Philadelphia (0-0) at Houston (0-0)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Houston, TX
Temp: 88° F
  • Game info: 1:00 pm EDT Sun Sep 10, 2006
  • TV: FOX
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The Philadelphia Eagles look to forget the tumultous 2005 season Sunday when they open up the year against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium.

Without Terrell Owens, that shouldn’t be too hard.

Philadelphia is coming off its first losing season since 1999, failing to return to the playoffs after losing 24-21 to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 39. The Eagles suffered through a horrendous 6-10 year in which the team’s problems were magnified by the saga surrounding Owens, the temperamental wide receiver who was cut from the team in November after—among other infractions— publicly criticizing quarterback Donovan McNabb.

While the Eagles went 2-7 without Owens, injuries to key players—including McNabb—contributed to Philadelphia’s worst season since going 5-11 in 1999.

I think last season hurt a lot of guys’ egos and it should when you have a season like that,” Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. “Around here, we are used to winning. We’re always one of the best teams in the league, defensively and offensively. To go through what we went through last year, no matter with the injuries and the off-field problems, you still expect yourself to go out and win the games you’re supposed to win.”

McNabb’s recovery from surgery to repair a sports hernia that cost him the final seven games of last season will be critical for the Eagles to bounce back. He was sharp in preseason, leading Philadelphia on six scoring drives in nine possessions.

“I definitely like where we’re at right now and I enjoy the way the guys have all been working together and the result of what we’ve been able to do in the preseason,” said McNabb, who had 16 touchdown passes last year in nine games.

The acquisition of Donte’ Stallworth, who had 70 receptions for 945 yards and seven touchdowns last season with the New Orleans Saints, helps lessen the void left by Owens’s departure.

“I’m just a worker,” said Stallworth, who had his own issues with first-year Saints coach Sean Payton. “Whatever (coach Andy Reid) tells me to do, I have to do. I’m taking that as a big challenge.

“I have to not only show him and the rest of the coaches, but my teammates why Coach Reid is making that decision and why I’m here.”

While the Eagles wait to see if their investment in Stallworth pays off, Brian Westbrook has proven his worth. He led the team in rushing last season with 617 yards and added 61 catches for 616 yards and four touchdowns. While Westbrook did not play in the preseason due to a foot injury, Reid feels his running back will be fine come Sunday.

“I’m not going to get into all the percentages, but he’s getting in there, and he’s feeling more comfortable,” Reid said. “I think he’s ready to go.”

Defensively, the additions of Darren Howard, who had 262 tackles and 44.5 sacks in 81 games with the Saints, and rookie tackle Brodrick Bunkley, a first-round pick who had 66 tackles, nine sacks and two fumble recoveries as a senior at Florida State, should bolster Philadelphia’s defensive line.

The Texans have few places to go but up after an NFL-worst 2-14 record in 2005. The team than surprised many in the offseason, bypassing Houston-native, Heisman Trophy winner and USC running back Reggie Bush with the top overall pick in the draft—despite a need at the position—and instead selecting defensive end Mario Williams.

That need at running back became more glaring Sept. 2, when the Texans placed starting running back Domanick Davis on injured reserve and had to scour the waiver wire to build depth. Houston claimed Ron Dayne, who had been cut from Denver’s roster after starting the season atop the depth chart, on Monday.

The 1999 Heisman trophy winner has started just 14 games in his career— none last season when he rushed for 270 yards and one touchdown last year. The move reunites him with Texans coach Gary Kubiak, who was the Broncos offensive coordinator in 2005.

“It’s probably the best situation I could have been in,” Dayne said. “Being able to come to a place where I know the offense.”

While Dayne learns the offense, rookie Wali Lundy is expected to start at running back and be backed up by Vernand Morency.

David Carr returns as quarterback for the fourth straight year, trying again to live up to the hype of being the franchise’s first-ever draft pick in 2002. Carr threw for only 14 touchdowns, was intercepted 11 times and sacked an NFL-high 68 times in 2005.

Philadelphia won the only meeting between the teams, 35-17 in 2002 as McNabb threw for 259 yards and a touchdown. Carr had 188 yards passing and two touchdowns for the Texans but also was intercepted twice and sacked seven times.

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