PHILADELPHIA – Long-suffering Eagles (search) fans would never be so foolish to think a trip to the Super Bowl (search) was a lock, even though their Birds are clearly the best team in the NFC this season.
"Something could still happen," is a dreaded, but not uncommon thought among loyalists.
Star receiver Terrell Owens (search) will miss the final two games of the regular season and possibly the playoffs and Super Bowl because of a sprained right ankle, a devastating blow for a team that has lost three straight NFC title games.
"I was looking forward to the playoffs, really trying to get this team to the Super Bowl," Owens said. "I think without me, still, they achieve that goal."
"There's no reason for the city of Philadelphia to get down because I'm not there," he said. "Obviously, my presence will be missed, but we have the guys to get it done."
Perhaps, but it's going to get a whole lot harder without Owens. The NFC East champion Eagles (13-1) are left without their biggest offensive threat, their most animated player and the man simply known around this Eagles-crazed town as TO.
"He's a great player, but can the offense go on? Absolutely," coach Andy Reid said Monday. "We have some pretty good players on this offensive unit, so it'll still function and do very well this week."
But without Owens, the Eagles will be left with basically the same lackluster receiving corps that has disappeared when needed in the title games. Freddie Mitchell or Greg Lewis could join Todd Pinkston as the other starting wideout. Those three have a combined 60 catches for 1,073 yards.
Pinkston has an injured knee. Reid said the Eagles will activate wide receiver Billy McMullen.
"Freddie's going to get his chances to make plays," Owens said. "There shouldn't be any more excuses as to why he's not getting the ball. Now he gets his chance."
Donovan McNabb, now without his No. 1 target, said the Eagles would survive.
"I feel for Terrell," McNabb said. "He's worked hard, we've all worked hard, to try and bring a championship to Philadelphia. I know he will do everything he possibly can to get better and be a part of what we want to accomplish.
"In any event, we have to move forward."
Owens will have surgery Wednesday and stands only an outside shot at being able to play in the NFL's championship game on Feb. 6 — if Philadelphia makes it that far — head trainer Rick Burkholder said.
"I'm behind them. I'm going to be their biggest cheerleader," Owens said.
Owens, who has 77 catches for 1,120 yards and the team-record 14 touchdowns, also has a fracture a few inches below his knee. But Burkholder still didn't rule out the chance that Owens would be able to run in five weeks — the weekend of the NFC title game.
"The scenario I painted is the best-case scenario, but it is realistic," Burkholder said. "There's a lot of hurdles that have to be taken on before he can ever get to that point."
Owens was hurt on the second play of the third quarter of Philadelphia's win over Dallas on Sunday when he was dragged down from behind by Roy Williams on a 20-yard reception. Owens immediately grabbed the back of his leg, which was bent backward.
The Eagles went on to win 12-7 and clinched home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs.
Tests revealed a sprained deltoid ligament. A screw will be implanted to stabilize and strengthen the ankle joint. Burkholder said there was a "tremendous amount of damage" to the ankle.
Owens had an MRI at the Eagles complex Monday morning, and complained of pain in his lower leg. He then saw an ankle specialist in Baltimore.
"I went down there optimistic, hoping for the best, and I got the worst of news," Owens said. "Things happen. You've just got to move on from it."
Burkholder said the fracture is not as serious, and will be allowed to heal on its own.
Burkholder said if Owens, who has injured the ankle before, doesn't respond well to rehabilitation, he could rest for three months before the screws come out.
"I feel I'm a pretty good healer, believe me," Owens said. "I've already moved my hyperbaric [oxygen] chamber down to my living room. I'll be in that trying to get myself back on the field as soon as I can. I'm going to be smart about the situation."
Owens has missed just seven games in his nine-year career. Acquired in an offseason trade, he has provided a spark to an offense that often stagnated late in the season — even though Philadelphia made the NFC championship game the last three years without him.
The Eagles finished first in the conference three straight years, but couldn't take advantage of playing at home in the last two NFC championship games, losing to Tampa Bay and Carolina. The Eagles also lost in the NFC title game in 2002, in St. Louis.
Owens delivered everything expected, from the electric playmaking to the outrageous antics — including a steamy segment with actress Nicollette Sheridan for the intro to "Monday Night Football."
Owens' 14 touchdown receptions leave him one short of winning his bet with Reid that would've required the beefy coach to wear black spandex tights.
"I made that very clear. The tights are on hold," Reid said, managing a smile. "Now if he can come back and get one in the Super Bowl, I'll don the tights."
That's one tight squeeze the Eagles sure hope to see.