Eagles are back in stride

After disruptive 2005, Philly has winning feeling back

For the first half of the decade, no NFC team was as dominant as the Philadelphia Eagles. After a drama-filled, disappointing 2005 season, the Eagles appear to have regained their form thanks to a healthy Donovan McNabb.

Standing in Philadelphia’s way this week are the surprising New Orleans Saints.

At 4-1, both teams stand as good a chance as any to compete in the wide-open NFC playoff race.

“It’s two 4-1 teams going against each other and they are very well deserving of the record that they have,” Eagles coach Andy Reid after beating Dallas last week. “[The Saints] are playing great football right now. It should be a heck of a game.”

The Saints, of course, are the feel-good story of the NFL. The team returned this season to the repaired Superdome, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina. So far, the team is 2-0 at home.

“You’re playing down in New Orleans,” Reid said. “It will be an emotional crowd, a loud crowd down there. I believe it’s already a sold-out crowd and they are 4-1.”

McNabb has already reasserted himself as one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. In five games, he leads the league with 1,602 passing yards and 11 touchdowns against just one interception. It is a far cry from the 6-10 season the Eagles suffered last year, when a sports hernia shortened McNabb’s season.

The Eagles’ defense has also been stifling, shutting down Dallas and Terrell Owens.

The Saints are perennially one of the worst teams in the NFL. The team went through a complete overhaul in the offseason, most notably hiring Sean Payton as coach. The team then signed former Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees, who left San Diego via free agency. He is seventh in the NFL with 1,234 yards passing and has thrown five touchdowns.

Second overall draft pick Reggie Bush finally made a trip to the end zone during last week’s 24-21 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when he returned a punt for a touchdown to put the Saints ahead late in the fourth quarter.

“He’s a guy who can change games and today he changed one,” Payton said.

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