Eagles start weak but end strong in win over Seahawks

Linebacker Omar Gaither celebrates fourth-quarter sack of Seneca Wallace.
Linebacker Omar Gaither celebrates fourth-quarter sack of Seneca Wallace.
Posted: November 03, 2008

SEATTLE - The personality the Eagles seem to be developing as we close the books on the first half of their season is that of a team that can survive a rocky start, can make adjustments and stave off panic, regrouping to win.

Not such a bad thing to be able to do, surely. Resilience has carried the Birds past three inferior opponents in a row now, with yesterday's inexorable 26-7 victory over the host Seattle Seahawks.

But is this the personality of a great team, a Super Bowl winner?

Almost certainly not. It sure isn't the personality of the 7-1 New York Giants, who very recently have shown they know how to win one of those Super Bowl thingies, and who visit Lincoln Financial Field next Sunday night.

But we have a whole week to fret about that matchup, and whatever happens next week, you can't win the Super Bowl in November. That game remains nearly 3 months away. Three months ago, did you have the Phillies winning the World Series?

For today, the topic at hand is that the Eagles hit the midway point 5-3, after sinking to 2-3 last month on back-to-back giveaway weeks, and looking lost. Their defense was darned near perfect yesterday after a first-play hiccup, pitching 58 minutes, 11 seconds worth of shutout football. Their offense was solid and competent, if not quite explosive, after starting out as a jumbled, jumpy mess.

"You can always do better," Andy Reid said afterward, when asked to assess his team at the halfway point. "I like the way the team is playing." And then, unprompted, Reid noted that "we have a heckuva game coming up here." He said he was proud of the Eagles for not focusing on the Giants until they had dispatched the 2-6 Seahawks.

In the early going, it sure seemed the Eagles might be doing just that. There might be worse ways to start a game than going three-and-out three times in a row, while the opposition sets a franchise record with a 90-yard touchdown pass on its first snap. Let's hope we never find out.

"Nobody panicked on the sidelines. Everybody just kind of did their thing, they settled down," Reid said. "I've been around teams that get a little nervous when things aren't going well. This crew is always encouraging each other. They did the same thing today.''

Donovan McNabb, who started the game 3-for-13 with an interception and then completed 13 passes in a row, said: "The communication was off, our connection with all the guys was not what we wanted it to be, but as you could see, we got things going."

McNabb noted that "it's all about consistency," something he and his offensive teammates are still seeking.

The defense seems less up-and-down, although free safety Brian Dawkins blamed himself, after he missed Koren Robinson in the open field, as the only Eagle with a prime shot at limiting the first-play damage; The Eagles were caught in a blitz, Lito Sheppard bit on a double move, and Seneca Wallace found Robinson alone down the left sideline. The rest of the game, the Seahawks managed 143 yards on offense on 54 plays - 2.6 yards per play.

"Obviously, that [hissed] me off," Dawkins said. "I was quite teed off for the rest of the way. It was just that one play. If I do what I'm supposed to do, and Lito does what he's supposed to do . . . my job at that point is to get him out of bounds so we can line up and play the next snap. If we play that next snap, we probably make them punt."

The Seahawks punted 11 times in a row after the touchdown play.

For the second week in a row, McNabb, rushed hard early, seemed to find it hard to get comfortable. And for the second week in a row, running the ball did not figure into the Birds' early equation, which made it hard to establish a rhythm. Seahawks corners were jumping short routes and disrupting Eagles wideouts.

All that started to change, slowly and then quickly. The Birds actually put a drive together, but it ended when McNabb tried to force a pass late to DeSean Jackson at the back of the end zone, and ended up throwing a pick into double coverage, Deon Grant coming down with the ball. McNabb was 3-for-13.

But the first two Eagles drives of the second quarter were perfect, ending in a 22-yard TD pass to Reggie Brown - Brown's only catch of the game, on which Marcus Trufant went for the interception and left Brown a straight path to the end zone - and a 1-yard pass to guard Todd Herremans, who was lined up as a second tight end. McNabb completed 25 of his last 30 passes.

Herremans' score was the first touchdown ever scored by a Daily News "Sexy Single," and even more amazing, it was the first Eagles touchdown scored by a player listed as an offensive lineman since Bob Gonya caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Dan Barnhardt back on Oct. 7, 1934, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. (Honus Wagner never was that good in coverage.)

"His eyes just about got as big as the Seahawk" when Herremans realized the ball was coming, with the other receivers covered on McNabb's roll to the right, McNabb said.

After that, the Eagles kept driving the ball and kicking field goals - once they should have had a touchdown, but all-too-familiarly, they ran two botched plays on second-and-goal from the 2. The Seahawks, missing All-Pro linebacker Lofa Tatupu (groin), top pass-rusher Patrick Kerney (shoulder) and their starting quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck (back), never showed great life once the 90-yard touchdowns stopped being handed out.

One of the big subplots was the tight-end turnaround. All season, opposing tight ends have been gouging the Birds - 39 catches for 503 yards through the first six games, before Atlanta forgot to throw to its TEs last week. Meanwhile, with L.J. Smith in and out of the lineup and in and out of Reid's game plans, Eagles tight ends have not been much of a factor. They'd caught just 20 passes for 189 yards before yesterday, accounting for two touchdowns.

So all Celek did, with Smith sidelined by a concussion, was catch six passes for 131 yards, a regular-season Eagles tight-end yardage record, besting Keith Jackson's total of 126 on Sept. 17, 1989. Technically, Herremans seemed to be a tight end when he caught his TD pass, and Matt Schobel caught his first two passes of the season, for 10 yards. That's nine catches from the position, without the starter playing, for 142 yards and a touchdown.

Celek, whose 44-yarder was a career high, is good at getting yards after the catch, as he did again and again yesterday. The Seahawks were trying to shut down the three-wideout formations the Eagles kept using, and they also were keying on Brian Westbrook, so Celek was left in space, usually with one safety only somewhat close to him.

"I don't like going down easy," Celek said. "I think I did go down pretty easy today. I know I picked up a few yards, so I can't complain."

Seattle tight end John Carlson, who came in as the Seahawks' leading receiver with 20 catches for 214 yards, managed just two for 30. He had a big drop when the score was still close.

Jim Johnson's defense chased Wallace hard but couldn't sack him until the fourth quarter, when Seattle had to play that desperation game Johnson's defense loves to feed on.

"He was hard to get to," said defensive end Darren Howard, who eventually sacked Wallace twice, giving Howard 6 1/2 for the season. "You gotta keep comin', man . . . Once we got into a passing game, our offense put some points on the board. That's the kind of game we like.

"I just feel like we're a real solid team. We know what our strengths are. If something negative happens, we know what we have to do to get back on track . . . Nobody's pointing fingers, no crooked looks at each other, or anything like that." *

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