A must win for the Eagles; an important game for the Bills

Posted: Friday, September 26, 2003

Neither the Philadelphia Eagles nor the Buffalo Bills are in the best of moods, especially the offensive units Philadelphia has scored just 10 points in two losses and the Bills gained only 118 yards in their loss in Miami last week.

Still, they had better be up for Sunday's game in Orchard Park an 0-3 start will make it very hard for the Eagles to repeat in a more balanced NFC East and Buffalo needs to regain the momentum from its 2-0 start.

''The true mark of a good football team is how you respond after a loss,'' says Buffalo's London Fletcher, who was on two Super Bowl teams in St. Louis. ''The best way to take a loss out of your mouth is to go get a win.''

The Eagles, at least, are rested after a bye week. And after two losses in two games at brand-new Lincoln Financial Field, they're happy to be in Buffalo.

''Just playing on the road is not going to generate a win for us,'' linebacker Ike Reese says. ''But if we can use it to our advantage and focus more and prepare better, we'll be OK Sunday.''

Still, the Eagles have serious injury problems. All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins is out with a foot injury, and Pro Bowl cornerback Bobby Taylor is unlikely to play. That could mean openings for Drew Bledsoe, just 10-of-25 for 98 yards in the Bills' 17-7 loss to the Dolphins.

Bledsoe should bounce back he did last season after two horrible games against his old New England teammates. And he finally got back at the Patriots in a 31-0 win the opening week.

Philadelphia's offense needs an even bigger jolt. Donovan McNabb's passer rating is 41.4, dismal for anyone, let alone a perennial MVP candidate.

So McNabb spent his bye week in Arizona ''to get away from everything.''

''It's not like we haven't lost games before,'' he says. ''It's something you go through as a player. It's not like I can't change anything or that I haven't shown that I can change.''

It's a little more urgent this time.

Tennessee (2-1) at Pittsburgh (2-1)

An old AFC Central rivalry dating back to the Houston-Pittsburgh title games in the late '70s. And a replay of last season's strangely officiated overtime playoff game won by 34-31 by the Titans to send them to the conference title game.

The Titans also beat the Steelers 31-23 in the 2002 regular season. Steve McNair was so good in both that that Steelers players can't figure out why he didn't make the Pro Bowl they all voted for him.

San Francisco (1-2) at Minnesota (3-0)v

Are the Vikings a legitimate 3-0? All three wins are within the awful NFC North. Even their victory in Green Bay the opening week seems a little tainted now that the Packers have lost to Arizona.

Since clobbering Chicago 49-7 (NFC North again) the 49ers have lost two in a row, the last a 13-12 defeat on two late touchdown drives by previously winless Cleveland.

Their task could be easier here Daunte Culpepper says he'll play despite breaks in three small bones in his spine and a crack in a fourth, but the doctors may say otherwise. That means journeyman Gus Frerotte would start.

New England (2-1) at Washington (2-1)

The Patriots may be the most banged-up team in a banged-up league. The most important loss is pass-rusher Rosevelt Colvin, their biggest offseason addition.

After beating backups with the Jets and Falcons, the Redskins finally faced a starting quarterback last week and Kerry Collins torched them for three TD passes and a long overtime drive. But the Skins blame their loss to the Giants on a team-record 17 penalties.

''Right now it's a disease the whole team has,'' offensive line coach Kim Helton says. ''Everybody knows the problem, and the only people who can fix it are the people who are doing it.''

Kansas City (3-0) at Baltimore (2-1)

The Chiefs are probably the NFL's best team right now, but this won't be easy. Jamal Lewis will test a Kansas City defense that has allowed 48 points in three games, compared to 94 in its first three last season.

Priest Holmes' heroics with the Chiefs have obscured the fact that he started his career with the Ravens and was Lewis' backup in 2000, the season Baltimore won the Super Bowl. That's not new for Holmes he backed up Ricky Williams at Texas.

Indianapolis (3-0) at New Orleans (1-2)

Peyton Manning makes his second return to the city where he grew up and where his father starred the Colts lost there two years ago.

Indianapolis will be trying to go 4-0 against a team that has lost to two good teams (Seattle and Tennessee) and beaten a bad one (Houston). The Saints have injuries on defense, making them a prime target for Manning, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James and Reggie Wayne, another New Orleans native who had 10 catches for 141 yards against Jacksonville.

Dallas (1-1) at New York Jets (0-3)v

This will be Bill Parcells' third game as coach of the Cowboys, with two in the Meadowlands against teams he used to coach. The last, of course, was that 35-32 overtime thriller over the Giants before Dallas' bye week.

The Jets have a lot of problems the injury to Chad Pennington, the loss of Laveranues Coles to free agency plus questionable offensive and defensive lines.

Green Bay (1-2) at Chicago (0-2) (Monday night)

The NFC North again.

The only reason the Bears got a Monday night game after a four-win season is that this is the opening of the new Soldier Field. The way they've started outscored 73-20 in two games Chicago will have trouble getting four this season.

Green Bay's problems go beyond the desert heat. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Cletidus Hunt and Joe Johnson, their main pass rushers, have just one sack among them.

Atlanta (1-2) at Carolina (2-0)

Doug Johnson hasn't done much in Michael Vick's absence so the Falcons could be in deep trouble by the time Vick returns. The Panthers are better than expected and so is Minnesota, which goes to the Georgia Dome next week.

Carolina's defense is scary enough with Julius Peppers and Kris Jenkins up front. It will be scarier if Dan Morgan, the middle linebacker, ever gets healthy he may have to sit out again this week with a hamstring problem.

Detroit (1-2) at Denver (2-1)

Denver beat Oakland Monday night and goes to Kansas City next week, making this the dreaded ''sandwich game'' an inferior opponent between two challenging division rivals.

But the Lions are not only bad, they're hurting. Dre' Bly's partners at cornerback are all recently signed rejects from other teams 37-year-old Otis Smith, 30-year-old Alex Molden and rookie Rod Babers.

Arizona (1-2) at St. Louis (1-2)

What happens if the team that abandoned St. Louis beats the franchise that replaced it and went to two Super Bowls? It's not likely to happen although the Rams will be without Marshall Faulk with a broken hand and knee problems for four to six weeks. Second-year-man Lamar Gordon replaces him.

The Cardinals upset the Packers in 106 degrees in Tempe. It will be 72 at the Dome.

Cincinnati (0-3) at Cleveland (1-2)

Tim Couch is back at quarterback for the Browns after Kelly Holcomb directed two late touchdown drives on a broken leg to beat San Francisco.

These Bengals aren't as bad as last season's Bengals, but Marvin Lewis wants wins, not ''almost'' games.

San Diego (0-3) at Oakland (1-2)

A heated rivalry but a deflated one given how these two teams are playing.

The Raiders will have Barret Robbins back at center for the first time since the AFC Championship game last year. He's had knee problems in addition to his treatment for bipolar disorder.

The Chargers won't have wide receiver David Boston, suspended by the team this week.

Jacksonville (0-3) at Houston (1-2)

A possible showcase for promising first-round draft picks. Byron Leftwich may be at quarterback for Jacksonville, because Mark Brunell has an injured left elbow that gives Jack Del Rio an excuse to bench him.

The other is Houston receiver Andre Johnson, who caught his first two NFL TD passes last week and appears to be as good as advertised.

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