Originally created 10/11/05

Eagles are looking up in NFC East



PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia Eagles have a week off to ponder their unfamiliar place at the bottom of the NFC East standings.

Sure, the defending conference champions have a winning record at 3-2. But they're looking up at the rest of the teams in the division after they were thoroughly dismantled in a 33-10 loss to Dallas on Sunday.

The New York Giants and Washington Redskins are 3-1 and the Cowboys also are 3-2, making the East the only division in which each team is above.500.

Philly's once-stingy defense suddenly is allowing big chunks of yards and its high-powered offense has been inconsistent despite averaging 34 points in its three victories.

Now they'll have plenty of time away from practice to reflect on their dismal effort in Dallas, in which the Cowboys had a 456-129 advantage in total yards and controlled the game from the opening kick.

"We'll go back and evaluate this week," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "We do know we need to play better and as coaches, we need to put players in better position to make plays."

In the last two games, the Eagles were dominated in the first half. Donovan McNabb led a remarkable comeback from an 18-point deficit in Kansas City a week ago, but the Cowboys completely shut down the offense from start to finish.

The Eagles managed just six first downs and went three-and-out six times. Terrell Owens was held to five catches for 50 yards and Brian Westbrook had just 36 yards rushing and receiving.

"We couldn't keep drives alive and that's what happens," said McNabb, who completed 13 of 26 passes for 131 yards. "These games happen.

"I have to be very critical of myself knowing the situation and just take care of the ball a little bit better, be more effective on first and second down to give us a better opportunity on third down."

Philadelphia's defense outscored its offense 7-3 in the team's worst loss in a meaningful game since a 27-3 defeat at Pittsburgh last November. The Eagles rebounded with six consecutive wins after losing to the Steelers to improve to 13-1 and clinch their fourth straight division title.

It won't be so easy winning five crowns in a row. Each of the other teams in the East have improved, while it appears the Eagles have taken a step back.

The defense now has given up more than 30 points in two consecutive games for the first time since 1997. The offense was downright ordinary against the Cowboys and has just 13 points in losses to Atlanta and Dallas.

"This was no different than what we went through when we played Pittsburgh last year," McNabb said. "We had a couple games like this the previous year, too. We just couldn't get into a rhythm. We have to use this as a learning experience."

McNabb and several other banged-up players should benefit from the time off. The five-time Pro Bowl quarterback is playing with a sports hernia that will require surgery after the season, or possibly earlier. Defensive tackle Darwin Walker missed his third straight game with a thigh injury, and his return should boost a group that didn't put any pressure on Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

Since Reid arrived in 1999, the Eagles have struggled the game before a bye. They've lost four of seven games going into a week off, but are 6-0 the next game. Philadelphia hosts San Diego on Oct. 23.