Philadelphia Eagles receiver Terrell Owens (81) is carried up the tunnel at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, after being injured early in the thrid quarter against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, Dec. 19, 2004. The Eagles won 12-7.
AP Photo/The Dallas Morning News
PHILADELPHIA Long-suffering Eagles fans would never be so foolish to think a trip to the Super Bowl was a lock, even though their Birds are clearly the best team in the NFC this season.
''Something could still happen,'' is a dreaded, but not uncommon thought among loyalists.
Star receiver Terrell Owens will miss the final two games of the regular season and the playoffs and possibly the Super Bowl because of a sprained right ankle, a devastating blow for a team that has lost three straight NFC title games.
''I was looking forward to the playoffs, really trying to get this team to the Super Bowl,'' Owens said. ''I think without me, still, they achieve that goal.''
''There's no reason for the city of Philadelphia to get down because I'm not there,'' he said. ''Obviously, my presence will be missed, but we have the guys to get it done.''
Perhaps, but it's going to get a whole lot harder without Owens. The NFC East champion Eagles (13-1) are left without their biggest offensive threat, their most animated player and the man simply known around this Eagles-crazed town as TO.
''He's a great player, but can the offense go on? Absolutely,'' coach Andy Reid said Monday. ''We have some pretty good players on this offensive unit, so it'll still function and do very well this week.''
But without Owens, the Eagles will be left with basically the same lackluster receiving corps that has disappeared when needed in the title games. Freddie Mitchell or Greg Lewis could join Todd Pinkston as the other starting wideout. Those three have a combined 60 catches for 1,073 yards.
Pinkston has an injured knee. Reid said the Eagles will activate wide receiver Billy McMullen.
''Freddie's going to get his chances to make plays,'' Owens said. ''There shouldn't be any more excuses as to why he's not getting the ball. Now he gets his chance.''
Donovan McNabb, now without his No. 1 target, said the Eagles would survive.
''I feel for Terrell,'' McNabb said. ''He's worked hard, we've all worked hard, to try and bring a championship to Philadelphia. I know he will do everything he possibly can to get better and be a part of what we want to accomplish.
''In any event, we have to move forward.''
Owens will have surgery Wednesday and stands only an outside shot at being able to play in the NFL's championship game on Feb. 6 if Philadelphia makes it that far head trainer Rick Burkholder said.
Del Rio defends Darius for 'nasty shot'
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio defended hard-hitting safety Donovin Darius on Monday, saying he never intended to hurt Robert Ferguson with a clothesline tackle that put the Green Bay receiver in the hospital.
Del Rio also said he expected Darius to be fined but not suspended for the shot that temporarily paralyzed Ferguson and knocked him unconscious Sunday.
''It was a nasty shot, but I don't believe his intent was to headhunt the guy,'' Del Rio said.
Ferguson was taken off the field on a stretcher and temporarily paralyzed below the waist following the hit. He regained feeling and movement on his way to the hospital, where he spent Sunday night. He will remain there at least one more night for tests and observation.
''They gave no indication that it's career-threatening. But I don't know if you can make that evaluation less than 24 hours'' later, Packers coach Mike Sherman said. ''All signs indicate that he's going to be fine.''
Ferguson was still experiencing numbness on his left side a day after getting hurt, said Eric Armstead, director of player development for EO Sports Management, the Houston-based agency that represents Ferguson.
''Our thoughts and prayers are with Robert Ferguson,'' Del Rio said. ''My understanding is he's doing OK up there and everything's going to be all right. But it was a scary situation and a very serious situation.''
McGahee has bruised, hyperextended knee; status uncertain
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. Running back Willis McGahee has a hyperextended and bruised right knee that could prevent him from playing in Buffalo's game Sunday at San Francisco.
Tests conducted Monday showed the injury is not more severe than initially feared, and indicated the running back will not require surgery, McGahee's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told The Associated Press.
''It's great news,'' Rosenhaus said. ''It's not something that will keep him out an extended period of time, but we don't know about this week. That's something they're going to have to determine later on in the week.''
Coach Mike Mularkey would only list McGahee as day to day, declining to discuss the severity of the injury.
Pennington says silence was a joke on media
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. Chad Pennington wanted to have a little fun with the media after the Jets beat the Seahawks 37-14, so he decided to throw reporters ''a curveball.''
Pennington left a postgame news conference without taking questions Sunday for the first time in his career. The franchise quarterback explained Monday he meant no harm with his actions, though he stopped short of apologizing.
''Life is all about inconvenience,'' Pennington said. ''I thought how appropriate to have a big win and create a little inconvenience for you reporters. It was out of fun, but obviously it created a commotion. A lot of curveball questions get thrown at you sometimes so I thought I'd throw a curveball at you and see how you responded.
''When I throw you guys a curveball, it's like somebody threw a bomb in the media room.''
Pennington took heavy criticism for his play in a 17-6 loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 12, throwing three interceptions with a quarterback rating of 33.6. Questions were raised about whether he could win big games.
Though Pennington says he does not read the papers or listen to talk radio, he got upset when Troy Aikman interviewed him last week and said he could not believe the criticism being doled out.
''Last week was a long week for me and I just didn't want to answer any questions,'' Pennington said. ''I didn't feel I was in the right frame of mind to answer questions. The 10-minute cooling off period the NFL gives you before you guys come in, I needed more than 10 minutes.
''I was tired of words, let actions speak louder than words. We responded as a team very well and showed what we were made of as a team.''
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Jaguars running back Fred Taylor had an MRI on his left knee Monday, but coach Jack Del Rio called it a ''precautionary measure.'' Results were not expected until Tuesday at the earliest.
Taylor had a season-high 165 yards rushing and a touchdown in a 28-25 victory over Green Bay on Sunday. He injured his knee late in the second half, but returned to the game.
Del Rio said team doctors scheduled the test to be certain Taylor was OK. Taylor has a history of injury problems.
''We want to make sure there is nothing going on in there,'' Del Rio said.
Taylor has 1,224 yards rushing, 345 yards receiving and three touchdowns this season.
CINCINNATI (AP) Carson Palmer's sprained left knee was better, leaving the Bengals quarterback hopeful he'll play against the Giants.
Palmer had to sit out a 33-17 loss to Buffalo on Sunday that eliminated Cincinnati (6-8) from playoff contention. The knee felt good enough after his workout Monday that he assumed he would be back in the lineup for their final home game.
''I'm expecting to play,'' said Palmer, who still wore a protective brace on the knee, but had abandoned his crutches. ''I'm planning to play this week, and I'm going to prepare to play. I ran in the (therapy) pool a little bit today, and I got off the crutches yesterday, so hopefully I'll be ready to roll.''
Palmer twisted the left knee when he was tackled in the second half of a 35-28 loss to New England on Dec. 12. Medical tests detected a strained ligament on the outside of the knee, but no tear.
Trainers told Palmer he'd be risking more serious injury if he played against the Bills. Instead, backup Jon Kitna made his first start and threw two interceptions.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Running back Chris Brown will sit out the final two games to heal his aching left foot.
Brown visited a specialist on Friday, and the doctor said wearing a walking boot for a month would settle down the joint in Brown's left big toe. Coach Jeff Fisher said surgery is not a possibility.
The second-year running back will wind up missing five games this season, and he played only a half in three other games. But he still leads the Titans with 1,067 yards rushing, which ranked eighth in the AFC.
''The toe has been a very difficult thing for him to overcome. We're going to do everything possible to get it behind him, because when he's healthy, he can play at a very high level,'' Fisher said.
Antowain Smith replaces Brown.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Coach John Fox defended the play calling late in the Panthers' overtime loss to Atlanta, a defeat that put a crimp in their playoff drive.
Fox and offensive coordinator Dan Henning drew criticism when the Panthers took over at their 20-yard line with 1:37 left in the fourth quarter Saturday night and the game tied 31-31.
''I would do the same thing again 10 times,'' Fox said.
When faced with a second-and-21, Fox acknowledged he scaled back as the Panthers ran Nick Goings twice up the middle and allowed the clock to expire without using a timeout, forcing overtime.
The play that has received the most criticism is a pitchout to Goings, which failed to fool the Falcons.
''I would not want to say we were sitting on'' the ball, Fox said. ''We're always trying to move the football.
''We ran that run earlier and had some success with it. We didn't get it blocked as well as we'd have liked to on a couple of those runs.''
''I'd say we didn't want to risk anything bad happening prior to overtime. ''They had no timeouts. It would have been totally up to us whether to give them another possession.''
The Panthers won the coin toss in overtime, but Jake Delhomme was intercepted by Aaron Beasely, who returned the ball 30 yards to the Carolina 23. That set up Jay Feely's game-winning field goal from 38 yards, ending the Panthers' (6-8) five-game winning streak.
ST. LOUIS (AP) As bleak as the situation looks, Rams coach Mike Martz isn't giving up.
Martz, whose fifth season with the team has been a semi-disaster, on Monday had a strong rebuttal to an ESPN report he might consider quitting. The Rams were among the preseason NFC favorites after going 12-4 last year, but are 6-8.
''I would never resign from this job,'' Martz said. ''I love this job and I would never leave these guys. We've got a real solid crew of young players and it's going to eventually be a terrific team, and I'm not going to ever walk away from something like that.''
Martz has two years left on a contract that pays him $3.5 million annually.
''I coach because I want to coach, and I love being here,'' Martz said. ''That hasn't changed. We're going to forge on and get this thing back up and running the way it should be.''
Martz is 51-32 counting the playoffs. He was the offensive coordinator in 1999, when the Rams won their first Super Bowl. He led the Rams to a 14-2 record and a Super Bowl loss in 2002.
This year has unraveled due to a shaky defense and special teams early on, and lately because of problems with a high-powered offense.
PITTSBURGH (AP) The Steelers would prefer to get their half-dozen injured regulars fully healthy for the playoffs. The NFL schedule might not let them.
The Steelers (13-1) are on a franchise-record 12-game winning streak and clinched the AFC North two games ago. In most seasons, they would be wrapping up home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs by now. But this isn't like most seasons.
With the Patriots also in contention for home-field advantage, and the Indianapolis Colts (11-3) and San Diego Chargers (11-3) right behind, the Steelers still haven't clinched even a first-round bye.
And Pittsburgh's remaining two games, against the Ravens (8-6) and Bills (8-6) on Jan. 2, are anything but guaranteed victories with both those teams still in contention for the playoffs.
The Steelers will get the wild-card weekend off if they win again. To coach Bill Cowher, having that weekend off is even more important than possibly playing host to the AFC championship game, should the Steelers get that far.
''We have to win this game to assure ourselves of a bye and, right now, that's the only thing that matters,'' Cowher said. ''All the other things are immaterial.''
Only linebackers Kendrell Bell (groin) and Clark Haggans (groin) are listed as out, with cornerback Chad Scott (knee), wide receiver Plaxico Burress (hamstring) and running back Duce Staley (hamstring) questionable.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) The Saints (6-8) have won two straight and can secure the second wild-card playoff berth if they win their last two games, at home against Atlanta and at Carolina and if Seattle wins the NFC West. The first-place Seahawks (7-7) have a one-game lead over St. Louis in the West.
''We're still in it,'' Haslett said. ''We've played two pretty good games. We've got to play one more (this week). I don't feel any different about our football team than I did three months ago or a month ago. We've got holes like everybody else. I think we've overcome some things, but we've still got a long way to go.''
After the Saints lost at Atlanta to fall to 4-7, speculation increased that Haslett, who is in his fifth season, would be fired. That intensified as it appeared New Orleans was headed for a fourth straight season out of the playoffs after losing to Carolina, 32-21.
''A month ago people were saying the players have quit on the coach,'' said Haslett, who led the Saints to the NFC West title and the franchise's only playoff victory in his first season in 2000. ''I said we would play hard and physical and have fun; that was all I could promise, and that's what we're doing right now.''
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Coach Jim Mora insists the Atlanta Falcons will make every effort to win at New Orleans this weekend. Translation: Michael Vick will start at quarterback and Alge Crumpler at tight end, even though the Falcons have little to gain after securing a first-round bye in the playoffs.
''We have an obligation to try and win every game we play,'' Mora said Monday. ''We're professionals. We're paid to do that, and so that's what we're going to do.''
An overtime victory Saturday night over Carolina, coupled with Green Bay's loss Sunday to Jacksonville, allowed Atlanta to lock up the NFC's No. 2 seed, but the Falcons emerged with some minor injuries. Vick fell on his left (throwing) shoulder as Carolina defensive tackle Al Wallace sacked him and forced a fumble late in the fourth quarter. Crumpler, who leads the team with 48 catches for 774 yards and six touchdowns, strained right knee ligaments.
CHICAGO, Ill. (AP) Bears coach Lovie Smith has not lost confidence in offensive coordinator Terry Shea despite the team's failings heading into the final two games of the season.
''Terry Shea is doing a good job and he's had to go through an awful lot,'' Smith said.
The Bears' offense ranks last in the NFL in yards gained (238.6) and has failed to score a touchdown in three of the last four games. Still, Shea said he is not worried about job security.
Smith chalked up offensive struggles to the loss of quarterback Rex Grossman in Week 3 and a lack of continuity on the offensive line resulting from numerous injuries.
''Some key (lost) people on the offensive side of the ball can really knock you back a little bit farther than it can defensively,'' Smith said.
The Bears' pass blocking also has struggled, and with two sacks Sunday in a 24-5 loss to the Texans, the Bears matched the franchise record for sacks allowed in a season with 55.
Quarterback Chad Hutchinson threw three touchdown passes in his first game, a 24-14 win over Minnesota three weeks ago. Since completing 18-of-30 in that game, he has completed 34-of-67 for 380 yards with two interceptions.
There's no rush to replace him with veteran backup Jeff George.
''What we need to do is to continue to develop Chad,'' Smith said.
At 5-9, the Bears remain mathematically in the NFC wild-card race.
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