Eagles 27, Bengals 17
Who needs to talk?
The Philadelphia Eagles' standout wide receiver, Terrell Owens, and star quarterback, Donovan McNabb, might be barely on speaking terms, but they remain on touchdown-scoring terms. On the first play of their first preseason game together this year, Owens raced past two Cincinnati Bengals defenders and grabbed McNabb's deep pass for a 64-yard touchdown, and instantly it didn't seem to matter whether the two can stand each another.
"They'll be fine," Eagles Coach Andy Reid said. "Sometimes actions speak louder than words."
Owens stood in the end zone after scoring his touchdown, put his hands on his hips and nodded repeatedly toward the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field. Not a boo could be heard among the raucous cheering. Any fans who had come to disparage Owens, the wildly productive but wildly controversial wideout who has elicited the scorn of so many sports observers nationwide as his bitter contract dispute with the Eagles has raged on, apparently just gave up and joined the celebration.
Owens finished the first half with five catches for 131 yards, then got the rest of the night off. Reid said that Owens aggravated his strained groin muscle late in the half. McNabb, in his one half of work, connected on 14 of 23 throws for 256 yards and three touchdowns as the Eagles raced to a 27-3 lead at the break and then turned things over to the backups, who finished up the 27-17 triumph.
"It was good that we were able to get out there in a game situation and try to work on our combination, our chemistry," McNabb said. "We still obviously have some work to do, but it's a good sign."
Owens, donning his now-trademark headphones, did not speak to reporters after the game. There was no obvious interaction between Owens and McNabb during the game, but McNabb said they had some brief exchanges on "business issues." McNabb said he told Owens "good job" on the sideline, and Owens said "thanks" to him after McNabb told an official that a penalty should have been called on a horse-collar tackle on Owens -- the same sort of tackle on which Owens suffered a severe ankle injury last season.
"It's still early," McNabb said. "We'll communicate. We did a little bit of communicating today."
Still, Owens and McNabb celebrated their touchdown separately.
"It's not hard at all," McNabb said. "We're both able to do it. Let's just not blow it way out of proportion. We were able to go out for the first time this preseason and be able to get our chemistry and our timing where we want them to be. There's obviously still some time for us to work on that. We were both excited, if we celebrated together or if we celebrated with our other teammates, whatever it may be. We communicated in a way that was suited to both of us."
The Owens soap opera remains virtually the only subject on local sports shows, with opinions alternating between the belief that he's a troublemaker who should be ushered out of town and the view that he is a spoiled troublemaker who should be tolerated long enough to see if he can help the Eagles to another Super Bowl.
This was Owens's first appearance in front of Philadelphia fans since the latest blowup in the saga. Practices had been closed to the public since Owens rejoined the team last week after a one-week banishment by Reid for Owens's training camp behavior, in which he was refusing to participate in autograph sessions for fans and declining to speak to the club's assistant coaches as well as to McNabb. The fans' reaction to him had been mixed early in training camp with more boos than cheers initially but the crowd gradually warmed to him when he made positive plays.
There was no opportunity to gauge fan reaction to Owens before the game Friday night, as the Eagles took the field as a team, without any individual player introductions. The Eagles received the opening kickoff and Owens, who had missed the club's first two exhibition games because of the suspension by Reid and his groin injury, lined up to the right of the formation on a first-down play from the Philadelphia 36-yard line.
He ran past cornerback Deltha O'Neal, who let Owens go because he had deep help from safety Kim Herring. But Owens sprinted past Herring, too, and was wide open by the time McNabb unleashed his throw from the pocket. Owens stumbled slightly but managed to haul in the pass and get into the end zone easily.
"It turned out pretty good," said Reid, who indicated that Owens's groin injury could keep him from participating in a team carnival for fans on Sunday. "I thought it was a pretty good call. We thought we were going to get a certain coverage, and we thought we could take advantage of it. It was great to get those two connected."
It was reminiscent of last year, when Owens caught an 81-yard touchdown pass from McNabb on the Eagles' first play of their preseason home opener against the Baltimore Ravens. That play had special meaning because the Ravens were the team that Owens had snubbed that offseason, wanting to play with McNabb in Philadelphia. That time, McNabb punctuated the celebration by drawing the letters "T.O." in the air with his finger, but that was long before Owens took verbal swipes this past offseason at McNabb's Super Bowl performance and called the quarterback a "hypocrite" following his suspension by Reid.
This time, there were no such gyrations by McNabb. He hugged center Hank Fraley, then went to the sideline. The Eagles got the ball back, and McNabb promptly connected with Owens for 31 yards on the team's second offensive play of the evening. Owens grabbed a pass in the end zone on the next play, but couldn't keep both feet inbounds.