John Smallwood | Go ahead fans, heave a sigh of relief

Posted: September 24, 2007

HEY, WHEN you're 0-2 and the season is spinning toward that exit point of the toilet, qualifiers don't matter.

OK, so it was the Detroit Lions, and even if they did come into Lincoln Financial Field yesterday undefeated, they are still one of the preferred emergency-room opponents for hemorrhaging teams.

Need to stop the bleeding? Dial up the Lions.

Got a struggling quarterback embroiled in off-the-field controversy? Put him up against the Detroit defense.

Got a receiving corps that's being criticized for lack of separation? Hello, leaky Lions secondary.

Got a team that's just generally feeling the blues? Count on the Detroit Lions to bring a bit of sunshine to the darkest days.

When you're as desperate to feel better about yourself as the Eagles, dealing out a 56-21 thumping will get it done.

"It just adds a lot," running back Correll Buckhalter, who rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown, said of the Birds' dismantling of Detroit. "It just lets you know what type of team you can have when everybody is having fun and every man is taking it upon himself to give 100 percent.

"When you do that and you know the man next to you is doing that, great things can happen."

On the surface, the Eagles were never in panic mode. Despite unexpected losses to Green Bay and Washington to start the season, there were no signs of additional levels of stress.

Since the taping was done before the season started, the firestorm that arose from Donovan McNabb's HBO interview couldn't be attributed to the quarterback's reaction to his slow start.

Still, 0-3 was not something anyone associated with the Eagles could reasonably believe this team would be able to overcome.

A loss to the Lions would have made last week seem like a tempest in a teapot compared to the hurricane of controversy that would have blown into town.

In 2003, the Eagles overcame an 0-2 start and still made it to the NFC Championship Game, but 0-3 is something different.

The only time the Eagles started 0-3 under coach Andy Reid was his first season, when they finished 5-11 in 1999. A team with Super Bowl aspirations does not start 0-3 against three beatable opponents.

"I have been 0-3," Reid said. "I don't want to be there."

I'm not sure how many people actually believed Reid's spin after the Eagles' strong fourth quarter in last week's loss to the Redskins - noting it was encouraging.

But he looked to be on cue after the Eagles scored their most points since beating Detroit, 58-37, in the 1995 NFC wild-card game.

"When you say you're a hair off, it can go either way in this league," Reid said. "When you're connecting, it's a beautiful thing. When you're off by a hair, it's not very pretty.

"That's how it works in this league, and the important thing is that you keep firing."

After being butt-ugly for the first 2 weeks, McNabb bounced back with one of the most efficient and spectacular games of his career.

Shutting out the controversy over what some perceived as racial statements on HBO, McNabb went 21-for-26 for 381 yards with four touchdowns.

At one point, the quarterback who has often been criticized for his inaccuracy completed 18 consecutive passes.

McNabb connected with first-time Eagles receiver Kevin Curtis (11 catches, 221 yards) for three touchdowns, including bombs of 68 and 43 yards. He had another 43-yard scoring hookup with running back Brian Westbrook (221 yards total offense, three touchdowns).

"Offensively, we were able to come out and make some things happen early," said McNabb, who has now completed 35 of 46 passes for 521 yards in his last five quarters. "The defense fed off of us and then we fed off of the defense, so it was a total team effort."

It was against the Detroit Lions, a franchise that hasn't won more than six games in a season since 2000.

It was a suspect defense that was perfectly suited for McNabb & Co.'s breakout performance.

It doesn't mean the Eagles' problems are solved, and if they don't carry this into another victory Sunday night at the New York Giants, they'll be right back where they were before the Lions graciously rolled over in South Philadelphia.

But 0-3 would have been a disaster, and the hows and whys of avoiding it don't matter that much.

"I think it was a great team performance for the situation that we were in," McNabb said. "Being 0-2, a lot of people were counting us out, saying this team just isn't what it used to be or whatever it may be, and for us to come out the way we did as a team in all phases, I think this ranks up there." *

Send e-mail to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/smallwood.

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