in between.''
Decision Week For Deion?
A source familiar with Deion Sanders's deliberations with the Ravens said over the weekend that he expects Sanders to make a final determination late this week about whether he will return to the NFL and play for Baltimore this season. Sanders intends to intensify his workouts this week at his home in Dallas and wants to play if he's certain that his body can withstand it, the source said.
Peterson to Report to 49ers?
The 49ers hope linebacker Julian Peterson, their franchise player who has been absent from training camp because of unhappiness with his contract situation, will report to the club today. . . . There also is league-wide speculation that disgruntled Green Bay Packers cornerback Mike McKenzie is about to end his holdout and report to the team, which hasn't accommodated his request to be traded. . . .
The Indianapolis Colts expect to know today whether No. 4 wide receiver Troy Walters, who broke his right arm in Saturday's 31-7 loss Saturday to the New York Jets, will have to undergo season-ending surgery. . . . Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey has strained a hamstring in his comeback from June foot surgery, but team officials say the injury isn't serious. . . .
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed veteran defensive tackle Oliver Gibson, a former starter for Cincinnati released recently by Buffalo. . . . The Carolina Panthers have only one member of their offensive line starting in the same spot as last season. Now they also must fret about some injuries. Starting right tackle Matt Willig hurt his knee and starting left guard Tutan Reyes hurt his ankle during Sunday's practice. The Panthers hope to know more today about the extent of both injuries. Reyes's injury initially appeared to be more serious. The team learned Sunday that defensive end Kavika Pittman had torn his ACL Saturday and will be sidelined for the season.
Bears Must Rely on Terrell, Wade
Saturday night's trade that sent top wide receiver Marty Booker and a third-round draft choice next year to the Miami Dolphins for defensive end Adewale Ogunleye leaves the Chicago Bears with David Terrell and Bobby Wade -- who combined for 55 catches last season -- as their starting wide receivers. The key is Terrell, the eighth overall selection in the 2001 draft who has gone in a few months from being in danger of being released to entering the season as Chicago's top receiver.
The Bears had little choice but to complete the deal after word of the tentative trade agreement became public Saturday afternoon. The trade was contingent upon the Bears crafting a new contract with agent Drew Rosenhaus for Ogunleye, the reigning AFC sack champion who had not reported to the Dolphins because of a contract dispute. The Bears and Rosenhaus postponed two deadlines -- one set for 7 p.m. Saturday, the next for 8:30 -- and kept working until they agreed to a six-year, $33.4-million deal that included $15 million in bonus money, including a $10-million signing bonus. The Bears had only 18 sacks last season, only three more than Ogunleye had for Miami. . . .
The Dolphins now have Booker to replace injured wideout David Boston but continue to look for a tailback to replace the retired Ricky Williams. The Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals have inquired about Cleveland's James Jackson, but still are hoping to do better. The Eagles and Minnesota Vikings, who will lose Onterrio Smith to a four-game suspension at the outset of the regular season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, have lost their tailback surpluses. But the Denver Broncos haven't. Former 1,400-yard rusher Mike Anderson ran for 120 yards in Saturday's 19-3 triumph at Seattle, but remains stuck behind starting tailback Quentin Griffin. Denver also has rookie Tatum Bell and veteran Garrison Hearst, making Anderson or Hearst expendable. Travis Minor, Williams's at-least-temporary replacement, has rushed for 15 yards on 13 carries in Miami's two preseason games. . . .
The Jacksonville Jaguars had to make a decision about the status of veteran defensive end Tony Brackens before the season because his $1.025 million salary would have become guaranteed if he had been on the Opening Day roster. The Jaguars released Brackens in March but re-signed him to a more modest contract in June. But Brackens, 29, was unable to earn a roster spot because he was sidelined by a torn calf muscle. He had 55 sacks in eight seasons in Jacksonville. . . . The 49ers hope safety Tony Parrish will be ready for the season despite a torn calf muscle that will keep him sidelined for the rest of the preseason games.