T.O.'s return to Philly an afterthought now

PHILADELPHIA -- T.O.'s last trip to the City of Brotherly Love ended with the star receiver sprinting off the field and shouting angrily in the locker room following a loss to his former team.

These are much happier times for Terrell Owens and the Dallas Cowboys.

As for the Philadelphia Eagles, well, it's obvious they had a more potent offense when No. 81 wasn't Jason Avant.

Owens returns to Philly on Sunday night for the second time since he was kicked off the team in the middle of the 2005 season. But this homecoming lacks the luster of his first visit, a 38-24 victory for the Eagles in Week 5 last year.

After all, Owens and Donovan McNabb are buddies again. OK, they're not enemies. Their highly publicized feud ended at the Super Bowl, though Owens probably won't spend Saturday night at McNabb's guest room in New Jersey.

"We had our exchange of words," Owens said. "I felt like it was a load off my chest. I wished him well, tried to tell him to keep up with the rehab. That was it. Other than that, there's no hard feelings."

McNabb, who became a target for Owens' harsh criticism after the Eagles lost to New England in the Super Bowl three years ago, would never criticize any of his receivers. Deep down, he knows having Owens on the opposite end of his passes instead of Kevin Curtis or Reggie Brown easily could solve the offense's red-zone woes.

"I enjoy playing with the guys that I've had," McNabb said. "I never had a Pro Bowl receiver before T.O., either. I spread the ball around, and I spread the ball around when T.O. was here, too.

"While he was here, we had a great year-and-a-half together. Although we know what happened in 2005 during the offseason, it just didn't work out. It could've been great, but there's no need to harp on it."

Long before Owens joined the Eagles (3-4) and eventually ended up with the hated Cowboys (6-1), this was a bitter rivalry. Passionate Philly fans would rather beat Dallas than anyone else on the schedule no matter records or importance.

Though Buddy Ryan was 0-3 in the playoffs in the late 1980s, the bombastic coach became a legend around here because he was 8-2 against the Cowboys.

Ryan's popularity soared during his second season in Philadelphia when he instructed quarterback Randall Cunningham to fake kneeling down and throw deep late during a blowout win against the Cowboys; he thought Tom Landry ran up the score in a replacement game earlier that year. Two years later, Ryan orchestrated Bounty Bowl on Thanksgiving Day.

There's no price on Owens' head, but he shouldn't feel too comfortable going across the middle if hard-hitting Brian Dawkins or anyone else gets a clean shot.

The Eagles can't afford another loss, so the NFC East-leading Cowboys will face a desperate team looking to do whatever it takes to get a victory.

"I could care less about what Dallas has," said Dawkins, expected to play for the first time since sustaining a neck stinger in Week 2. "We're concerned about what we're trying to get back to as an Eagles team."

A preseason favorite to win the conference, Philadelphia has struggled. Coaching blunders, special teams miscues and inconsistency on offense doomed the defending division champions.

Meanwhile, the Tony Romo-led Cowboys have breezed through their schedule, winning five games by a double-digit margin. The only loss came against the unbeaten Patriots, 48-27, in a game Dallas led in the third quarter.

"They've played tremendous football," said beleaguered Eagles coach Andy Reid, who also is dealing with more problems related to his son's drug arrest. "They play fast, both sides of the ball. They're executing very well right now, both offensively and defensively, and, for that matter, on special teams. They're very consistent there. They've got good football players and they're playing well."

Despite Philadelphia's record, none of the Cowboys would underestimate their opponent. The Eagles were an underdog playing their third consecutive road game against a division foe when they stormed into Texas Stadium last Christmas. Behind Jeff Garcia and an inspired defense, they beat Dallas 23-7 and moved into first place with one game left.

"I think they're playing well now," said Cowboys coach Wade Phillips, who was the defensive coordinator under Ryan with the Eagles from 1986-88. "And McNabb said it, 'You've got to go through Philadelphia to win the division and win the conference.' That's what we're going to try to do."

The Eagles haven't lost to the Cowboys in Philadelphia since Reid's first season in 1999. It was Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin's final game in the NFL. Irvin sustained a spinal injury and was taken off the field by ambulance as Eagles fans cheered, of course.

T.O. might not be treated so kindly.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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