The Philadelphia Eagles say they won't surrender their NFC East crown without a fight.
The Eagles' locker room was a chatty, lively, upbeat place Wednesday, even with the team in last place and enduring the Terrell Owens controversy. Players said they weren't necessarily happy to see Owens go, with the wide receiver having been banished by the team for the remainder of the season. But they were relieved to have the situation resolved, they said, and they were doing their best to focus solely on trying to reassemble their broken season.
"We're all professionals here -- been there, done that," cornerback Sheldon Brown said. "We have leaders in this locker room. It really doesn't matter. If they brought him back, we'd still have a job at hand to do. . . . We believe we can get it done. We just came off a Super Bowl season, so why wouldn't we think that?"
The Eagles are trying to avoid becoming the fifth straight Super Bowl loser to follow up with a losing season. They'll take a 4-4 record into Monday night's game here against the Dallas Cowboys.
"It's a big game for us," middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. "There's been enough talk. Now we have to go out and do it. It's a home game, a Monday night, and we've got to come out fired up and ready to play. . . . We're at the halfway point. There's a lot of football left. We're 4-4 right now. Obviously we were expecting to be a lot better. But there's nothing you can do about the past. We're just going to move on from here."
The Eagles, who already have lost to the Cowboys once this season, won the NFC East the previous four seasons. Last season, they won the division by seven games. But now they find themselves trailing the New York Giants by two games and the Cowboys and Washington Redskins by a game.
"We're at the bottom of the barrel right now," defensive end Jevon Kearse said. "We expect the Cowboys to come in and try to run the ball right down our throats. We've got to do what we do. . . . It can change with the blink of an eye. We can't worry about what the Giants have going on, what the Redskins have going on. We have to worry about what's ahead of us right now, and that's the Cowboys."
Kearse said it's up to the defense to take charge while the offense finds its way without Owens.
"With No. 81 being out of the lineup, we feel like we need to take it upon ourselves as a defense to get more turnovers and play better so we can get our offense back together and get them used to playing together," Kearse said. "Now there's going to be a new person in the lineup, so we need to keep them on the field as much as possible to get them used to playing together in a game atmosphere and give them more chances to score touchdowns."
The Eagles, minus Owens, managed only 10 points in Sunday night's loss to the Redskins at FedEx Field. But they were pleased with the play of rookie Reggie Brown, who replaced Owens in the lineup at the wide receiver spot opposite Greg Lewis, and they remember that they won two NFC playoff games last season while Owens was hurt.
"We just have to make the plays that present themselves," Lewis said. "We don't have to try to do anything out-of-body or extraordinary."
The Eagles find themselves in the unfamiliar position of being the chaser rather than the chased. They say they don't mind.
"This week we're going to be the underdogs," Brown said, "and I think it will be in our favor."
Said Trotter: "You've got to make your breaks. Sometimes you get bad breaks, but for the most part you've got to make your own breaks. . . . I'm tired of talking about [the Owens situation]. There's no closure if you keep talking about it, right?"
Reid, McNabb Have Locker-Room Support
Reid and McNabb are scheduled to address reporters today. Brown and others took up for both Wednesday.
"Donovan is a great guy," Brown said. "We all believe in his abilities and we've seen what he has done as a quarterback in the NFL. . . . He's a true professional. How can you not like the guy? . . . You have to love the guy. He's one of my favorites in this locker room. He doesn't deserve criticism. He taught me about the game when I first came in and was a rookie and he didn't have to spend time with me. He's one of those guys you have to root for."
Several players said that Owens's public criticism of McNabb galvanized locker-room support for the quarterback rather than eroded it. Brown said that McNabb had addressed his teammates in recent days to rally their support.
"He just basically said he's our leader," the cornerback said. "We're either with him and he loves us, or we can be without him. The thing is, he's going to give us his all. But we know that. He didn't have to reiterate that. We understand."
Of Reid, the other member of the organization most directly involved in the Owens controversy, Brown said: "Andy is one of the nicest guys. This organization, to me, is a class organization. Andy has always treated us like men. If he has a problem with us, he brings us into his office and talks to us and never bashes us in the media. If you have a problem with him, he just wants the same respect."
Chiefs Turn to L. Johnson
It wasn't so long ago that tailback Larry Johnson looked like a bust in Kansas City. The former first-round draft choice had only 85 rushing yards as a rookie in 2003, and he was a non-factor in the Chiefs' offense for most of last season as well. There was talk of the Chiefs giving up on him and trading him, and he gained a reputation as a malcontent. When he complained about his role, Coach Dick Vermeil said publicly that Johnson needed to take off his diaper and concentrate on playing.
But Johnson had his NFL coming-out party late last season, with three straight 100-yard rushing performances in December, and he was effective in the early stages of this season sharing playing time with Priest Holmes. Now the Chiefs will have to rely heavily on Johnson, with Wednesday's announcement that Holmes is being placed on the injured reserve list because of head and neck injuries.
Chiefs officials said they don't believe at this point that Holmes's injury is career-threatening. He is to be re-evaluated in a month, according to the Chiefs. Holmes had a lingering shoulder injury and suffered a blow to the head during a recent game, and sought outside medical opinions from Los Angeles spine specialist Robert Watkins and Miami neurologist Barth Green.
Johnson ran for 107 yards and two touchdowns in last Sunday's triumph over the Oakland Raiders, with Holmes sidelined. He scored the winning touchdown as time expired when Vermeil left his offense on the field, trailing by three points, instead of kicking a tying field goal. Johnson has 506 rushing yards for the season and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
The Chiefs signed free-agent tailback Dee Brown as a backup.
Favre Takes Practice Off
Quarterback Brett Favre was given Wednesday's practice off by Coach Mike Sherman and told reporters that he was feeling "lethargic." A 1-7 record will do that to you. . . .
San Francisco 49ers Coach Mike Nolan announced that he's sticking with Cody Pickett as the club's starting quarterback this week. . . . San Francisco left tackle Jonas Jennings will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery this week. . . .
Seattle linebacker Jamie Sharper has missed only one game in his nine-year NFL career, but is to miss Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams because of a swollen and infected right knee. . . . Seattle released wide receiver Jerheme Urban, who has a stress fracture in his left foot but had signed a waiver requiring his release if he aggravated that previous injury. . . .
Seahawks Coach Mike Holmgren, on the advice of doctors, is keeping defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes off the team's practice field and at least temporarily out of the coaches' box during games. Holmgren told reporters Wednesday that he plans to send Rhodes, who has had two episodes of stroke-like symptoms this season, home every day at 5 p.m. Linebackers coach John Marshall has taken over many of Rhodes's duties. . . .
The Rams placed rookie center Richie Incognito on the reserve-nonfootball injury list, ending his season before it started. Incognito hurt his knee during the NFL scouting combine and participated in only one practice and no games after a lengthy contract dispute. . . .
Minnesota cornerback Fred Smoot will be sidelined four to six weeks by a broken collarbone. . . . Chicago is to be without right tackle Fred Miller for two weeks. According to Coach Lovie Smith, Miller underwent surgery to repair an injury to his jaw suffered in a fall at his home this week. John St. Clair takes over at the position. . . .
Hall of Fame quarterback and Fox broadcaster Terry Bradshaw reportedly is attempting to line up investors to make a bid to purchase the New Orleans Saints from owner Tom Benson in an effort to keep the team in Louisiana, Bradshaw's home state. Benson previously has said that he rejected a $1 billion offer for the club. . . .
Saints executive Mike Feder, who has overseen the team's business operations and ticket sales in Baton Rouge, La., this season, resigned. Feder reportedly cited "irreconcilable differences" with the club's business philosophy in his resignation letter.