The Eagles' inexperience cost them dearly in a loss to the
Just after 4:15 a.m. on the first Wednesday in October, as the
street sweepers crawled down Broad Street, Eagles coach Andy Reid
went to work in his windowless office on the basement level of
old Veterans Stadium. Even though he typically gets only three
hours' sleep, Reid loves the routine that affords him three hours
without interruption before the daily rush begins. On this
morning he turns on the video machine on his desk and studies how
the Redskins' defense that his Eagles will face in four days has
performed in goal line situations. After watching six plays, he
says, "This is not a team you want to run laterally on."
So begins a day in which Reid gets a pessimistic report on
running back Duce Staley's sprained right foot, finalizes the 92
pass plays that will be in Sunday's game plan, follows a
75-second team meeting with a two-hour practice, meets separately
with coaches, p.r. people and reporters, tapes his TV show and
studies more film. At one point he turns to reflect on the
inspirational words of Charles Lindbergh, tacked on a wall behind
his desk: The important thing is to start, to lay a plan and then
follow it step-by-step no matter how small or large each step by
itself may seem.
"If you look at this game," Reid says, "our offense versus
Washington's defense, you'd give it to them. Especially without
Duce. But we'll be O.K. We can do things against their defense.
We have to take the fight to them with our receivers, and I'm
confident our guys will be physical. Insecurity comes when you
haven't prepared, but we're preparing this week like we do for
The Eagles, the Giants and the Redskins all entered Sunday's play
atop the NFC East at 3-2, so winning these head-to-head meetings
is important. But in that brief meeting with his team at 9 a.m.,
Reid chose his words carefully. "Pretty big game this week, men,"
he said in an even tone. "I want no distractions. Forget your
family and the media telling you how good you are. I want all
your focus right here, right now."
Reid takes a measured approach for a reason. Philadelphia is 8-13
since he took over last season, and no matter what happens on
Sunday, the Eagles still have a long way to go to be among the
NFL's elite. If they lose, Reid hopes the game will at least be a
valuable experience for a team on the rise. "Every game, when
you're trying to climb the ladder, is big," he'd said earlier.
"We're in the midst of a process to get to be a good team. We all
have to trust the process."
In doing so there will be good days, such as the season-opening
41-14 rout of the Cowboys. There will be horrible days, like the
33-18 loss to the Giants the next week. There will also be days
like Sunday's 17-14 loss to Washington--at times exhilarating; in
the end, frustrating.
Against the Skins, Reid thought he could divvy up Staley's job
among four backs, but they picked up only a collective 36 yards
on 13 carries. The tight ends and wideouts, on the other hand,
mixed things up with the Skins' secondary, as Reid had hoped,
catching 13 balls for 191 yards and two scores. That should have
been good enough to win, but it wasn't good enough to survive a
late, costly mistake by second-year quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Reid is quick to acknowledge that the Eagles' progress depends as
much on the maturation of McNabb as it does on his own coaching.
On Sunday, McNabb showed progress--he made the right reads about
75% of the time--but the loss will be hard for him to forget, and
rightfully so. McNabb is the kind of passer that Brett Favre was
early in his career. He'll make a great throw, then a horrible
one, followed by a couple of good ones and then a dumb one that
will haunt the team. Cases in point:
--With the Eagles down 7-0 in the second quarter and the offense
having done nothing, McNabb drove his team 50 yards to the
Washington 27. Chased from the pocket on the next play, he rolled
right and, with no one open, should have thrown the ball away.
Instead, he lofted a prayer over the middle that safety Sam Shade
--Starting from his own eight on Philly's ensuing possession as
the first half wound down, McNabb engineered a touchdown drive,
completing four of five passes for 84 yards, the last a 30-yard
rainbow down the right sideline. Cornerback Darrell Green had
blanket coverage on wideout Charles Johnson, but McNabb made a
perfect throw for the score.
--With the Eagles facing a third-and-two from their 41 with 2:50
left and the score tied at 14, McNabb had Mitchell wide open over
the middle. If the pass had been completed, Mitchell probably
would have run into field goal range. But McNabb sailed the ball
five feet over his head.
--The game was still tied with 36 seconds to go when McNabb rolled
right from his own 21. Reid had told him to throw the ball away
if no one was open. No one was open, but McNabb threw the ball
down the right sideline and into the arms of Green, who returned
the interception 33 yards to set up the winning field goal. "You
never want to be the one to lead your team off the bridge, but I
did that today," said McNabb, who completed 17 of 34 passes for
Washington safety Mark Carrier hugged McNabb as the teams left
the field. "Next time you won't make that throw," Carrier told
him. "It's a learning process. Everybody has to go through it."
That includes Reid. "We'll analyze [what he's doing wrong] and
get it straightened out," he said of McNabb. "He's very
aggressive. I'll take that because in the long run it will make
Back with a Vengeance
Niners' Owens Has Career Day
A week's suspension didn't transform 49ers wideout Terrell Owens
into a docile yes-man, but when he plays the way he did in
Sunday's 34-28 overtime loss to the Raiders, even his frustrated
employers will tolerate some of his excesses. Owens was off the
chain in the Battle of the Bay, catching 12 passes for 176
yards--both career highs--and two touchdowns. He made even greater
gains in the locker room, where some Niners were growing
increasingly resentful of the fifth-year receiver's moodiness and
headstrong behavior. "Terrell's learning so much, and he's
starting to do all the right things," said Jerry Rice. "He played
his heart out today."
Two weeks earlier, in a 41-24 victory over the Cowboys at Texas
Stadium, Owens twice punctuated touchdowns with midfield
celebrations, earning him an unpaid week's vacation, compliments
of the team. This time he eschewed any intolerable public
displays, though Owens is not convinced that his antics against
Dallas were the real reason he was disciplined. "Maybe, maybe
not," he says. "A lot of people questioned my character, but I
just want to put this all behind me."
Not only has Owens clashed with teammates during the past two
years, but he has also had run-ins with several staff
members--including 49ers vice president John York, whose wife,
Denise DeBartolo-York, is the team's owner. Following the Dallas
game, York and Owens had a stare-down in the locker room that
some players believe was a factor in coach Steve Mariucci's
decision to banish Owens for a week. "York got in TO's face and
glared at him, and TO glared right back," said one player who
witnessed the incident. "He wouldn't kiss [York's] ass, and
that's why he got suspended."
The Colts' Clutch Kicker
Vanderjagt Loves the Heat
The scariest sports-related moment in the life of the hottest
kicker in football didn't come on the field, even though the
Colts' Mike Vanderjagt had been a terrific athlete in four sports
growing up in Oakville, Ontario. After kicking for the Grey
Cup-champion Toronto Argonauts in 1997, Vanderjagt, like his
teammates, was allowed to keep the cup for a day to show it off
to family and friends. He took it to a bar in Oakville and had a
few beers, but when he was ready to leave at around 1 a.m., the
cup was gone.
"It was worth $58,000," recalls Vanderjagt, "which was
significantly more than my salary at the time. I panicked." It
turned out that a couple of guys had taken the cup as as a joke
and deposited it in a friend's kitchen. It was returned a short
time later. Only now can Vanderjagt laugh about it. "I tell
people I've been in two Grey Cups," he says, "and I've won two
and lost one."
Vanderjagt was signed as a free agent by the Colts before the
1998 season and has made a remarkable 41 of his last 43 field
goal attempts. The cocksure Canadian has booted three game
winners at the gun--all on the road--in the last 10 games. Moments
before he kicked a 45-yarder to beat the Bills 18-16 in windswept
Buffalo on Oct. 1, Vanderjagt made eye contact with his former
holder in Toronto, Bills backup quarterback Doug Flutie, then
smiled at him and nodded. "I just wanted him to see how much I
loved being under that pressure," Vanderjagt says, "because I
knew how much he missed being in that spot: game on the line,
ball in your hands."
Why is Vanderjagt so cool under the gun? "When I was growing up,
I played the pressure positions--quarterback in football, shooting
guard in basketball, goalie in soccer--and I got used to being the
guy who'd win or lose the game for his team," he says. "It's
pretty easy to make a 45-yarder in practice. It's tougher to make
one with your stomach churning, heart pumping and 70,000 people
screaming at you. But I've gotten to the point where I enjoy
For the first time in his four-year career, Cardinals
quarterback Jake Plummer has played consecutive games without
throwing an interception. That hadn't happened in Arizona since
Kent Graham went through the first two games of the 1997 season
without being picked off. Plummer still shares the dubious
distinction of having thrown the most interceptions since the
start of the 1999 season (31). The other quarterback? Green
Bay's Brett Favre....
The patchwork offensive line of the 49ers has surrendered a
league-low three sacks....
Observation of the week, from Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe:
"It's amazing how, when some of the bad teams in the league
start becoming good, the NFL is 'diluted.' As long as the Ravens
and the Rams and the Colts were getting pummeled, the NFL was
'strong.' Now all of a sudden it's 'weak.'"...
During one stretch in the second and third quarters of their
24-16 loss to the Patriots, the Colts had the ball for 36 of 37
plays--only to be outscored 7-6. New England's lone snap was a
44-yard Hail Mary touchdown from backup quarterback Michael
Bishop to wideout Tony Simmons on the last play of the first
half. It was the first pass of Bishop's NFL career....
Being a Bengal is already wearing on rookie wideout Peter
Warrick, who had one catch for 10 yards in a 23-14 loss to the
Titans on Sunday. "People all over ask me, 'When are they going
to start getting you the ball?'" says Warrick, who has caught 16
passes for 225 yards and one touchdown this season. The problem:
Quarterback Akili Smith is completing a league-low 44% of his