- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

In an era of overnight successes such as the 2002 New England Patriots and the 1999 St. Louis Rams, the Philadelphia Eagles have done it the old-fashioned way. Coach Andy Reid, who inherited a 3-13 mess when he arrived in 1999, produced a 5-11 first season, an 11-5 playoff team in 2000 and an 11-5 NFC runner-up last season.

But now comes the big hurdle. The Eagles haven't been to the Super Bowl since 1980 and haven't won a league championship since 1960.

"Obviously our expectations are high," owner Jeffrey Lurie said before the Eagles evened their record at 1-1 by thrashing the Washington Redskins 37-7 last night at FedEx Field. "We think we have an excellent team. What more can you ask? The time is ours."

But is it? Almost all of the important Eagles are back, but the defense's heart, Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, jumped to NFC East rival Washington. The biggest offseason additions, strong safety Blaine Bishop and ex-Redskins weak-side linebacker Shawn Barber, are returning from injuries that sidelined them for most of 2001. Recently signed receiver Antonio Freeman, coming off the worst of his seven years as a starter, hasn't had time to prove he's the missing piece for an offense that ranked just 17th last year.

"I don't worry about what people on the outside say about what we need and what we're not able to do," Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb said.

Coordinator Jim Johnson said his defense could be even better than last year's seventh-ranked unit and the special teams remain first-rate, but after leading host Tennessee 24-13 in the fourth quarter of last week's opener, Philadelphia uncharacteristically caved and lost 27-24.

"I probably got too conservative; we should have kept firing," said Reid, who called 27 passes and six runs in the first half compared to 15 runs and 11 passes in the second half until the Eagles fell behind with just 3:09 remaining. "We had too many penalties [six for 83 yards after halftime] and turnovers [three, all in the second half]."

The Eagles, who outscored their opponents 101-53 in fourth quarters in 2001, lost this final period 14-0 in their biggest late collapse in almost three years.

"We had control of the game, and there was no reason to let go of it the way we did," Pro Bowl tight end Chad Lewis said.

In the second half, McNabb was sacked three times, intercepted twice and lost a fumble while going just 4-for-12 for 32 yards. The vaunted Philadelphia defense gave up a 39-yard completion on third-and-19 while allowing consecutive touchdown drives of 67 and 84 yards. So much for the Eagles' strong road record of the past two years (14-5, including playoffs).

Instead of taking that next step, the Eagles took a step back. So they came to Washington for last night's game against the Redskins in a near must-win situation and made the Redskins pay. Of the 176 teams that started 0-2 since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, only 17 recovered to make the playoffs.

"We try to take a one-game-at-a-time mentality and blank all the rest of that stuff out," Reid said.

Despite early injuries to Pro Bowl cornerback Troy Vincent, strong side linebacker Carlos Emmons and top reserve linemen John Welbourn (offense) and Derrick Burgess (defense) that will cause them to miss this game and a season-ending foot injury to defensive tackle Hollis Thomas, the Eagles remain confident even before last night's romp. Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins, one of the nine starters who predate Reid's arrival, said the team definitely is Super Bowl material.

"Having the experience of going that far [to the NFC title game] helps, but it's not like we feel like we've accomplished anything," Dawkins said. "I love that we're still hungry. Until you win the ring, you haven't accomplished anything. That's our mindset."

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