TKO by T.O. Owens turns in a heavyweight performance Owens outstanding in Eagles' opener

Posted: September 13, 2004

Give Donovan McNabb a superstar wide receiver and watch the Eagles' offense fly.

That was the plan, and it worked yesterday at Lincoln Financial Field in much the same way it worked during noncontact practices at the NovaCare Complex.

Does that mean it's a good plan, or does it mean that the New York Giants are a really bad team and perfect season-opening prey?

The answer to that question won't come for at least a few more weeks.

For now, the Eagles and their fans can enjoy the wildly successful and entertaining start to the Terrell Owens era. It included three T.O. touchdowns - one more than any Eagles receiver had all of last season - and a 31-17 victory over the Giants that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated.

It also included brilliant performances from McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook, as well as a critical goal-line stand late in the third quarter and five sacks from the defense.

"We all understand that Terrell Owens came in here to be a playmaker," tight end L.J. Smith said after the Eagles won on opening day for the first time in four years. "But we're all going to get a piece of the pie."

As expected, the biggest piece of the pie went to Owens. He caught eight passes for 68 yards. The three touchdowns matched a career high. But Owens was only one of many weapons.

McNabb, in one of the best performances of his career, completed 26 of 36 passes for four touchdowns and 330 yards. His 137.5 passer rating matched a career best that he established in 2000 against the Cleveland Browns. His four touchdown passes also matched a career high, and his 330 passing yards were the second-best total of his career.

"All through the preseason, you could feel the confidence rising for all of us," McNabb said.

Perhaps. But it wasn't this crystal clear during any of the four preseason games.

Westbrook, who sat out the final two preseason games and barely carried the ball in the first two exhibition games, cleared up the confusion about how the Eagles would handle the running-back situation.

The answer: Westbrook right, Westbrook left, Westbrook in the flat, Westbrook in pass protection.

Worked pretty well, too.

"I have confidence in Brian," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "I know the more times you give him the ball, the more yardage he's going to have."

The third-year running back ran 17 times for 119 yards, including a 50-yard run immediately after the Giants took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Westbrook also caught three passes for 42 yards and didn't get a breather until the game was out of reach in the fourth quarter.

"If my team needs me to carry the ball, I want to get it enough for my team to win," Westbrook said. "The biggest thing for me, as well as any offensive player, is for us to win. And we won today. So however many carries I had, it was just enough."

Pretty much everything the offense did worked. The Eagles compiled 454 yards and scored on four of their first five possessions.

"I think today we had a great game from the offensive perspective," fullback Jon Ritchie said. "We didn't have a lot of down time. All the guys were making plays, and we were consistently in a rhythm.

"From our standpoint, we felt like we were just wearing them down. It didn't matter if it was a 20-play drive, a 50-yard pass to Todd Pinkston, or a great play by Brian Westbrook."

Two plays after Westbrook's explosive run, McNabb found Owens in the right corner of the end zone for the first official connection between the quarterback and wide receiver who so badly wanted to play together.

It would not be the last.

McNabb's most incredible play came late in the first quarter. Under heavy pressure from defensive end Michael Strahan, he froze the giant defensive end with a hip fake. McNabb continued to head toward the right sideline, and just before he was slammed out of bounds by Strahan, he released a strike to Owens in the end zone, giving the Eagles their first lead.

"That was a real nice play," Reid said. "For a guy who has as much running ability as he does, he also has a real knack for keeping his eyes downfield and focused on the open receiver."

Though this appears to be a bad Giants team, Reid believes the McNabb-to-Owens combination will continue to do great things.

"They've worked really hard at it, and you could see it getting better every day during training camp," Reid said. "I think it will continue on. I think you'll see it get even better as they continue to play together."

McNabb and Owens hooked up for the final time with 5 minutes, 27 seconds left in the third quarter when the Giants inexplicably left the star receiver all alone in the end zone. That touchdown catch made the score 31-10 and was followed by Owens' most creative offensive celebration of the day. He stood on the ball and flapped his wings, letting the Eagles' fans know he had landed in the end zone again.

When he returned to the sideline, somebody in the scoreboard room had the good sense to direct the camera to Owens on the sideline and the first regular-season tribute to the new receiver began.

"T.O., T.O., T.O.!"

There were great seasonal debuts by others as well.

Todd Pinkston caught three passes for a game-high 76 yards, including a 53-yarder that set up the Eagles' second touchdown.

Smith, after opening last season with a fourth-down drop in the end zone, made a sensational touchdown catch to give the Eagles a 21-7 lead in the second quarter. Smith and Chad Lewis combined for nine catches and 108 yards by the tight-end corps.

Defensively, the Eagles recorded five sacks, including one by Derrick Burgess, who played for the first time since opening day 2002. They also kept the Giants from scoring on a first-and-goal situation from the 1.

"You'd always like it to go like that," Eagles tackle Jon Runyan said. "It just doesn't always happen that way."

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

Ahead of the Game

Donovan McNabb threw four TD passes; he did not get his fourth TD pass of the season last year until the eighth game.

Yesterday was McNabb's sixth career 300-yard game and the third time he has thrown four TD passes.

In McNabb's last two games against the Giants, he is 50 for 66 (75.8 percent) for 644 yards, 6 TDs and no INTs, for a rating of 136.2.

Terrell Owens had three TD receptions; Eagles wide receivers did not catch their third TD pass of the season last year until the 12th game.

Owens had not had a three-TD game since Oct. 14, 2001, at Atlanta.

Brian Westbrook had 17 carries; his previous high was 15 against the Giants last year.

Westbrook's 119 yards rushing were a career high; he had 96 against Buffalo last year.

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