Duce Is Loose
Regrouping after the loss of Donovan McNabb, the Eagles turn to
resurgent running back Duce Staley
They embraced in the concourse of Veterans Stadium late on Sunday
afternoon, a devastated quarterback on crutches and his dapper
running back. Eagles passer Donovan McNabb didn't say anything to
Duce Staley, and considering the circumstances, he really didn't
have to. McNabb was on his way to a press conference to answer
questions about the right fibula he had fractured hours earlier
in the Eagles' 38-14 win over the Cardinals. Staley, drifting
toward the exit and waving farewell to his teammate, was already
thinking about his new role as Philadelphia's go-to guy.
It was a rough Sunday for quarterbacks--McNabb was one of three
on division-leading teams to go down with a serious injury. Most
frightening were the concussion and spine injury sustained by the
Steelers' Tommy Maddox, who temporarily lost feeling in his arms
and legs after a hit by Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck. Maddox
was hospitalized, and no timetable has been set for his return.
Also, the Broncos' Brian Griese left with a sprained left knee
late in the third quarter in Seattle and is expected to miss up
to three weeks.
The most surprising diagnosis, however, was McNabb's. He was hurt
while being sacked on Philly's third snap of the game. However,
believing that the ankle was only sprained, McNabb played on and
completed 20 of 25 passes for 255 yards and four touchdowns. The
fracture, discovered when Xrays were taken after the game, will
sideline him for six to eight weeks--at least the rest of the
regular season. On Monday coach Andy Reid said he was preparing
as if McNabb were done for the year.
"He's their Michael Jordan," said Giants linebacker Mike Barrow,
whose team (6-4 and a game behind the Eagles in the NFC East)
figures to benefit most from the quarterback's absence.
"Everything goes through him." Reid now turns to Koy Detmer--who
has six career NFL starts but none since 1999--for this Monday
night's game in San Francisco against the 49ers.
The burden on offense now falls squarely on Staley's shoulders.
On Sunday he picked up 136 yards on 31 carries, his third
100-yard rushing effort of the year; he added 82 yards and a
touchdown on three receptions. "I know I'm blessed to still be
playing," says Staley, who was hobbled by a career-threatening
foot sprain in 2000 as well as a lingering shoulder injury last
season. "I'm trusting my instincts again."
Even before McNabb was injured, Reid had been trying to ease the
load on his Pro Bowl signal-caller. The Eagles have the NFL's
second-ranked rushing attack (159.1 yards per game), and Staley
has been the catalyst. In the last five games he has averaged
20.8 carries, up from 11.6 in the first five games. He has
thrived in a rotation that includes free-agent acquisition Dorsey
Levens and rookie Brian Westbrook.
Staley was initially angered by the addition of Levens, signed
after Correll Buckhalter tore an ACL at a spring minicamp, and
Westbrook, a third-round pick out of Villanova. Staley viewed the
crowd at his position as an indication that Reid didn't believe
he could be the same back who had 1,000-yard seasons for losing
Philly teams in 1998 and '99. But Staley seized the opportunity.
Now he will be asked to do even more. Considering that Detmer has
thrown two passes this year and only 46 over the past three-plus
seasons, Reid will undoubtedly lean even more heavily on the
ground game. "There was a time when Duce used to be the whole
offense around here," says fullback Cecil Martin.
That time may be here again.
Manning's Balancing Act
Colts Passer Needs the Run
It can be maddening to watch the presnap aerobics of Colts
quarterback Peyton Manning--arms pointing wildly, feet stomping
repeatedly, other gesticulations and waggles only Sergio Garcia
could love. Indeed, during a recent three-game losing streak,
Manning endured unusual criticism for his deliberate field
generalship. But after Sunday's 20-3 win over the
Cowboys--Indianapolis's second consecutive victory, following
their 35-13 upset of the Eagles on Nov. 10--this much can be
said: There's a method to Manning's madness. "Sometimes that
[play] clock can get pretty low, but that's just me checking out
of the play, taking what the defense gives me," said Manning,
whose 6-4 team remained tied with the Titans atop the AFC South.
"Today we made the right adjustments, which finally got our
running game going."
Few teams rely as heavily as the Colts do on play-action and draw
plays to set up their passing attack, which is why, with running
back Edgerrin James hurting and Manning pressing, the offense had
struggled. Already fighting to regain his All-Pro form after
suffering a season-ending right ACL tear in October 2001, James
was further hampered by hamstring and rib injuries during Indy's
three-game slide. Manning threw a total of six interceptions in
those games, helping to put his team in a big hole (20 points or
more) early each time.
The offense performed poorly in the first half again on Sunday.
James had 37 yards on 11 carries, and at halftime, with the score
tied 3--3, Manning and offensive coordinator Tom Moore decided
that Indy should abandon its two-tight-end sets in favor of more
three-wideout alignments, giving James additional running room
and providing more options in the passing game.
The adjustment paid off when James ran for 69 yards on 13
carries--none bigger than his four rushes midway through the
second half. After a Dallas offsides penalty on an Indianapolis
punt gave the Colts new life, James picked up six, five, 16 and
four yards, setting up Mike Vanderjagt's 23-yard field goal with
13:06 to play. Touchdown passes of 31 yards and one yard from
Manning to wideout Marvin Harrison provided the final margin.
"We stayed patient today, especially Edgerrin," said Manning, who
completed 29 of 38 passes for 252 yards. "He showed how tough he
is. We just have to get things started earlier, because it's
asking a lot to dig out of holes every week." --Josh Elliott
Steelers Get Third Degree
One reason the Steelers (541) have already lost more games than
they did all of last year is their woeful third-down defense.
Going into last week's game at Tennessee, Pittsburgh's opponents
had converted 46.6% of their third-down chances, including three
plays in which the Falcons needed more than 20 yards in the Nov.
10 game. Despite making third-down defense a priority during
their preparations last week, the Steelers allowed the Titans to
convert 12 of 19 such opportunities in a 31-23 Tennessee win....
Dolphins cornerback Sam Madison has been to two Pro Bowls, but
opposing quarterbacks are throwing more in his direction to avoid
teammate Patrick Surtain. Against the Ravens, Madison allowed a
28yard touchdown catch to wideout Travis Taylor, while Surtain
tied a career high with his fifth interception of the season.
Look for Surtain to make his first trip to Hawaii.... How did the
Chargers beat the 49ers 20-17 in overtime after trailing 17-7
late in the fourth quarter? Although San Diego started four
backups on the offensive line and quarterback Drew Brees
attempted 50 passes, the Chargers did not allow a sack.
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