TIME: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. EST.
When Donovan McNabb went down, many thought the Philadelphia Eagles’ division title hopes were in trouble.
Three weeks and two quarterbacks later, the Eagles might be able to wrap up the NFC East crown for the second straight year as they visit the Seattle Seahawks.
With third-stringer A.J. Feeley making his second NFL start, Philadelphia can clinch the division with a victory in Seattle if the second-place New York Giants don’t win at Washington earlier Sunday afternoon.
“You know everybody doubted us when Donovan went down,” running back Dorsey Levens said. “We were done, we were completely done. Two of the toughest teams on our schedule and we found a way to beat them.”
Koy Detmer led the Eagles to a rout of the San Francisco 49ers but dislocated his elbow in the win, so Feeley took over and helped the team beat the St. Louis Rams 10-3. Feeley completed 14 of 30 passes for 181 yards with no interceptions, but his teammates weren’t much help with five dropped passes and three lost fumbles.
The last two wins came after Philadelphia learned McNabb would likely miss the rest of the regular season with a broken ankle.
His departure came with the Eagles holding a one-game lead over the Giants, whom many felt could overtake first place due to the absence of Philadelphia’s best player. Instead, it’s New York which has lost two in a row while the Eagles have grabbed a share of the league’s best record.
“We heard that if Donovan goes down, we should pack it in, the season is over,” All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins said. “He’s a great weapon, but we’re not a one-man show.”
That proved true last week as the Eagles defense dominated, sacking Kurt Warner eight times and forcing five turnovers. Philadelphia’s only touchdown came on Bobby Taylor’s 23-yard interception return.
Since a 35-13 loss to Indianapolis on Nov. 10, the defense has given up just four touchdowns in three games.
“I tried to put that behind us when that happened. That was a definite embarrassment,” Taylor said of the loss to the Colts. “I know we’re a better ball club than that so it takes you to fall a couple times before you wake up a little bit.”
One player that will be up for this game is Eagles linebacker Levon Kirkland, surprisingly released by Seattle during the offseason. Known for his run-stopping ability, the 275-pound Kirkland has helped Philadelphia improve its rush defense from 18th in the league last season to third this year.
“Every defense in the league is tough, but Philly brings a little more attitude, a little more aggressiveness and a little more blitzing,” Seattle receiver Bobby Engram said. “It’s a challenge for us, but we should be looking forward to it.”
Seattle, meanwhile, is giving up an NFL-worst 171.7 rushing yards per game, about 64 more than last season.
The defense allowed Garrison Hearst to run for 124 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 31-24 loss to San Francisco.
The Seahawks’ offense, however, had a solid performance, collecting more than 500 total yards for the second straight game. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck led Seattle to two TDs in the final four minutes last week, but his interception with 1:23 to play ended the comeback attempt.
“We can look real good, then we can get kind of sloppy. Until we develop real discipline, we won’t reach our potential,” Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said.
Hasselbeck threw for a franchise-record 427 yards in the loss.
Considering the Eagles’ misfortune with quarterbacks recently, it’s possible Hasselbeck could play against his brother in this contest. After Detmer got hurt, Tim Hasselbeck was promoted from the Eagles’ practice squad to back up Feeley.
This game also represents a rematch. Last year, the Eagles came to Seattle and won 27-3. Matt Hasselbeck started and had a lousy day, completing 9 of 24 passes for 62 yards. He was sacked seven times.
“There were a couple of times he could have run for first downs against them and he overthrew a couple guys,” Holmgren recalled. “People got pretty cranky about it. This year, already, he has been pretty resourceful.”
STANDINGS: Eagles - 1st place, NFC East. Seahawks - 3rd place (tied), NFC West.
EAGLES LEADERS: Offense - McNabb, 2,289 passing yards, 17 passing TDs and 6 rushing TDs; Duce Staley, 783 rushing yards; James Thrash, 45 receptions; Todd Pinkston, 606 receiving yards; Pinkston and Thrash, 5 receiving TDs. Defense - Shawn Barber and Dawkins, 49 tackles; Hugh Douglas, 10 sacks; Taylor, 3 INTs.
SEAHAWKS LEADERS: Offense - Hasselbeck, 1,802 passing yards and 9 passing TDs; Shaun Alexander, 779 rushing yards, 11 rushing TDs and 53 receptions; Koren Robinson, 856 receiving yards and 3 receiving TDs. Defense - Marcus Bell, 62 tackles; Chad Brown, 6 sacks; Reggie Tongue, 3 INTs.
EAGLES TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 150.4 yards per game (5th in NFL); Passing Offense - 216.2 ypg (17th); Total Offense - 366.7 ypg (8th). Rushing Defense - 93.4 ypg (3rd); Passing Defense - 197.2 ypg (10th); Total Defense - 290.7 ypg (3rd).
SEAHAWKS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 94.9 ypg (27th); Passing Offense - 238.8 ypg (9th); Total Offense - 333.7 ypg (17th). Rushing Defense - 171.7 ypg (32nd); Passing Defense - 201.5 ypg (13th); Total Defense - 373.2 ypg (29th).
LAST MEETING: Sept. 23, 2001; Eagles, 27-3. At Seattle, Thrash set career highs with 10 receptions for 165 yards and caught both of McNabb’s touchdown passes.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Eagles - Philadelphia has a league-leading 42 sacks, twice as many as Seattle. … RB Staley has not been much of a factor since QB McNabb’s injury, rushing for 87 yards on 30 carries the last two weeks. … The Eagles have thrown an NFL-low six interceptions—all by McNabb. Seahawks - QB Hasselbeck has completed 64 percent of his passes, third-best in the NFC. .. Seattle is 6-0 when RB Alexander rushes for at least 100 yards, but he’s done it just twice this year. He’s gaining 3.7 yards per carry after averaging 4.4 in his first two NFL seasons. … Thirty-three of WR Engram’s 37 receptions have resulted in first downs.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Eagles - 3-2 on the road; Seahawks - 2-4 at home.
INJURIES: Eagles - OUT: DE Derrick Burgess (foot); QB McNabb (ankle). DOUBTFUL: QB Detmer (elbow). QUESTIONABLE: S Blaine Bishop (groin). PROBABLE: LB Barber (quadricep); CB Sheldon Brown (knee); DE Douglas (knee); DT Paul Grasmanis (ankle/shoulder); RB Levens (ankle/foot); WR Pinkston (knee); CB Taylor (knee); DT Darwin Walker (finger); G John Welbourn (calf/leg). Seahawks - OUT: T Floyd Womack (ankle). DOUBTFUL: CB Willie Williams (foot). QUESTIONABLE: DE Lamar King (knee); CB Kris Richard (illness); LB Anthony Simmons (ankle); CB Shawn Springs (foot). PROBABLE: WR Darrell Jackson (kidney).