PHILADELPHIA (AP) – At least the Philadelphia Eagles don’t have to sit on this lopsided loss for two weeks.

The Denver Broncos completely outplayed the Eagles in a 49-21 victory on Sunday that left the defending NFC champions searching for answers after being blown out for the second time in three games.

Philadelphia’s 33-10 loss at Dallas on Oct. 8 preceded a bye, so the Eagles had plenty of time to think about and work on fixing their mistakes. The time off hasn’t helped.

It took an improbable 65-yard return by Matt Ware after a blocked field goal in the final minutes for the Eagles (4-3) to beat San Diego on Oct. 23. They were dominated by the Broncos, falling behind 28-0 before getting within 24 yards of tying the score in the fourth quarter only to allow three straight touchdowns.

It was the most points the Eagles gave up since a 62-10 loss to the New York Giants in 1972 during a 2-11-1 season. It also was the worst loss since Andy Reid took over as coach in 1999.

“We have very good leadership on this team. They’ve been through adverse conditions before and this was one of those games” Reid said Monday. “They showed some character coming back, then it got out of hand at the end. There were some good things that we can take out of this game.”

You could count those on a few fingers. The negatives far outweighed any positives. The once-potent offense is too inconsistent and the defense has been dismantled in three of the last four games.

The Broncos racked up an astounding 564 total yards, including 309 yards through the air against a vaunted secondary that sent three players – safeties Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis and cornerback Lito Sheppard – to the Pro Bowl last year and had two All-Pros.

A week after holding LaDainian Tomlinson to just 7 yards on 17 carries, the Eagles gave up 255 yards rushing.

“We have to figure out who we are as a defense,” Dawkins said. “One week we’ll go out and shut somebody out, and the next week we will give up way too many points. We’ll have to go back and look at film to see what happened. But we just gave up way too many plays and put our offense in a huge hole.”

Donovan McNabb had his worst start as a pro, going 0-for-12 with one interception before finally completing a pass. The Eagles had just 4 yards in the first quarter and went three-and-out on their first four possessions.

McNabb helped the Eagles close within seven points with three TD passes, but threw a costly interception early in the fourth quarter on a third-and-5 from the Denver 24. Running back Lamar Gordon was open for what could have been the tying score, but McNabb instead threw into the end zone for Reggie Brown. It was picked off by Broncos rookie cornerback Domonique Foxworth. Denver scored the next 21 points.

“When you’re the top dog, teams are battling to knock you off the top,” McNabb said. “A lot of teams are coming after us this season, and giving us everything they’ve got. We need to watch film and be very critical of ourselves.”

The Eagles have been hurt by horrible starts. They’ve been outscored 62-14 in the opening quarter this season, and haven’t scored in the first quarter since Week 2 against the woeful 49ers.

In their four road games – three of them losses – the Eagles have been outscored 45-0 in the first quarter.

Philadelphia fell behind Kansas City 17-0 before coming back to win 37-31 on Oct. 2. Dallas also led 17-0 en route to an easy win the following week.

“We have to start faster,” Reid said. “We haven’t done a good job with that this year on both sides of the ball.”

AP-ES-10-31-05 1710EST

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