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Rude awakening

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PHILADELPHIA – You have to wonder if Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens, as he watched former teammate Donovan McNabb fire deep passes to guys with only a smidgen of his talent, might have wanted to revisit his decision to leave in the first place.

Owens' return was at best unspectacular and at worst frustrating during the Philadelphia Eagles' 38-24 victory. Unspectacular on two levels: He was both a non-factor in the game and largely a nonentity to the crowd.

In fact, Owens seemed almost oddly disappointed with the mild level of contempt he received from the Eagles fans.

"I don't know, for whatever reason, I just felt like it should have been worse," Owens said.

Sure, there were some T-shirts that said, "T.O. swallows … pills" and some interesting twists on the traditional pillbox hat. But there were no banners. When Owens went the entire first half without a reception, he turned into something of a non-issue. In fact, he was booed in hearty fashion only once, when he dropped a relatively simple pass in the third quarter.

But the real frustration of the day for Owens may have been the realization that in destroying his relationship with McNabb, he ended up with a far worse quarterback throwing to him.

As McNabb was firing touchdown bombs to the likes of rookie Hank Baskett and second-year man Reggie Brown and putting himself in the early running for NFL MVP and Comeback Player of the Year, Dallas quarterback Drew Bledsoe was his ponderous self.

Bledsoe, who in Dallas' season opener was undone by Jacksonville, again was exposed by a good defense. Philadelphia harassed him into going 18-of-38 for 223 yards, three interceptions, one lost fumble and seven sacks. He topped that off by having an interception returned 102 yards by cornerback Lito Sheppard with 16 seconds left in the game.

While Owens is doing his best to play the role of good soldier, the "dissatisfied diva" in him was on display. There were a few instances when he lashed out at teammates and Cowboys personnel or sat on the bench looking frustrated. Somewhere along the line, there's going to be hell to pay, particularly after Owens was shown up so badly by McNabb in a game Owens admitted he had circled on the calendar.

For now, however, Owens did his best to stand behind Bledsoe.

Sort of.

"I think, as an offensive unit, we're letting ourselves down," Owens said when asked about Bledsoe. "I'm just out there doing my job. I'm not trying to point any fingers at anybody. Like I said, we win together, we lose together. I'm not going to sit up here and point a finger so you guys can create a story."

As McNabb and Jeff Garcia will tell most people, having Owens stand behind you is not necessarily the safest thing in the world.

McNabb didn't go there on Sunday. He was obviously happy but remained diplomatic.

"I don't talk about it unless I'm asked," McNabb said when asked about Owens. "I've always said that this is a total team game. It's not T.O. vs. Donovan."

McNabb also did his best to look ahead. In fact, he was almost visionary in this game. Midway through the third quarter, the Eagles had a first down at their own 13-yard line. McNabb anticipated the moment beautifully.

In the huddle, McNabb told Baskett to look for a cornerback blitz. If it happened, Baskett should just keep running deep and get past the safety as fast as possible. It happened just that way.

"That man is so smart, he can figure out stuff that NASA scientists can't think about," Baskett said. "It was like he was psychic … it's scaring me just thinking about it."

But McNabb's anticipation was just one aspect of the play. He adroitly stepped up in the pocket away from defensive lineman Greg Ellis. He then stopped on a dime to fire the pass with a defender coming at him from the front. And hit Baskett in stride.

Later, after Dallas had tied the game at 24, McNabb again showed his deft touch on the long ball. The Eagles had a first down at the Dallas 40 with 9:21 remaining in the game. Dallas expected Philadelphia to milk the clock by running.

Philadelphia took advantage of that expectation. McNabb handed off to running back Correll Buckhalter, who then lateraled it back to McNabb. The Dallas safeties bit just enough on the play to allow Brown to get behind the defense.

McNabb lobbed the ball perfectly for Brown, whose touchdown gave the Eagles the lead for good. It also gave McNabb 11 touchdown passes and only one interception through five games. While the 4-1 Eagles do have flaws – their running game is anything but bullish right now – they do have McNabb playing at a stunning level.

"It's like he's hitting three-pointers from halfcourt all game," Baskett said. "He's unreal."