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The NFC West-leading Seahawks go for their fourth straight win on Sunday when they visit the Eagles, who are still very much in the wild-card hunt despite falling short in an upset bid last week.
Alexander played in just 10 games last season while battling a foot injury. Despite the 2005 league MVP’s extended absence, the Seahawks went 9-7 to win their third straight division title and make their fourth consecutive playoff appearance.
The Eagles seemed to have a tougher road ahead of them after losing McNabb to a season-ending knee injury in a defeat to Tennessee last Nov. 19. Philadelphia fell to 5-6 with a loss in its next game, but closed the regular season with five straight wins, clinching its fifth NFC East title in six seasons with a 10-6 record.
McNabb returned from knee surgery to play the first 10 games of this season, but was sidelined with ankle and thumb injuries last week when the Eagles (5-6) lost 31-28 to undefeated New England.
A sprained right ankle continues to hinder McNabb the most, and he is doubtful for this game after missing practice again Friday.
“He’s working like crazy,” coach Andy Reid said. “It’s his lateral mobility, his ability to push off right or left and keep himself in a safe position. Until he has that, he can’t go out there.”
It seems a lot more likely Alexander will get in Sunday’s game after he practiced for the second straight day Thursday. He played with a cast on his cracked left wrist earlier this season, but Seattle hasn’t taken any chances with him since he sprained his left knee against Cleveland on Nov. 4.
“It’s the same as always, go out there and make plays and play hard,” Alexander said. “And that’s what I’m going to do.”
The Seahawks (7-4) have thrived in Alexander’s absence, winning three straight games with Maurice Morris filling in as the primary option in the backfield. Morris has averaged 84.3 rushing yards in his three starts, better than Alexander’s 61.5 average in eight games.
The Seahawks’ win streak has given them a two-game lead over second-place Arizona in the NFC West.
Last Sunday, Morris had 16 carries for 79 yards as Seattle overcame a 12-point halftime deficit to beat St. Louis 24-19. Morris hurt his ankle late in the game, but the injury has been improving all week and it appears he should be close to full strength by Sunday afternoon.
Holmgren said even if Alexander returns, Morris will continue to get his fair share of the carries.
“Whoever’s in there is in there. I expect them to do the job,” Holmgren said of his backs. “Shaun and I talked (Tuesday). Mo will continue to play, and Shaun understands that. So it was all good.”
While Seattle needed a late goal-line stand to preserve an unimpressive win last week, the Eagles are coming off a loss despite playing one of their best games of the season.
They compiled 391 yards and 28 points - season highs against the Patriots - on Sunday night, but couldn’t overcome two late interceptions from backup A.J. Feeley - the third-string quarterback last season behind McNabb and Jeff Garcia.
“There wasn’t a point out there where I felt I was confused,” said Feeley, who threw for a career-high 345 yards and a career high-tying three touchdowns. “We put ourselves in position to win and, unfortunately, I lost it for us.”
The defeat - Philadelphia’s third by three points - dropped the Eagles one game behind Detroit for the final NFC wild-card berth. Their upcoming schedule isn’t doing them any favors with Seattle, the 7-4 New York Giants and the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys coming up in the next three weeks.
The Eagles, however, remain encouraged after coming closer than any other team to beating New England.
“If we keep playing the way we played today, we can still win out,” offensive tackle Shawn Andrews said. “We’re a physical group and we can play with anybody.”
Philadelphia running back Brian Westbrook was held to 92 scrimmage yards last week - just his second game this season with less than 100. However, Westbrook, the league leader with 145.9 scrimmage yards per game, is averaging 161.0 in his five home games.
The Eagles, though, are 2-3 in Philadelphia, where the Seahawks have had some success in recent years. The Seahawks have shut out the Eagles in each of their last two visits to Philadelphia, winning 38-0 on Sept. 6, 1998, and 42-0 on Dec. 5, 2005.
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