As Eagles run on empty, Giants' E. Manning soars

ON THE NFL

October 24, 2005|By KEN MURRAY

Maybe the running game really is a luxury the Philadelphia Eagles don't need this season, after all.

Maybe it doesn't take forever to develop a quarterback, contrary to what results in Baltimore seem to indicate. See the New York Giants.

Maybe the road to the AFC North title still runs through Pittsburgh, and not Cincinnati as it might have appeared.

These are a few things that became more evident in Week 7 of a tumultuous, delirious and perfectly sublime NFL season.

Let's start in Philadelphia, where a blocked field-goal attempt and a defensive strip for a turnover proved to be the Eagles' biggest plays in a 20-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers, obscuring the fact the team's offense has produced just one touchdown in its past two games.

Forget that Donovan McNabb completed a franchise-record 35 passes. It was the number of passes he threw that raised the red flag. With coach Andy Reid calling plays, McNabb threw 34 passes in the first half, 54 total, and any running plays were simply called to give the quarterback's arm a rest.

With the worst - make that the most neglected - running game in the NFL, the Eagles ran just 14 times against San Diego for a net gain of 24 yards. Four of those runs were McNabb scrambling or taking a knee at the end.

Aside from having no balance on offense, the Eagles got only a 4-yard touchdown to Terrell Owens out of the passing game. An ill-advised McNabb pass before the half, when the Eagles were in the red zone, cost them at least three points. It was poor clock management on McNabb's part, not the first time he's been guilty of that. He needed to throw the ball out of bounds or in the end zone.

As it was, the Eagles got their go-ahead touchdown when Quintin Mikell blocked Nate Kaeding's field-goal try and Matt Ware caught it on one hop to begin a 65-yard frolic down the sideline.

Still, it took a strip of Chargers wide receiver Reche Caldwell by Sheldon Brown at the Eagles' 19 with 1:44 left to secure the win.

The Eagles won this game with a blitzing defense that not only kept LaDainian Tomlinson out of the end zone for the first time in 19 games, but also held him to a career-low 7 yards on 17 carries.

Unless the defense and special teams can continue to provide dramatic support, the Eagles may want to think about that running game.

As for grooming quarterbacks, it may be unfair to compare the Ravens' recent lot of passers to the Giants' precocious Eli Manning, but enough's enough. Isn't it time they developed somebody who can throw the ball well enough to get into the end zone?

In Manning's 13th career start yesterday, he produced a game that was worthy of, say, Brett Favre, or his brother Peyton. Manning marched the Giants 83 yards in 15 plays to a winning touchdown with five seconds left against the Denver Broncos.

He may have a baby face, but he's got a veteran's gut. He used the clock masterfully and coaxed the Giants down the field.

With 10 seconds left on third-and-goal from the 2, Manning bought extra time in the pocket by sliding left. Then, with safety John Lynch in his face, he flipped a soft, accurate pass to Amani Toomer crossing in the end zone.

Game, set, match. Giants, 24-23.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, meanwhile, were reminding everyone that they're still kings of the AFC North hill. The upstart Cincinnati Bengals showed their inexperience in big games right away.

The Bengals reached the Pittsburgh 12 and 8 on their first two possessions, but came away with only a field goal. A touchdown pass was wiped out by replay, another pass was dropped in the end zone, and they missed a 30-yard field goal.

Pittsburgh went old school on the Bengals, bringing back Jerome Bettis to pound the ball and a rookie tight end, Heath Miller, to catch it. It didn't hurt that Ben Roethlisberger was back at quarterback after missing a game with a knee injury.

Steelers coach Bill Cowher regretted that he hadn't used Bettis a week ago in a home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, a game in which backup quarterback Tommy Maddox imploded. This week he got Bettis into the game early (Willie Parker started) and it paid dividends.

After two big Bettis runs moved the ball to the 2, Roethlisberger faked another handoff to him and flipped a touchdown pass to a wide-open Miller in the end zone.

Rookie middle linebacker Odell Thurman bit on the play fake and let Miller get the easiest touchdown of the day.

Hot reads

Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells has a reputation for getting extra mileage out of veteran quarterbacks, but Drew Bledsoe is a challenge. Bledsoe threw a horrible interception into coverage with regulation winding down that allowed the Seattle Seahawks to take a 13-10 victory. It was a crushing loss for the Cowboys.

After going 5-for-15 in the first half, the Chargers' Drew Brees got the upper hand against the Eagles' barrage of blitzes. He completed 18 of 25 throws for 187 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.

It looks like the Joey Harrington era is over in Detroit. The Lions started Jeff Garcia in Cleveland, and a 13-10 win was the reward. Garcia went 22-for-34 for 210 yards against his former team.

All hope is lost in Houston when the 0-6 Texans allow quarterback David Carr to throw only nine passes (for 48 yards) in a 38-20 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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