Eagles seeking punt returner who can catch

Wanted: punt returner. Requirements: catch the ball.

The Philadelphia Eagles don't need a return specialist with game-breaking skills. They just need someone who knows when to call a fair catch or when to simply let the ball bounce.

A day after losing the season opener 16-13 at Green Bay because inexperienced punt returners Greg Lewis and J.R. Reed each fumbled, the search was on for a replacement.

"It's my responsibility to put guys back there that can do a better job," coach Andy Reid said Monday. "That's my fault."

Neither Lewis nor Reed had ever returned a punt in a regular-season game before Sunday. Still, Reid gambled one of the two could fill an important role that sometimes gets overlooked.

The Eagles didn't re-sign Reno Mahe, who returned punts the past three seasons. They were hoping former Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom would win the job in training camp, but he was among the final cuts after a so-so preseason.

So, Lewis, a fifth-year pro and reserve wideout, opened as the returner. With a defender bearing down on him, he should've called for a fair catch on his first return. Instead, Lewis tried to make the catch, got leveled by Jarrett Bush, dropped the ball and the Packers eventually recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.

Reed inexplicably tried to make a running catch in traffic on his second punt return inside Philadelphia's 35 with the score tied and 1:09 left. He dropped the ball and the Packers recovered in excellent field position, setting up the winning field goal.

Houston's first opening day win since 2003 was tempered by the loss of strong safety Jason Simmons, the second starter at the position to have a season-ending injury this year.

Now the Texans must hope that Michael Boulware, acquired recently from Seattle, can get acclimated to the defense.

Coach Gary Kubiak said Von Hutchins, who filled in Sunday after the injury, will start for now and Boulware will also play this week. He was used only on special teams on Sunday. Kubiak said Boulware did well there, but that he still has a lot of work to do before starting on defense.

"The whole thing with him defensively is how much of our defense can we run when he's playing," Kubiak said. "We're going to have to catch him up real fast now because he's going to have to become a factor. I think he'll do that. He's putting in the extra time."

Boulware played well as a rookie for the Seahawks, but struggled early last season and was relegated to a reserve role and used mostly on special teams. He was traded to Houston for former first-round pick Jason Babin.

The last time Carolina won a season opener, little-known Jake Delhomme had taken over at halftime for Rodney Peete and led a comeback to kick off a Super Bowl run.

Four years later, a seasoned and more-criticized Delhomme was nearly flawless in the 27-13 win over St. Louis that ended the team's streak of three straight 0-1 starts and quieted talk about backup David Carr taking over.

"He adjusted in the pocket and made some big throws," coach John Fox said Monday. "A couple other instances in the game I thought he did an excellent job of avoiding the rush and making the next best thing happen."

Delhomme was 18-of-27 for 201 yards and three touchdowns. There were no damaging mistakes or interceptions that hurt him last season. His 125.7 passer rating was fourth best in the league.

Steve Smith had seven catches for 118 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown on Delhomme's perfectly thrown ball. Drew Carter caught two short TDs, and DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams combined to rush for 156 yards on 32 carries.

"With this offense, he gets the opportunity to run it the way he wants to run it," Williams said of Delhomme. "It's more open to him this year. He gets to change things. He can call a whole another play if he wants. It keeps the defense off balance and it keeps the offense thinking and moving."

Asked what stuck out the day after the season opener, Dallas cornerback Anthony Henry didn't talk about winning the game.

"We gave up a lot of yards. Teams are going to look at that," Henry said Monday. "It was a bittersweet win. If we don't get in and correct those things, then it's going to be a problem for us throughout the season."

While a 45-35 victory over the New York Giants showed the potential of the Tony Romo-led offense with new coordinator Jason Garrett's aggressive play calling, the opener raised concerns about what is supposed to be a much better defense under Wade Phillips.

The Cowboys gave up 438 yards and several big plays, including a 60-yard touchdown pass on the third snap of the game. Then Eli Manning had two more TD passes in a three-minute span in the fourth quarter.

"I'm an offensive coach now," Phillips joked Monday. "I'm encouraged by the 45 points and I'm discouraged by the 35. ... We made too many mental mistakes, assignment mistakes. We're not a big-play, give-up defense."

Linebacker Mike Peterson walked through Jacksonville's locker room Monday with his left shoulder wrapped in ice. There was no treatment for his bruised ego.

Peterson, the team's defensive leader, was embarrassed after the Jaguars allowed a franchise-record 282 yards rushing in a 13-10 loss to Tennessee.

Breaking down video of the game Monday was just as painful for a defense that ranked fifth in the league in rushing over the past four years.

"It's over. It happened. It'll never happen again," Peterson said. "All 11 guys have got to be on the same page. It can't be nine guys. It can't be 10 guys. That'll get you hurt in this league. If one guy's not in his gap, it shows up."

Chris Brown ran for a career-high 175 yards, LenDale White added 66 and Vince Young scrambled for 22 and a touchdown. Heck, even receiver Brandon Jones picked up 19 yards on an end-around play.

For the most part, the Titans spread the Jaguars out with three- and four-receiver formations and simply ran up the middle. Brown found gaping holes and huge cutback lanes, while making the Jags look either out of shape or out of position.

Most of his big runs came at the expense of Pro Bowl tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, who were manhandled by Tennessee's offensive line.

The Jaguars blamed the problems on poor technique, missed assignments and too much focus on quarterback Young.

Rod Marinelli has never doubted the defensive system that he brought to Detroit. The Lions coach just had to wait for his defensive ends to be ready to help. On Sunday, that finally happened.

Dewayne White, a Marinelli disciple from Tampa Bay, created two turnovers and Kalimba Edwards had two sacks and forced two fumbles as the Lions beat Oakland 36-21.

"Our defensive front played well," Marinelli said. "That's why I brought Dewayne White here from Tampa Bay, and Kalimba showed what a speed rusher can do."

There had been question marks surrounding both players, with White missing most of training camp and the preseason with a groin injury. Edwards was dogged by his reputation as an underachiever.

White didn't show any signs of physical problems, dominating the fourth quarter. With the Lions holding a 26-21 lead, he intercepted Josh McCown's pass and returned it to the Oakland 10, setting up a field goal.

"That was kind of a surprise - I'd never intercepted a pass before," the five-year veteran said. "I returned a fumble for a touchdown once, but I don't get a lot of chances to intercept passes."

White later stripped McCown of the ball, knocked the loose ball away from Oakland tight end Zach Miller, then finally fell on it. Three plays later, Tatum Bell scored the clinching touchdown.

"That's why I'm here - to make plays," White said. "To sack the quarterback, knock the ball out and cause turnovers."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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