- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 17, 2004

Last year’s biggest NFL surprise, the Carolina Panthers, have seen their magic evaporate in 2004.

With top receiver Steve Smith already out for an extended period, running backs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster unable to stay healthy at the same time, and defensive tackle Brentson Buckner and linebacker Mark Fields hurting on a proud defense that has sunk to 31st against the run, the last thing the Panthers needed was to lose All-Pro defensive tackle Kris Jenkins to a season-ending shoulder injury.

All these woes add up to a 1-3 record heading into today’s rematch of the NFC Championship game in Philadelphia, where the 4-0 Eagles are rested after a bye week and primed to avenge January’s stunning 14-3 upset.

All-Pro receiver Terrell Owens, whose acquisition was prompted by the failures of the passing game against Carolina last year, has six touchdowns among his 26 catches from Donovan McNabb, the NFL’s third-rated quarterback. The Eagles have won all of their games by double digits in their best start in 11 years.

“We know this team knocked us out of the chance to go to the Super Bowl … but we can’t be overwhelmed by it,” linebacker Ike Reese said. “That was the downfall against Tampa last year [in the 17-0 defeat that followed the 2002 NFC title game loss to the Buccaneers]. Everybody wanted revenge, revenge, revenge. We got all wound up and forgot how to execute.”



Seahawks-Patriots — This one had all the makings of a showdown of unbeatens until Seattle blew a 27-10 lead in the final six minutes and lost at home in overtime to NFC West rival St. Louis 33-27 last week. And now the Seahawks (3-1) must try to bounce back on the road against the Patriots (4-0), who have won an NFL-record 19 consecutive games and have matched the 17-game regular-season streak reached by the Dolphins twice.

“I really don’t think we can say we’re near the caliber of team the Patriots are,” said Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. “We’ve never even won a playoff game. Now all of a sudden, people have us playing the Patriots in the Super Bowl. We have to earn that respect.”

The two-time Super Bowl champion Patriots know they’re in for their biggest test since an opening 27-24 escape of Indianapolis, having played weaklings Arizona, Buffalo and Miami in the interim. With receivers Troy Brown and Deion Branch hurting, Tom Brady passed for a career-low 76 yards last week against the winless Dolphins.

Chargers-Falcons — Two teams on the rise meet for the first time since their major trade on the eve of the 2001 draft. In that trade the Falcons sent wide receiver Tim Dwight, their first-round pick and third-round pick in 2001 and their second-round pick in 2002 to the Chargers for the No. 1 overall pick in 2001, which of course became Michael Vick.

San Diego took running back LaDainian Tomlinson fifth overall and later added receiver Reche Caldwell while landing quarterback Drew Brees with its own second round selection.

Three years later, Tomlinson is an established star while Caldwell and Brees are finally emerging for the 3-2 Chargers, who scored 72 points — their highest two-game total in 11 seasons — in upsets of Tennessee and Jacksonville the past two weeks. Brees played so well in those games that No.1 pick Philip Rivers has become an afterthought heading into the matchup with Atlanta’s defense, the league’s second-stingiest.

Vick led the Falcons to the second round of the playoffs in his first year as a starter in 2002. Injured most of last season, Vick hasn’t been quite his old dynamic self as he adjusts to the West Coast offense. However, Atlanta was 4-0 until it was upset 17-10 last week by visiting Detroit, which sacked Vick six times. Vick’s accuracy is way up to 60.2 percent, but he has just two touchdown passes.

So who got the better of the trade?

“Hopefully, you won’t be able to say much [someday], other than both of the guys were Hall of Famers,” Tomlinson said. “You were going to get a Hall of Fame running back or a Hall of Fame quarterback. That’s not too bad.”

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