December 21, 2004

As Terrell Owens moves one day closer to surgery on his injured right ankle/leg, the Eagles have a game against St. Louis to prepare for and a playoff season to face without T.O.
Reaction among the players to the news that Owens will be lost through the NFC playoffs was dramatic and the mood was upbeat: The Eagles will move on.

"We know what T.O. means to the team. He's a great player and we hope he comes back and helps us," said wide receiver Freddie Mitchell, who is expected to start in Owens' absence. "At the same time, we're a team. We have other great players to step up in and fill the void. That's our approach. The games continue. We didn't get to 13-1 because of one player. We've had this situation before and we know how to overcome these kinds of injuries."

Players like Greg Lewis have to step up
Head coach Andy Reid has yet to announce his plans for the two remaining regular season games -- at St. Louis on Monday night and home with the Bengals on January 2. He'll want to look at his offense, one would presume, without Owens.

That means the Eagles may continue to play quarterback Donovan McNabb a bit to develop timing and rhythm with other receivers, specifically second-year man Billy McMullen, who could hae a significant role in the final two games here.

"That's the approach I would take," said ESPN analyst and former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski. "You want to have a little something going once you get to the playoffs. You don't want to be right there in a playoff situation not having any kind of game experience to fall back on. So I would imagine Andy will play Donovan a little bit on Monday night, just so he can get a few throws out to his new group of receivers.

"I think it's a blow to lose T.O., but the Eagles are still the best team in the NFC. They still have weapons on offense. Brian Westbrook is still there. Andy and his staff are as good as anybody at scheming and coming up with favorable matchups. Not having T.O. makes it more difficult, but the coaching staff will find a way."

Said wide receiver Greg Lewis: "Obviously T.O. is a big part of our team, but this just means we have other players who need to contribute. You have to be ready in the NFL. They always say you're one play away. The time is now to take the next step. We don't have T.O. around for a while to make plays. It's on us."

These final regular season games are meaningless as far as the standings go, but they will provide a great testing group for the Eagles and the offense. Mitchell, Lewis, Todd Pinkston and McMullen now must be an even more integral part of the passing game.

While it's unlikely the Eagles will unveil any new tricks in the next two weeks, they do want to have confidence in the attack heading into the Jan. 15-16 postseason party.

"That's exactly right," said Jaworski. "You want to have some kind of game experience to put on tape, to show to another team that you've got to account for this formation or this play. Billy McMullen -- I don't know much about him. Teams out there don't know much about him. If he goes in and makes a few plays, all of a sudden a defense has to take notice. That takes some of the focus off of Westbrook and McNabb."

This is the third straight year the Eagles have had a key member of the offense injured nearing the playoffs. In 2002 it was McNabb who missed the final six games with a broken leg, only to return once the playoff started. He was clearly not the same quarterback as before the injury.

Last year, Westbrook suffered a torn triceps in the final regular season game and he missed the entire playoff season. The Eagles won one game without him, and then, as McNabb suffered a rib injury in the first half, lost the NFC Championship Game to Carolina.

"Injuries are part of the game. That's a fact," said Jaworski. "You have to overcome them. The Eagles have been through this. They know how to react. Andy won't flinch. He'll continue to have them ready to play."