NFL: PHILADELPHIA 25, CAROLINA 16
McNabb, Eagles cruise
Published: Monday, December 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 30, 2003 at 11:58 p.m.
CHARLOTTE, N.C.-- Donovan McNabb was an easy target to blame for Philadelphia's 0-2 start. Now that the Eagles have rallied for a share of the NFC's best record, he wants little of the credit.
McNabb overcame an interception on the first play _ his first in six games _ to throw for a touchdown and 182 yards, hitting nine receivers while leading the Eagles to their seventh consecutive victory, 25-16 over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
The win kept the Eagles (9-3) tied atop the conference with St. Louis and stalled Carolina's (8-4) attempt to wrap up the NFC South.
But there was little celebration in the Philadelphia locker room, especially from McNabb.
"This is no time to go wild, you only go wild in February," he said. "Everybody counted us out early and nobody went crazy in here. We knew what we had to do to get this ship righted."
What the Eagles had to do was play mistake-free football and get better production out of McNabb. They did, going four consecutive games without a turnover while McNabb went 127 attempts without an interception.
That ended on the first play when McNabb looked left, then right, and tossed the ball straight into Mike Rucker's hands.
It took McNabb all of two minutes to forget about it.
"You can't harp on mistakes," he said. "The guys want to see how you adjust to mistakes."
The Eagles made several against Carolina _ Brian Westbrook also fumbled away a punt and they failed on a 2-point conversion _ but the Panthers made more.
John Kasay, who came into the game 24-of-27 on field goals this season, missed three _ and an extra point. The 10 points he failed to put on the board was the difference in the Panthers not ensuring their first winning season since 1996.
"I just missed the kicks and it's my fault," said Kasay. "Usually when something like this happens you're not doing this anymore _ you've moved on to another career. So hopefully I'll keep this to a minimum."
The Panthers refused to place all the blame on Kasay, the only player left from Carolina's inaugural 1995 team. He made a 20-yarder after Rucker's interception, but missed on attempts of 32, 38 and 49 yards.
"John is a guy who has been very reliable for us, and for whatever reason didn't get it done today," coach John Fox said. "I don't think that is the entire reason we lost."
The Panthers also turned over the ball on downs at the end of the first half on the Eagles 8-yard line when they went for it on fourth-and-1 rather then give Kasay another chance.
And Jake Delhomme fumbled on a fourth-quarter sack at the Carolina 11. McNabb put the Eagles ahead 22-10 two plays later when he hooked up with James Thrash, who used a second-effort dive to get into the end zone.
Although Philadelphia continued its turnaround from an 0-2 start _ its seven straight victories represent its best single-season streak since 1980 _ the Eagles did it without any flash and needed David Akers' four field goals and a 2-yard touchdown run by Duce Staley for the win.
Akers, who made field goals of 35, 48, 38 and 29 yards, empathized with Kasay after the game. The two battled in 1999 for a spot on Carolina's roster.
"Nobody taught me more than John Kasay," he said. "I would have taken him over any kicker in the league coming into today."
Despite the miscues, the Panthers still had opportunities.
Delhomme threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad, and although Kasay missed the extra point, it cut the Eagles' lead to 22-16 with 6:42 to play.
Carolina held on defense, but Delhomme threw two incompletions and Steve Smith was called for offensive pass interference to force the Panthers to punt.
They still had one last chance to get the ball back, needing to hold on third-and-8 at the Eagles 45. But McNabb eluded several defenders in a collapsing pocket to launch a 29-yard completion to Chad Lewis that set up Akers' final field goal.
"Chad had to win versus man-to-man coverage and he did that," coach Andy Reid said. "Donovan trusted him and he went up and, heck, that was a big play. It kind of sealed things."
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