Bills not underestimating slumping Eagles
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Boo all you want, Philly fans. Buffalo linebacker London Fletcher believes Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles are better than their record.
“This is a team that has gone to the last two NFC Championship games,” Fletcher said. “And I’ve witnessed Donovan at his best. He’s a great quarterback. You can’t really get too caught up in his struggles. … And they’re an extremely good football team.”
The Eagles (0-2) have not shown that so far. They are off to their worst start in four years and have been outscored by a combined 48-10 in losses to Tampa Bay and New England. Not even a bye week could mute the chorus of boos directed their way.
Philadelphia hits the road for the first time this season Sunday to face the resurgent Bills (2-1), who have amends of their own to make after an offensively challenged effort in last week’s 17-7 loss at Miami.
“The true mark of a good football team is how you respond after a loss,” Fletcher said. “The best way to take a loss out of your mouth is to go get a win.”
For a Week 4 nonconference matchup, there’s plenty on the line for two teams that began the season with high expectations.
The Bills, with a bolstered defense and a Drew Bledsoe-led offense, are after their first playoff berth since 1999.
In Philadelphia, everyone is still waiting for the Eagles to take the final step to reaching the Super Bowl after falling a win short in each of the last two years.
The Eagles’ slow start has quickly put the team on the defensive.
“There is no time for panic. There is no time to hang your head,” McNabb said. “You stay positive and, before you know it, we’ll be back in this thing.”
To stay upbeat, McNabb spent part of the bye week vacationing in Arizona, getting as far away from the intense scrutiny and criticism that makes Philadelphia one of the toughest places to play.
“I read all the papers. I turn on the radio. I interview some of the newspaper reporters. I’m just trying to find answers from them,” McNabb said, laughing. “Nah, I don’t pay attention to that. I think it’s actually kind of funny.”
No one is laughing about how poorly the Eagles have played on both sides of the ball.
McNabb has looked tentative and indecisive. He’s completed just 37 of 82 passes for 334 yards, thrown three interceptions and no touchdowns. And his 41.4 quarterback rating is by far the worst of any starting quarterback.
He heads an offense that has scored one touchdown, is 5-for-25 in converting third-down attempts and has been unable to generate a consistent running attack.
Just as troublesome, Philadelphia’s traditionally stout defense is banged up. Safety Brian Dawkins (foot) is out, rookie defensive end Jerome McDougle (ankle) and cornerback Bobby Taylor (foot) are doubtful and defensive end Brandon Whiting (hamstring) is questionable.
“We need a win,” linebacker Ike Reese said. “We need some positive reinforcement. The season isn’t lost. It’s not to a point where we feel like the season is over.”
The Bills’ hopes are high even though last weekend’s loss appeared to expose Buffalo’s offensive deficiencies.
The Dolphins stacked the line to prevent the run and relied on their cornerbacks to shut down Buffalo’s passing game. When it was over, the Bills generated just 118 yards of net offense — the seventh-worst outing in franchise history.
Bledsoe endured one of his worst games as a pro, managing just 98 yards passing, the fewest in which he’s had 18 or more attempts. The Bills got no help from their running attack, which floundered further after starter Travis Henry went out with a rib injury.
Henry is listed as questionable while backup Sammy Morris (sports hernia) is out, leaving the Bills with third-stringer Joe Burns as their potential starter.
It doesn’t matter to Bledsoe, who accepted the blame for the loss and is intent on bouncing back.
Bledsoe could have been referring to himself when remarking about the criticism being heaped on McNabb.
“Every quarterback who’s ever played more than a game or two in this league has dealt with some tough games,” Bledsoe said. “And the guys that are ultimately successful are the guys that bounce back from those things.”