PHILADELPHIA (AP)—The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t need their best offensive effort to beat injury-depleted Carolina in a rematch of last season’s NFC championship game.
Terrell Owens had all of his 123 yards receiving in the first half and Lito Sheppard returned an interception 64 yards for a score, leading the undefeated Eagles to a 30-8 victory over the Panthers on Sunday.
“Offensively, we didn’t play well,” Owens said. “We rode the backs of our defense.”
The Panthers’ 14-3 victory nine months ago denied Philadelphia its first trip to the Super Bowl since the 1980 season. But the Eagles, who have lost three consecutive conference championship games, have come back strong, starting 5-0 for the first time since 1981. They’ve won each game by double digits.
Carolina, which lost to New England in the Super Bowl, fell to 1-4. Only eight teams have overcome a 1-4 start to make the playoffs.
“We didn’t play well enough to beat a good team on the road,” Panthers coach John Fox said. “We must continue to improve.”
Donovan McNabb, off to the best start of his six-year career, didn’t have a touchdown pass for the first time this season. But he completed passes of 53 and 51 yards to Owens that led to 10 points. McNabb finished 14-of-26 for 209 yards and one interception.
“Defensively, we had a great game,” McNabb said. “It was a total team effort.”
“Things aren’t happening right now,” Delhomme said. “Certainly it’s hard, it’s discouraging.”
Sheppard, who had two picks, put the game away in the third quarter with a nifty return after another poorly thrown pass by Delhomme. Sheppard eluded a couple of tackles along the left sideline, waited for a block from Corey Simon near the 15 and ran in to make it 23-0.
“I was trying to make something happen. I was able to make a couple guys miss then I got some great blocks,” said Sheppard, who predicted earlier in the week he’d have two interceptions.
Brian Westbrook added a 42-yard TD run in the final minutes.
Right from the start, the Eagles proved they’re not the same team that was completely shut down in the conference title game. J.R. Reed returned the opening kickoff 66 yards, and McNabb’s first two passes were caught by Todd Pinkston, who didn’t have a catch in the last meeting.
David Akers’ 48-yard field goal gave the Eagles a 3-0 lead.
McNabb and Owens connected on a 53-yard pass on the next possession, setting up Dorsey Levens’ 1-yard TD run to make it 10-0.
Owens, who challenged cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. earlier in the week, beat Manning on the long pass. Manning, who had three picks against McNabb in the previous game, got another interception, but it was too late to matter.
A 51-yard catch-and-run pass to Owens set up a 34-yarder by Akers that made it 13-0 in the second quarter. Akers also hit a 43-yarder in the third quarter.
Owens had four catches, but didn’t score for the first time this season.
Stephen Davis had 66 yards rushing for Carolina in his first game back after missing three games with a knee injury. Injuries have made it difficult for the Panthers to repeat in the NFC. Wideout Steve Smith and All-Pro defensive tackle Kris Jenkins are out for the year, and No. 2 running back DeShaun Foster went down with a broken collarbone last week.
“As much as we’re a different team, they’re a different team. They’re banged up,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. ^Notes: Panthers DE Mike Rucker left after the first series with an irregular heartbeat. … The Eagles are 6-0 after a bye under Andy Reid, and an NFL-best 51-18 overall since 2000. … Philadelphia has led after each quarter this season. … They haven’t started 6-0 since 1961, when they finished 10-6. … Delhomme has thrown nine interceptions in five games. … The Eagles recovered an onside kick to start the second half.