Eagles 31, Giants 17
The Philadelphia Eagles began their season just as they had hoped and planned, piling up style points and breezing past the outmanned New York Giants. Quarterback Donovan McNabb threw four touchdown passes, three to wide receiver Terrell Owens, and the Eagles started their pursuit of the Super Bowl berth they so covet with an easy 31-17 triumph.
But the celebrations of the Eagles and the crowd of 67,532 at Lincoln Financial Field were tempered because the club had another significant injury. Rookie guard Shawn Andrews suffered a fractured right leg while blocking on a second-quarter running play, leaving the Eagles without their first-round draft pick for the remainder of the season. They lost defensive end N.D. Kalu in training camp and running back Correll Buckhalter during the preseason.
Otherwise, the day went as scripted for the Eagles, the losers of the last three NFC championship games. McNabb completed 26 of 36 throws for 330 yards and matched his single-game career high for touchdown passes. Owens scored the Eagles' first two touchdowns in his initial game with the team. He added a third-quarter score to put the game out of reach, equaling his career best for touchdown receptions in a game, and led cheers from the sideline as he continued the love-fest with Eagles fans that began when they applauded his every practice-field move wildly in training camp.
"This is the way any team wants to start the season," Owens said. "This is what I always expected. This is what I wanted to get here for . . . . We have a multidimensional offense. We're going to be hard to stop when we're on our game."
Tailback Brian Westbrook had his first 100-yard rushing day in the NFL, running for 119 yards on only 17 carries. The Philadelphia defense wasn't overpowering but held the Giants in check after an early touchdown. Defensive end Jevon Kearse, the Eagles' other high-priced offseason addition, recovered a third-quarter fumble by Giants quarterback Kurt Warner on a botched exchange with center Shaun O'Hara at the Philadelphia 1-yard line, one of many gaffes that had new coach Tom Coughlin cringing on the sideline.
Warner, the two-time NFL most valuable player for the St. Louis Rams who beat out top overall draft choice Eli Manning for the Giants' starting job, completed 16 of 28 throws for 203 yards. He didn't have a touchdown pass or an interception and was sacked four times -- once by defensive end Hugh Douglas, the former Eagles standout just re-signed by the team after he was released by Jacksonville -- and fumbled twice, losing one.
"They're all tough when you lose," Warner said. "I don't care if you're on the same team for six years or you're on a new team."
He threw a fourth-down incompletion into the end zone as the Giants lost the ball on downs at the Eagles 5 with 61/2 minutes to play. Manning finished up, taking over with 21/2 minutes to go and handing the ball to tailback Tiki Barber for a 72-yard touchdown run on Manning's first NFL play. He led the Giants down the field again but absorbed a wicked hit by defensive tackle Darwin Walker while scrambling on the game's final play and fumbled.
"It's real disappointing," said Coughlin, who indicated that Warner remains his starter for next Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins at Giants Stadium. "It's like getting kicked in the stomach."
The Giants picked right up where they left off last season, when they lost their final eight games under then-coach Jim Fassel. Coughlin's players aren't taking to his strict ways. Four players, including defensive end Michael Strahan, reportedly are considering filing grievances through the union after being fined in recent weeks by Coughlin for showing up only a few minutes early for team meetings, after Coughlin already had gotten the meetings started with those who had arrived even earlier and closed the doors.
The Giants actually grabbed the early lead after forcing the Eagles to punt on their first possession. Tight end Jeremy Shockey dropped a short pass that, with open field in front of him, could have turned into a touchdown, but the Giants didn't get discouraged and kept plowing forward until tailback Ron Dayne bulled his way into the end zone on a three-yard run.
No matter. The Eagles have the promise of finally being explosive on offense -- a trait they didn't possess even while winning the last three NFC East titles -- after obtaining Owens from the San Francisco 49ers in March and making the elusive Westbrook their featured runner. McNabb threw touchdown passes on three straight drives, the first two of which totaled only eight plays.
Westbrook (DeMatha) broke free for a 50-yard run to set up the first touchdown. McNabb and Owens fooled cornerback Will Allen on a pump-and-go play, and Owens easily hauled in McNabb's 20-yard strike along the right sideline. A 53-yard completion from McNabb to wideout Todd Pinkston led to Owens's second score, a three-yarder. Owens found an open spot in the end zone and waited for the throw from McNabb, delivered on the run just before the quarterback was shoved out of bounds by Strahan.
Philadelphia crafted a more methodical 11-play march for its third touchdown on a 14-yard pass from McNabb to tight end L.J. Smith, who made a tumbling grab in the back of the end zone. The Giants drew to within two touchdowns on a 53-yard field goal by kicker Steve Christie shortly before halftime, but McNabb followed a superb play-action fake by finding a wide-open Owens for a 12-yard touchdown with just more than five minutes left in the third quarter.
"That's why they're one of the best teams in the league," Strahan said. "We have to bring our level of play up to theirs."