PHILADELPHIA -- Terrell Owens tiptoed toward the line, but he didn't cross it.
When the Philadelphia Eagles, losers of the last three NFC championship games and desperately in need of another impact player on offense, traded for the four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver in March, people around the league wondered how Owens would fit into Coach Andy Reid's spread-the-wealth offense and controversy-free locker room. They couldn't wait to see how Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb would react the first time Owens threw a sideline tantrum or was miffed after a game in which the Eagles won, but Owens didn't have as many catches as he would have liked.
They almost got their wish Sunday when the Eagles beat the Carolina Panthers, 30-8, in a lopsided rematch of last season's NFC title game, but Owens was blanked in the second half after amassing four receptions for 123 yards in the first half.
"It's frustrating because there were times when I was open," Owens said. "But it's going to be like that during the course of a game. You know, Donovan has to do so much. He's trying to get everybody involved. It is frustrating because of how explosive I was during the first half. I obviously would have liked to continue that into the second half. It didn't happen. But I knew we had the lead and we tried to establish to run the ball. It just didn't happen. I've just got to keep focused, and that's what I did. I didn't really get frustrated. I think everybody knows what we can do on offense. As a team, we didn't play like we should have, especially on the offensive side of the ball."
It didn't come across as complaining by Owens, though. It came across as him holding his new offense and his new team to a high standard.
"We tried to take advantage of those opportunities and there were times where I felt we could have taken some more shots, but it didn't happen," Owens said. "I think the most important thing is that we build off of it. We obviously know we can be better. I think for us to be more efficient -- Coach Reid wanted to establish the run and try to keep [the Carolina defense] off balance a little bit. . . . We weren't as aggressive as we would have liked to have been. It's going to be like this sometimes. But I think throughout the course of the year, we've got chances to be better than what we are showing. We just have to come back and take pride in what we are as an offense and better ourselves."
Sunday's game showed what Owens has brought to the Eagles offense. He brings swagger: He spent the week sparring verbally with Panthers cornerback Ricky Manning, who had three interceptions in last season's NFC championship game. He brings explosiveness: He had catches of 53 and 51 yards in the first half to set up a touchdown and a field goal. He brings enthusiasm: He celebrated the first of those catches, which victimized Manning, by raising his arms and exhorting the crowd in a corner of Lincoln Financial Field to cheer even louder.
He also brings a decoy: In the second half, the Panthers went to more zone coverages in their secondary and used a safety to help the cornerback who was covering Owens, according to McNabb and Reid. So the Eagles tried, with only mixed success, to take advantage of the openings created for other players. Reid said he wanted to see his club establish its running game, although the Eagles made little progress in that regard until tailback Brian Westbrook's 42-yard touchdown scamper for the game's final points with slightly more than two minutes remaining. Until then, Westbrook had only 22 rushing yards on 12 carries.
"When you have a guy like that who people have to focus on, knowing that they are going to roll some coverages over to his side, there are going to be some opportunities for other guys to make plays," McNabb said.
The Eagles are 5-0 for the first time since 1981 and have won each of their games by at least 10 points. They are the only unbeaten team in the NFC, and they and the New England Patriots look like the most complete, powerful clubs in the NFL. The Eagles play at Cleveland next weekend, then face the Baltimore Ravens minus suspended tailback Jamal Lewis at home on Halloween before a Nov. 7 game at Pittsburgh. Road tests against the Steelers, New York Giants and St. Louis Rams look like the toughest games the Eagles have left. There has been chatter among their followers since training camp about an undefeated season. It still is unlikely. Teams slip up during the course of a season, even the best ones. But it's not impossible. And, according to Owens, the Eagles have not played their best football yet, especially not on offense.
"I think on offense, we are very frustrated," Owens said. "We didn't do the necessary things we needed to do to balance our offense as far as the runs and passes. We got the win, though. We've just got to move on. We've got to watch the film and be really critical of ourselves. . . . Obviously we rode the back of our defense. Those guys played well and they put us back on the field to make some plays. We just didn't make them.'' . . . One question about the Eagles entering the season was new starting cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, who were taking over for departed veterans Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent. The Eagles quickly have come to trust the two youngsters, however, and Sheppard had two of the club's four interceptions Sunday of Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme. He returned the first of those 64 yards for a touchdown.
"It's a long season and this is just the first part of it," Sheppard said. "We just want to go out and play well and help our team out the best way we can. If earning respect comes with that, then so be it. But as long as we continue to win and play well on defense, we are not really worried about what people think of us.'' . . . Butch Buchanico might have been the most relieved person in the Eagles' locker room that the team won by a comfortable margin Sunday.
Buchanico is a former police officer who spent five years as the chief of security for former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell, now the governor of Pennsylvania, before becoming the Eagles' director of team security.
He was on the sideline Sunday when Eagles rookie J.R. Reed broke into the clear on the game's opening kickoff for a 66-yard return to the Panthers 28-yard line. As Eagles players and coaches excitedly ran behind Reed on the sideline, cheering the return, Buchanico couldn't get out of the way of the official chasing the play along the sideline. The official tumbled to the ground. The Eagles -- or, more precisely, their security director -- were charged with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and the drive culminated with only a field goal by kicker David Akers.
The win, though, left Reid in a joking mood. He had a playful exchange with Buchanico as his postgame news conference began, and when the subject came up later, Reid said: "Enough said. He's back with the governor.'' . . . Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker left Sunday's game because of an irregular heartbeat, according to Carolina Coach John Fox. Rucker also may have experienced an irregular heartbeat last week, said Fox, who indicated he did not have further details. . . .
Delhomme stayed in the game Sunday after getting up slowly following a jarring hit by Eagles defensive end Jevon Kearse that had a whiplash effect on the quarterback's head and neck. Fox said he considered taking Delhomme out of the game but didn't.
"There were discussions about that," Fox said. "We had our medical people look at him and our coaching staff talked to him. From an injury standpoint, we didn't think we were putting him at risk by continuing to play him."
Said Delhomme: "I felt a little woozy for a little while after, but you can't use it as an excuse."
The defending NFC champions are 1-4, and a season that began with a discouraging Monday night defeat at home to the Green Bay Packers -- and the loss of standout wide receiver Steve Smith to a broken leg -- isn't getting any better.
"It's frustration," Delhomme said. "We go out and we work hard in practice. We feel like we're having good practices. I felt the best going into this game that I did all year. I just felt extremely good about what we were going to do out there. But it's just not happening. We're not carrying it over [into games]. I'm one that's not carrying it over. It's hard for me to look around and see who else might not be, when certainly I'm not holding up close to my end of the bargain."
Lewis Not On Board For Appeal
The NFL Players Association decided last week not to appeal the two-game suspension imposed on Jamal Lewis by the league because the Ravens tailback did not support an appeal, according to a source familiar with the deliberations.
Union officials felt there was grounds for an appeal because the league was disciplining Lewis for conduct that occurred before he signed his first NFL contract, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the issue could come up again in future disciplinary matters.
But Lewis's attorneys and the Ravens had been in contact with the league prior to its decision on the suspension and were prepared to live with a two-game suspension, the source said. Lewis's representatives lobbied vigorously behind the scenes against a suspension longer than two games, using the argument that the league didn't have the jurisdiction to punish Lewis for something he did before he signed a contract, according to the source.
Lewis will sit out the Ravens' games against Buffalo at home this weekend and at Philadelphia on Oct. 31. He was suspended two games without pay and fined an additional two game checks -- bringing his total lost income to about $761,000 -- by Commissioner Paul Tagliabue following his guilty plea in federal court in Atlanta in a plea bargain in his drug conspiracy case that resulted from a police operation in the summer of 2000, after Lewis was drafted by the Ravens but before he signed a contract.
Trade Deadline Looming
Wideout Jerry Rice started for the Oakland Raiders in Sunday's 31-3 loss to the Denver Broncos but didn't have a catch for a second straight game and for the third time in six games this season. Quarterback Kerry Collins didn't throw a single pass Rice's way. Rice's disenchantment spilled over last week, when he asked to be traded or released and met with Raiders owner Al Davis.
Some Raiders officials seem increasingly impatient with the distractions created by Rice's now-regular complaints, and it's possible that he will be released or traded this week. The NFL's trading deadline is Tuesday. But agent Jim Steiner denied a report that he had been given permission by the Raiders to seek a trade for Rice, and it apparently also remains possible that Rice could stay in Oakland for the rest of the season.
Detroit and Seattle are being mentioned as possible destinations for Rice. The other team that will be the focus of trade-deadline speculation is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who could unload holdout wide receiver Keenan McCardell or quarterback Brad Johnson. There have been persistent rumblings about McCardell perhaps being sent to Kansas City for disgruntled Chiefs tailback Larry Johnson. . . .
Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon is scheduled to talk to reporters today at length for the first time since he breaking a vertebra in his neck in a game against the Buccaneers last month. Gannon has been examined by a series of specialists and presumably will address the issue of whether he will attempt to resume his career. Gannon, the 2002 NFL most valuable player, turns 39 in December. The Raiders have not yet placed him on the injured reserve list, at least temporarily leaving open the possibility that he could return this season. . . .
Retired Miami Dolphins tailback Ricky Williams and his attorney, David Cornwell, likely will meet with NFL officials Thursday to discuss Williams's playing status. Cornwell apparently is prepared to argue that Williams should be allowed to play this season but the league's stance has been that Williams is ineligible to play this season under provisions of the substance-abuse policy. . . .
The speculation about Coach Dave Wannstedt's job security in Miami is sure to increase now that the Dolphins are the league's only winless team after Sunday's loss at Buffalo. The league's rumor mill was buzzing Sunday night with ongoing speculation that owner Wayne Huizenga could fire Wannstedt during the season and replace him with former Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier. Spurrier and the Dolphins denied a South Florida radio report last week that Huizenga was about to meet with Spurrier about a coaching or consulting job. . . .
Minnesota wide receiver Randy Moss extended his streak of games with at least one touchdown catch to 10 before pulling his right hamstring in the Vikings' win over New Orleans on Sunday night. Moss, who has started all 101 games in his Vikings career, is scheduled to be reevaluated today. The Vikings still rolled up 605 yards of offense with Moss playing only a half.