Hot, Healthy Eagles Ready For Giants

The Eagles have two very important things going for them as they prepare for Sunday's first-round playoff battle against the Giants. They are hot, and they are healthy.

The Philadelphia Eagles head into the post-season on the wings of a season-saving five-game winning streak that helped them earn their fifth NFC East title in the last six years and their sixth playoff appearance in the last seven seasons.

As for their health, well, they enter this post-season in much better shape than previous ones under coach Andy Reid. Yes, they are without quarterback Donovan McNabb, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in mid November, and defensive end Jevon Kearse, who went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week Two. But aside from that, they are feeling pretty chipper.

Their offensive line, which is playing as well as any group in the league right now, hasn't had a single starter miss a game due to injury this season. Running back Brian Westbrook, who has been bothered by injuries much of his career, is holding up very well under a heavy workload that has included a career-high 322 touches.

Heading into Sunday's playoff game, they don't have a starter on the weekly injury report listed worse than probable. Their biggest concerns are backup running back Correll Buckhalter and backup defensive end Juqua Thomas, who both are nursing calf strains but should be able to play. Both Buckhalter and Thomas took part in practice on Thursday.

Five weeks ago, a division title and a playoff berth seemed out of the Eagles' reach. An 18-point loss to the Titans and a 24-point loss to the Colts had left them near death at 5-6. They lost McNabb in the Tennessee game.

But they rallied behind McNabb's replacement, Jeff Garcia, and rattled off five consecutive wins, including back-to-back-to-back victories on the road against their three division rivals, the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys.

"This is a good team," said Pro Bowl free safety Brian Dawkins, who raised the level of his game down the stretch and helped the Eagles hold their final four opponents to 16.5 points per game after giving up 23.7 in the previous seven. "We're playing our best ball right now."

Garcia, 36, has far exceeded expectations as McNabb's replacement. In six starts, he has completed 64.7 percent of his passes, has averaged 8.1 yards per attempt and has thrown nine touchdown passes and just two interceptions.

"After we lost to the Colts, we realized that if there was any way that this team was going to be a playoff team, we had to start it right then, with the Carolina game," Garcia said. "We couldn't afford to lose another game. We had to play like it was our last. We did a good job from that point of staying focused and going into each game with a new level of intensity and riding the wave. We started to play our best football at the right time of year."

Only in the unstable NFC can a team that seemed out of the playoff hunt little more than a month ago think it has an excellent shot to make the Super Bowl.

"I've never been through anything like this," Dawkins said. "This has definitely been a year of some real downs. But for guys to hang together, stick together and fight this thing together, it says a lot. It's built a lot of character in that locker room. You can just feel when we touch the field now, we expect to do special things. Offense, defense, special teams. As a unit, we expect to do special things."

Notes From The 'Nest:

  • Three of the Eagles' top four wide receivers - Donte Stallworth, Reggie Brown and Hank Baskett - are averaging 17.7 yards per catch or better. Brown, who has 46 receptions, is averaging 17.7. Stallworth, who has 38 catches, is averaging 19.1. Baskett, who has 22 catches, is averaging 21.1. Greg Lewis, who has 24 grabs, is averaging "only" 14.5 yards per catch.
  • Reid has maintained an even-keel approach through this roller coaster season. Even when the Eagles lost five of six games and were 5-6, he never turned into Tom Coughlin. "They were getting plenty of negative feedback outside of the building," the Eagles coach said. "I thought it was important that you found things to be optimistic about. And there were plenty of those things. We were just a hair off. In this league, anything is possible. There are enough examples of that each year. Anything's possible as long as you stay relatively healthy and that ball bounces your way. But you've got to keep playing hard. The things you can take care of you take care of."
  • QB Jeff Garcia had a 95.8 passer rating this season. His 188 attempts weren't enough to qualify him for the official rankings. If he had enough, he would've finished fourth behind the Colts' Peyton Manning (101.0), the Chiefs' Damon Huard (98.0) and the Saints' Drew Brees (96.2). The Eagles' injured starter, Donovan McNabb, finished fourth in the official rankings with a 95.5 passer rating.

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