As if the Philadelphia Eagles didn't have enough problems, the beleaguered defending NFC champions are facing the prospect of playing the Washington Redskins on Sunday night at FedEx Field without wide receiver Terrell Owens.
Owens re-injured his surgically repaired right ankle during the Eagles' 49-21 defeat Sunday at Denver, which dropped the club's record to 4-3. Owens was listed as doubtful on the Eagles' official injury report and Coach Andy Reid, who called Owens's injury a sprain, said the team would have to prepare to face the Redskins without him.
"He is hurting," Reid said Wednesday, indicating that rookie Reggie Brown would start if Owens is unable to play. "He is sore. It's going to be a fight to get him there for Sunday. But we're taking it day by day. He's made progress in the last couple days."
Quarterback Donovan McNabb also missed Wednesday's practice after suffering bruised ribs against the Broncos. McNabb said he landed on the foot of Eagles guard Shawn Andrews after being hit on a fourth-quarter play. Tests showed no fractures, and the Eagles are hopeful that McNabb will play Sunday night. But he has played with an assortment of injuries this season that include a sports hernia, and he indicated that this is probably the most bruised and battered he ever has been in his NFL career.
"I said it in the beginning of the season, that everyone talked about teams coming from the Super Bowl and what happened to them, and I've always said that injuries play a major part," McNabb said. "We have a lot of guys that are banged up, more guys than we've probably ever had in a season. But I think it's important that we be able to take care of the wounds and heal them and get back out on the field and try to change this thing around."
McNabb said he has no intention of sitting out Sunday to try to heal.
"When you do that, it seems like you're just throwing in the towel," he said. "And my towel is still folded up sitting on the chair. I never throw the towel in."
Last season was mostly a joy ride for the Eagles. Owens fit in peacefully and productively with his new team. The Eagles lapped the field in the NFC, winning the NFC East by seven games and breezing through the playoffs even while Owens was hurt. They lost the Super Bowl by three points to the New England Patriots, but had few doubts that they'd reload for another run.
This season, however, has been filled with controversies and injuries. Owens spent the offseason in a contract dispute with the club and wasn't on speaking terms with McNabb in training camp. That rift has receded into the background, but McNabb has had to play through one injury after another while being the focal point of an offense that has had no running game to distract opponents. The defense fell apart last weekend in Denver, surrendering 28 points in the first half and then 21 more in the fourth quarter after the Eagles had crept to within a touchdown.
Suddenly, the Eagles find themselves playing a game they desperately need to stay within striking distance of first place in a division they've won four straight seasons. The previous four NFL teams to lose Super Bowls followed up with losing seasons, and the Eagles never thought they'd be in jeopardy this year of extending that string.
"I could care less about that," safety Brian Dawkins said. "That has nothing to do with us. It's just that we're not doing the things we need to do to win. As far as I'm concerned, we didn't go to the Super Bowl last year. This is a whole new season."
But it's a whole new season that has those in the Eagles' locker room scratching their heads.
"I wish I had an answer," tight end L.J. Smith said. "I really don't know. People ask me all the time, and I don't have an answer. It's not something that's so obvious. We had a great run last year. Those kinds of runs don't happen all the time. Sometimes the next year, it gets harder for you. Teams are getting better. Just look at our division alone. Our opponents are getting better and making things a lot tougher for us. I still feel like we're the team to beat in the NFC East. But as far as one thing to point to as to why we're struggling, I really don't know."
Owens walked through the locker room Wednesday without a noticeable limp. But he hurt the same ankle that he injured severely last season, when he underwent surgery for a high ankle sprain. Owens returned early against his surgeon's advice to play -- and play well -- in the Super Bowl. But he felt unappreciated, and he said recently on his weekly appearance on a Miami radio show that he regrets rushing back to play against the Patriots.
Still, Reid said that hasn't caused him to be wary of Owens's desire to try to heal quickly this week. "I never questioned that on him," Reid said. "I don't on this. He loves to play the game. He loves to be out there."
Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said he expects to have to face Owens on Sunday. "I've learned over the years they always play," Gibbs said, "and they always play great."
The Eagles got through the NFC playoffs last season without Owens, and they said they believe they could begin putting their season back together Sunday even if he doesn't play.
"Everybody knows about our problems [but] we've still got Donovan," Smith said. "T.O. may or may not play this week. We've just got to do our jobs. We've got to play like the Eagles. As long as we take care of what we have to do, we're always going to have a very good chance of winning."
The Eagles faced relatively little adversity last season when they won 13 of their first 14 games en route to a 13-3 regular season record. But many of the players on their roster have rebounded before from gut-wrenching defeats, including three straight losses in NFC title games prior to last season's breakthrough.
"We've been through things since I've been here," defensive tackle Darwin Walker said. "There's always been some type of whatever. There's always been something that's been a bump in the road. . . . Nobody in this locker room has given up on anything or any of our teammates. We're going to go out and play hard."
Said Smith: "We don't want to write off our season, as much as people would like to say we're down and say we're not the same team. Obviously, we've struggled a little bit. But the division is still wide open. It's a long season, and we've got some playmakers. We're just going to turn it up a notch, and see how it goes. Nobody on this team is going to back down at all. . . . We've got leaders on this team who have been through it all -- Dawkins, McNabb, [middle linebacker Jeremiah] Trotter. They know how to approach the situation. We're just going to follow their lead."
Dawkins said he thinks the Eagles need to play with more emotion, especially in road games. But he said he doesn't think the team's problem has been complacency.
"I can't get into everybody's head," he said. "But I would hope that hunger is still there. I know it is for me. I know that I'm not satisfied with last year. . . . We still didn't accomplish what we set out to accomplish last year. We're not even thinking about what could happen at the end of the season. We have to think about what could happen in this game right here. We can actually stop talking about playoffs and Super Bowl right now."
Staff writer Leonard Shapiro contributed to this report from Washington.