IRVING (AP) — This all seems so familiar to Terrell Owens. Going into mid-December with only one loss; having a great relationship with his quarterback and his coaches; racking up numbers unprecedented in franchise history.
Then again, it IS so familiar.
It happened three years ago when he was on the Philadelphia Eagles. Now he’s on the Dallas Cowboys and it’s almost eerie how similar things are playing out.
With the Eagles headed to Texas Stadium on Sunday, consider how history seems to be repeating:
In the 14th game of 2004, T.O. and the Eagles beat the Cowboys at home to improve to 13-1, sealing home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and wrapping up a perfect record in NFC East play. The 13th win also set a franchise record. Owens didn’t score that day, but already had a franchise-record 14 touchdown catches. In the 14th game of 2007, T.O. and the Cowboys play the Eagles at home, hoping to improve to 13-1. A win might seal home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and would put them one win from wrapping up a perfect record in NFC East play. The 13th win also would tie a franchise record. Even if Owens doesn’t score, he already has tied the franchise record with 14 touchdown catches.
Owens leads the NFL in yards receiving (1,270) and is second in TDs. With three games left, he’s in position to top his career-best totals in both categories: 1,451 yards; 16 TDs. He’s also averaging 17.2 yards per catch, nearly a full yard better than his previous high.
A week after turning 34, and three years after his terrific season in Philadelphia, how is he still among the best in the NFL?
“Just being patient and trying every year and every week to get better,” Owens said. “That’s what I’m striving to do, to be the best receiver I can be. I feel like I’m on track of doing that. It doesn’t hurt at all when you have a staff like we have here and obviously a position coach who can relate to me as a person and a player.”
Once again, that brings up the comparison with ‘04, when he was coached by Andy Reid and catching passes from Donovan McNabb.
“That was a year where I felt like I was being used like I had at no other time,” he said. “That was one of the reasons they brought me there, to be a playmaker and to help get that team past the NFC championship game that they couldn’t get past. I just wanted to be a big piece of the puzzle and we accomplished that.”
The irrefutable connections between Sunday’s game and the Dec. 19, 2004, game between these teams are interesting. However, the lasting impact of that afternoon in Philadelphia is that it marked the beginning of the end for Owens and the Eagles.
Owens tore two ankle ligaments and broke his leg on a tackle from behind by Dallas safety Roy Williams. (The play pointed to creation of the rule against “horse-collar” tackles.) With their star receiver seriously wounded, McNabb said someone else would have to fill in, rather than calling No. 81 was irreplaceable. And the Eagles indeed made it to the Super Bowl without Owens.
T.O. stunned doctors and everyone else by recovering in time to play in the Super Bowl, and he played great. Philadelphia lost, though, and Owens later questioned how McNabb handled the pressure of the big game.
Without rehashing the entire saga, Owens wound up being dumped by the Eagles and signed with the division-rival Cowboys. He wasn’t the focus of their offense last year, but he certainly has been this year under coach Wade Phillips and quarterback Tony Romo.
Now Owens delights in noting the differences between both teams, Dallas and Philadelphia, which is 5-8 and last in the division; and the differences between both players, himself and McNabb, who is 14-16 as a starter since the Super Bowl, with multiple injury absences.
“All I can say is I was successful when I was there,” said Owens, who also was successful in a lopsided win over the Eagles earlier this season with 10 catches for 174 yards, both season highs. “It’s unfortunate with what is going on. That’s their problem. I am just happy to be where I am. … My stats, my playmaking ability, hasn’t changed. I was injured, too. So I’ve been through injuries, severe ones and not-so-severe ones, and I’m still the same player.”
The Eagles have lost three straight, the first two with McNabb sidelined by injury. While fans are losing patience with him, team president Joe Banner recently said, “I can’t envision a situation in which Donovan is not our quarterback next year.”
As for the rest of this year, the best Philadelphia can do is finish at .500 and hope that’s enough to snag a wild card.
“I don’t even like to say ‘playoffs’ right now because our playoffs really has to be these next three games,” McNabb said. “We have to win each game.”
Dallas has won seven straight and is coming off a narrow escape in Detroit. Because the Eagles are struggling and the Cowboys beat them 38-17 at their place six weeks ago, Phillips is doing his best to build them up to his players.
Among his speaking points: The Eagles’ last three losses were by a total of 10 points. They’re in the top 10 in offense and defense. McNabb is moving around better than he was six weeks ago.
“We expect them to be a real challenge,” Phillips said.
The Cowboys also will be doing some scoreboard-watching during warmups.
If Carolina beats Seattle in an early game, Dallas would clinch a first-round bye before halftime, or maybe even kickoff. If St. Louis beats Green Bay, the Cowboys could lock up home-field advantage with a win.
Regardless, Dallas goes into the regular-season home finale knowing there will be a playoff game at Texas Stadium for the first time since 1998.
“It’s a great thing that we have going on,” defensive end Marcus Spears said, “and we’re going to try to continue that.”