Game SnapShot: Philadelphia at Atlanta

<b>Game Snapshot</b><br> <b>KICKOFF:</b> Sunday, 4:15 ET<br> <b>GAMEDATE:</b> 11/02/03<br> <b>SURFACE:</b> Field Turf<br> <b>TV: </b>FOX, Sam Rosen, Bill Maas<br> <b>SERIES:</b> 23rd meeting. Eagles lead the series, 11-10-1. The two teams last met in January in the second round of the '02 playoffs, with the Eagles winning easily, 20-6.

Donovan McNabb, playing for the first time since breaking his leg in November, completed 20 of 30 passes for 247 yards and threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to James Thrash in the fourth quarter to salt the game away.

2003 RANKINGS: Eagles: offense 31st (8th rush, 32nd pass); defense 19th (7th rush, 26th pass). Falcons: offense 28th (21st rush, 27th pass); defense 32nd (30th rush, 32nd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Falcons made wholesale changes to their secondary over the bye week, but it's the Eagles' running game that Atlanta should be most concerned about. QB Donovan McNabb has been in a season-long slump and the defense is beat up, so the Eagles have predominantly been a running team the past five games. If the Falcons can contain the run, they can help the revamped secondary. Atlanta will start QB Kurt Kittner for the second consecutive game. Philadelphia has a strong run defense, but the Falcons must generate yards on the ground. Kittner was tentative in his last start, so Atlanta cannot afford to be stuck in long passing situations.

FAST FACTS: Eagles: The team is 4-0 when it scores in the first quarter. ... QB Donovan McNabb needs three TD passes to pass Sonny Jurgensen (76) for the fifth-most in team history. Falcons: Coach Dan Reeves will make his seventh attempt to win his 200th career game. ... DT Ellis Johnson is first among NFL defensive tackles with four sacks. ... Of WR Peerless Prices 31 receptions, 18 have been for first downs.

PREDICTED SCORE: Eagles 20, Falcons 13
PERSONNEL NEWS
Eagles:


--FS Brian Dawkins will miss his seventh straight game Sunday with a foot sprain. He has started running on the foot in water, and the club has not ruled him out of the Eagles' next game, on Nov. 10 v. the Packers.

--CB Bobby Taylor did not practice Thursday and is expected to miss his second straight game and sixth in the last seven weeks, Sunday. Taylor has plantar fasciitis in his left foot. He returned after a four-week layoff two weeks ago, but aggravated the injury when he played nearly 70 snaps against the Giants.

--RB Brian Westbrook will not play Sunday against the Falcons. He's got a high ankle sprain suffered last week against the Jets. The Eagles are hopeful the injury will only sideline him for one game, but that remains to be seen.

--DE Jerome McDougle, who has been out since the preseason with an assortment of injuries, including a high ankle sprain, has been practicing this week, but it's still uncertain if he'll play Sunday. If he does, his participation will be limited to special teams and maybe a half-dozen situations as a nickel pass-rusher.

--CB Roderick Hood, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, has been practicing on a limited basis the last two days, and is expected to play this week. Hood is one of the club's top special teams player. He'll also serve as their dime (fourth) corner.

Falcons:

--QB Mike Vick, who said Wednesday that he hoped to return to action in time for the Falcons' Dec. 7 game against Carolina, was more optimistic about his mending broken right fibula on Thursday. "I was looking at my calendar, and ... looking at what might be my progress the next three or four weeks compared to the progress the last three weeks," he said. "I think maybe it will be a game earlier [than what he said Wednesday]. I do not know. Hopefully, I'll be back the last week of November." That would be the Nov. 30 game at Houston.

--LB Keith Brooking, who fractured three vertebrae in his lower back Oct. 19 against the Saints, went through a full practice Thursday for the Falcons and may be able to start Sunday against the Eagles. Brooking said the risk of aggravating the injury should be limited to taking a similar shot at the spot, which he thinks is unlikely. If Brooking is able to play, the Falcons may be likely to play more 3-4 defense (rather than 4-3) than if he is not able to play.

--CB Kevin Mathis, the Falcons' nickel back, missed practice Thursday with a hamstring pull, and was listed as doubtful on the injury report before Sunday's game against the Eagles. Mathis' injury makes it likely that benched LCB Ray Buchanan will be the nickel back Sunday.

--CB Ray Buchanan, who was one of four DBs benched by Falcons defensive coordinator Wade Phillips as a result of Atlanta's dreadful recent defensive showing, replaced nickel back Kevin Mathis in practice Thursday as Mathis came down with a hamstring pull. Buchanan is likely to play plenty Sunday against the Eagles after all.

INSIDE THE CAMPS
Eagles:

It still is not certain when All Pro free safety Brian Dawkins will return to the lineup.

Dawkins has been out since Week 1 when he suffered a Lisfranc sprain in his foot in the Eagles' season-opening loss the Tampa Bay Bucs.

He'll miss his seventh straight game Sunday against the Falcons, but coach Andy Reid isn't ready to say he won't be back for the club's Nov. 10 Monday night battle on the road against the Packers.

"We'll see," Reid said. "He's getting better, that I know. How long? I'm not sure. But we're anxious to get him back out there. We just got him into the shoe with the orthodic. He's starting to run in the water. We'll just see how he does."

The Eagles have been without both Dawkins and Pro Bowl cornerback Bobby Taylor for most of the first half of the season. Taylor, who also suffered a foot injury in Week 1, missed four games, then returned two weeks ago against the Giants, only to aggravate the injury. He is expected to miss his second straight game this week.

Falcons:

Oddly, the Falcons are healthier in general than they have been all season in terms of injuries. In terms of all the other stuff, though, this is a sick team.

So, after Atlanta (1-6) finished the final day of earnest practice preparations Thursday in anticipation of Sunday's game against the Eagles (4-3), it wasn't a shock when another tremor shook the grounds.

Falcon's coach Dan Reeves was asked if he thought he was mis-cast, a day earlier when several members of the media interpreted his comments to suggest that he thinks injured quarterback Mike Vick should be returning to practice. It was easy to see what Reeves thought, even for those who weren't nearby.

"You've got to be kidding," Reeves said, gesturing with his arms as if to add emphasis. "What were you listening to [Wednesday]? You apparently had your mind set as to what you wanted to hear because there's nowhere in there did I indicate anything about getting [Vick] on the field."

There's no denying some of Reeves' comments a day earlier made it seem like he was trying to nudge Vick along as he recovers from the broken right fibula he suffered. Reeves, though, insisted that some context was lost between what he said and what was printed in multiple stories in various media outlets.

"Nowhere did I say anything, in fact, the whole conversation started with [reporters in Reeves' regular Wednesday news conference] talking about how quick [Eagles quarterback] Donovan McNabb came back [from a similar injury], and I was like, 'Whoa, that's a totally different situation,'" Reeves said. "Never once did I indicate anything that was [eventually] written so you definitely had a different slant on it than I did."

A quick review of the transcript from the press conference doesn't exactly clear this matter up.

"I don't think you can compare [Vicks] injury [to McNabb's]," Reeves said in the press conference. "They had similar types of injuries, but hopefully Mike will start practicing. I talked to him this morning, and he's going to start working in the drills and see exactly where the ankle is.

"If he's able to do that then I think the thing will progress rapidly but I think until we see him do those things and he's able to do them and gain confidence ... The thing is always a lot stronger than you think it is, but unless you get out there and test it you really don't know."

Vick originally was expected by team officials to miss six to 10 weeks with his injury. This is his 11th week out.

Perhaps Reeves was misunderstood, but at a minimum, he probably chose the wrong way to verbalize his thoughts on Vick.

In a season where so much has gone wrong, and the explanations are so hard to come by, it was another chapter in the story.

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