Eagles 30, Panthers 8
-- It didn't erase the disappointment of last season's bitter defeat in the NFC title game to this team in this stadium. Not even close. But Sunday's easy triumph over the Carolina Panthers at Lincoln Financial Field left the Philadelphia Eagles feeling that much more confident that this season won't end the same way again. They made it five decisive victories in five games by overwhelming the Panthers, 30-8, here before 67,707.
The Eagles are the only unbeaten team in the NFC. They've won each of their five games by at least 10 points, and suddenly all of the talk about an undefeated season that fills the local radio call-in shows doesn't look quite so farfetched as the Eagles try to finally take the next step and reach a Super Bowl after losing three straight conference championship games.
"This is a new year, a new opportunity, for us,'' tailback Brian Westbrook said, "and hopefully we can erase all those memories.''
The Panthers (1-4) barely resemble the club that beat the Eagles in January, with top wide receiver Steve Smith and defensive tackle Kris Jenkins on a lengthy list of key players sidelined by injuries. Tailback Stephen Davis ran for 66 yards on 15 carries in his return to the lineup after missing three games following arthroscopic knee surgery.
But quarterback Jake Delhomme took a pounding and threw four interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard, and the Panthers didn't score until Delhomme threw a two-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad with less than three minutes remaining in the game.
"My feelings go out to John Fox,'' Eagles Coach Andy Reid said of his Panthers counterpart. "They're banged up. They're a different football team right now. As much as we are different, they're different.''
The biggest difference in the Eagles is the presence of wide receiver Terrell Owens, obtained in an offseason trade after an NFC title game in which Carolina cornerback Ricky Manning treated the Philadelphia receivers with disregard and had three interceptions. Owens and Manning did some long-distance verbal sparring during the week, with Owens saying he didn't know much about Manning. And Owens finished the week by saying: "I still don't know much about him.''
Owens had four catches for 123 yards in the first half, outmaneuvering Manning for a 53-yard reception along the sideline that set up a one-yard touchdown run by tailback Dorsey Levens in the first quarter and providing a 51-yard catch and run in the second quarter that led to a field goal. The Panthers focused on Owens in the second half and shut him out, but the Eagles just kept rolling with Sheppard's 64-yard interception return in the third quarter and Westbrook's 42-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes left.
"As an offense, we know we can be a lot better than what we showed today,'' Owens said. "Obviously we rode the back of our defense. There were times I felt like we could have taken more shots, but it didn't happen.''
Said quarterback Donovan McNabb, who threw a fourth-quarter interception to Manning but completed 14 of 26 passes for 209 yards: "Offensively we weren't happy about some of the things we're doing, but defensively we had a great game today. It's not only the offense that's clicking. . . . It's just business, a business approach. We're happy with 5-0. . . . [but] this year is a whole different mind-set.''
There was little of substance for the Eagles to criticize about their performance. So they were left with no alternative but to nit-pick about having to settle for three field goals by kicker David Akers, about failing to capitalize on a successful onside kick to open the second half and about having a 66-yard return of the game's opening kickoff by rookie J.R. Reed tarnished by an odd unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called because Butch Buchanico, the team's director of security, was unable to get out of an official's way on the sideline and the official tumbled to the ground.
"Just trying to make a play,'' Buchanico, who accompanied Reid to his postgame news conference, said as Reid prepared to address reporters. Reid deadpanned: "That'll be the last play you make.''
Reid called it his defense's best performance of the season. The Eagles sacked Delhomme twice and nearly knocked him from the game on a jarring hit by defensive end Jevon Kearse. "Any time your quarterback is getting hit the way Jake Delhomme was getting hit today, the offense is going to struggle,'' Muhammad said.
Sheppard had two of the four interceptions. "We knew he doesn't like to take sacks,'' the cornerback said. "We knew we'd have some opportunities.''
The season is rapidly slipping away from the Panthers after last season's run to the Super Bowl.
"We faced a football team that is playing very well and that is very confident,'' Fox said. "When you turn the ball over four times and lose an onside kick, you're not going to win games against good football teams.''
Said Carolina safety Mike Minter: "I think each man on this team is going to be soul-searching after this game.''