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Eagles Take Lead And Pour It On In Opener

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Funny how this game works. A play here or a moment there and the momentum of a battle changes completely. That's what happened on Sunday in the oh-how-great-it-was season opener for the Eagles, who blew away Carolina 38-10 in one of those strange, strange first games.

Carolina took the opening kickoff and marched down the field, 13 plays in all, 70 yards, and the Eagles were on their heels on a hot, hot day in Carolina. The crowd was revved up, and got going even more when the Eagles punted and Quintin Demps was penalized for interfering with a fair catch. Two plays later, though, Sheldon Brown changed everything. A Jake Delhomme pass sailed behind intended receiver Steve Smith on a crossing route and Smith, covered by Macho Harris as Brown lined up at safety, and Smith reached back and tipped the pass. The ball stayed above the ground by only a few inches and Brown made a spectacular interception and was tackled at Carolina's 32-yard line.

The Eagles failed to put the ball in the end zone, instead settling for a David Akers 49-yard field goal, but the game had turned around. The Eagles had their sights set on Delhomme, and they hit the target often on the way to recording five sacks, seven takeaways and a convincing, aggressive first game of the season.

Happy? What a great way to start the season, although the rib injury suffered by Donovan McNabb -- he was tackled in the end zone on a touchdown that made it 37-10 in the third quarter -- is still a concern. After the game, head coach Andy Reid said McNabb fractured a rib. Reid did not rule out McNabb's availability to play Sunday against New Orleans, and further evaluations will be made.

If McNabb misses time, Kolb takes over and the Eagles would have to add a second quarterback to back up against the Saints. Michael Vick is not eligible to play until Week 3 against Kansas City. Drama, always drama ...

Otherwise, it was a great, great day. Sean McDermott called a fantastic game and the defense turned on the jets with a series of perfect blitzes. The defense played with tremendous speed and raced to the ball after that first drive. McDermott lined Trent Cole up at right defensive end and in the stand-up position over the "A" gap as a Joker. Once the Eagles were able to contain the running game, they teed off on Delhomme until the Panthers mercifully removed him from the game as Panthers fans booed his every move.

Brown had two interceptions on the day and both takeaways resulted in Eagles points. In one memorable stretch, the Eagles forced three successive Delhomme turnovers -- and turned the game around in the process.

The first Brown interception started things off as the Eagles climbed to within 7-3. Then Cole blitzed and punched the ball away from Delhomme on a third-and-10 play from the Panthers 25-yard line and the ball bounced all the way back to the 2-yard line. Victor Abiamiri was there to cradle the football and fall into the end zone for the first touchdown of his life, and the Eagles had a lead they would only add to.

DeSean Jackson's spectacular 85-yard punt return gave the Eagles a 17-7 lead and then the defense went back on the field for more fun.

The third straight takeaway also came courtesy of Brown, who intercepted a third-and-7 pass intended for Smith and returned it 37 yards to the Carolina 9-yard line. One play later, McNabb flipped a pass to Brent Celek for a 9-yard catch and run and a 24-7 advantage.

Oh, there was more to come. The Eagles didn't stop blitzing and they eventually forced Delhomme to the sidelines. The offense was up and down, but it consumed the football and ate clock. A 10-play, 74-yard drive that ended on a shovel pass to Brian Westbrook (64 rushing yards, 8 receiving) gave the Eagles a 31-7 advantage.

By halftime, it was over. Half of the seats were empty for the third and fourth quarters and most of those seats were occupied by Eagles fans chanting E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES! It was a beautful afternoon, just beautiful.

No doubt the defense triggered the blowout victory. McDermott unveiled a lot of movement and changing pieces in the scheme. He definitely brought heat, heat and more heat. The Eagles took apart a great running game (Carolina had 86 rushing yards) and dominated every time the Panthers tried to throw the football. Harris missed a tackle or two early, and then settled down. Omar Gaither was outstanding at middle linebacker. The defensive line, led by Cole, destroyed a very good offensive line.

So the season has started on about as positive a note as you can imagine. It was an important win, and one to enjoy for a day. Then the coaches and players will get back to business and understand that a terrific Saints team is coming to town on Sunday.

  • Winston Justice did a good job at right tackle. He allowed a sack when left alone with Julius Peppers late, and Peppers shook him with an inside move. Otherwise, Justice was solid in a game that can only boost his confidence.
  • On the other side, Jason Peters struggled early with two false starts and then played very, very well. He is a dominating run blocker.
  • Do you think the Eagles will be the return team that other punters are scared to kick to? Jackson is that good, isn't he?
  • Brian Westbrook looked spry and quick and like his pre-injured self in this game.
  • This was a game to remember just how good the Eagles cornerbacks can be. They are so fast to the ball. Asante Samuel had his hands on another ball that would have been a touchdown.
  • Special teams still has things to clean up. Too many mistakes, including a blocked field goal attempt. But Ted Daisher wants big plays and he got a huge one from Jackson.
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