Broncos 49, Eagles 21

It was difficult to understand Coach Andy Reid after his Philadelphia Eagles suffered through a 49-21 demolition Sunday against the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field at Mile High.

He mumbled. He whispered. He danced away from questions. But he delivered one answer in a bold, clear voice. Do the Eagles, the defending NFC champions, remain a Super Bowl contender?

"Absolutely."

His team faces a long march to make that statement ring true.

The Eagles fell behind 28-0, allowed 564 yards (including 210 in the first quarter) and surrendered more than 30 points for the third time in four games.

The Eagles will crawl into Washington next week with a 4-3 record.

"That's not us," Reid said of his team's ineptitude. "I'm not sure you can look at any category, coaching included, that was any good."

He has a point, but even after the Eagles' immense early struggles, they threatened to deliver a comeback for the ages. The Broncos (6-2) jumped to their 28-0 lead by using aggressive blitzing to rattle Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. While McNabb suffered muggings from a variety of Denver defenders, the Broncos' offense ran wild.

"They were bringing eight, nine, 10 guys," McNabb said of the Broncos' blitzing. "One guy's going to come free."

The Broncos hassled McNabb into 11 incompletions and an interception on his first 12 throws. Denver's early dominance was astounding. When Stephen Alexander made a leaping, one-handed three-yard touchdown catch from Jake Plummer with 7 minutes 47 seconds left in the second quarter, the Broncos had collected more points, 28, than the Eagles had yards, 16.

At this point, a man in the stands held up this sign, "Terrell Who?"

The target of the sign was, of course, wide receiver Terrell Owens, invisible in the first half while he failed to shake free from Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey.

After McNabb found tight end L.J. Smith for a one-yard pass to cut Denver's lead to 28-7, Owens ended his slumber.

With 10 minutes left in the third quarter, McNabb hit Owens with a quick pass in the flat. Owens turned and saw only Bailey preventing a free ride to the end zone.

He faked Bailey outside and skipped inside. On his first catch of the game, Owens sprinted 91 yards to a touchdown. Suddenly, the Eagles were within sight, and the "Terrell Who?" sign wasn't seen again.

"No matter what the score," McNabb said, "I always feel we have a chance to come back."

McNabb nearly led the Eagles to a tie. He found Owens with a looping 46-yard pass, and then hit Brian Westbrook for a 14-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 28-21.

The Invesco Field crowd, which had been loud and jubilant in the first half, grew quiet. Denver had been outscored 37-3 in the fourth quarters of its previous three games.

McNabb gambled for the tie with 13:31 left in the game. On third and five from the Denver 24, he first looked for Owens, triple-covered at the 15, then threw to Reggie Brown in the end zone.

Broncos rookie Domonique Foxworth, a former Maryland Terrapin, read McNabb's eyes and cut in front of Brown at the goal line. His interception squashed the Eagles' hopes for a comeback.

The Broncos then sizzled the Eagles with big plays -- a 44-yard touchdown pass from Plummer to Todd Devoe and a 67-yard sideline scoring sprint by Tatum Bell -- and pushed a tense game back to a breezy rout. Bell padded the lead with a six-yard score with 30 seconds left.

The Broncos rebounded from a bitter loss to the New York Giants last week. Plummer threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns, and Mike Anderson and Bell both rolled to more than 100 yards rushing and combined for 6.7 yards per carry.

The Eagles acted as if those big numbers didn't matter. Philadelphia players still see themselves as an elite team, even if there's a lack of supporting evidence.

"Things are going to change," McNabb said, "and they're going to change for the better."

Broncos tight end Stephen Alexander goes up for a one-handed, three-yard TD catch in the 2nd quarter as Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter gives chase.A fan celebrates Halloween by watching the Broncos carve through the Eagles' defense.