PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Donovan McNabb was the difference. T.O. was nothing more than a decoy.

In his highly anticipated return to Philadelphia, Terrell Owens had just three catches and was outdone by the Eagles’ young receivers – and by McNabb.

McNabb threw touchdown passes of 40 yards to Reggie Brown and 87 yards to Hank Baskett, and Lito Sheppard returned an interception 102 yards in the final minute to seal the Eagles’ 38-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in the most overhyped regular-season game in recent memory.

Owens’ homecoming – he helped the Eagles reach the Super Bowl in 2004 before a bitter departure midway through last season – dominated the headlines this week, with Philly fans planning a hostile welcome for the star receiver.

But Owens was merely an afterthought for most of the game. He didn’t catch a pass until the third quarter and dropped the next one thrown to him, much to the delight of a frenzied crowd that showered Owens with derisive chants, insults and boos.

The Eagles took the lead for good when McNabb connected with Brown on a flea-flicker pass with 9:13 left that made it 31-24. Brown, a second-year pro who replaced a suspended Owens in the starting lineup last year, beat rookie safety Patrick Watkins and caught the ball deep in the end zone.

The Cowboys drove to the Eagles 33 on the ensuing drive. But Sheppard intercepted Drew Bledsoe’s badly underthrown pass intended for an open Owens.

A frustrated Owens angrily snapped at his chin strap, walked off the field and took his usual spot at the end of the bench.

The Cowboys had one more chance after a pass interference penalty on Michael Lewis allowed them to convert a fourth-and-18 from their 37.

But from the Eagles 6, Sheppard stepped in front of Bledsoe’s pass and raced the other way to put the game away.

For a while, the Cowboys were doing just fine without getting Owens involved. DeMarcus Ware scored on a 69-yard fumble return and Bledsoe ran in from the 7 to give Dallas a 21-17 halftime lead.

But Philadelphia’s struggling offense turned it around with one big play.

McNabb took a deep drop, eluded a sack, stepped up and heaved a pass downfield. Baskett ran past Watkins, caught the ball in stride, broke a tackle near the 30 and streaked into the end zone for his first career touchdown.

Baskett, acquired in a trade after he was signed by Minnesota as a rookie free agent, was starting for the injured Donte’ Stallworth. He finished with three catches for 112 yards.

Dallas tied it at 24 on a 39-yard field goal by Mike Vanderjagt early in the fourth quarter.

Owens was a non-factor in the first half as the Cowboys relied on their running game.

Bledsoe finally looked Owens’ way on the Cowboys’ 17th offensive play, but he was hit on the throw and Brian Dawkins intercepted. Owens’ first catch came on Dallas’ 41st play. He turned a short pass into a 9-yard gain, looked toward the Eagles’ sideline and spun the ball on the ground in their direction while gesturing. He added two more catches in the fourth quarter and finished with 45 yards.

The Eagles pressured and harassed Bledsoe all day. He was sacked seven times and threw three interceptions.

Perhaps distracted by the Owens’ hoopla, both teams were sloppy at the start.

Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, who didn’t practice all week because of a knee injury that forced him to sit out last Monday’s game against Green Bay, looked fine on a 24-yard screen pass on the first play from scrimmage. But he fumbled on the next play, giving Dallas the ball at its 38.

Cowboys punter Mat McBriar later fumbled a snap and Shawn Barber recovered at the 12. Westbrook ran in from the 5.

Darwin Walker sacked Bledsoe on Dallas’ first play on the ensuing possession, forcing a fumble Trent Cole recovered at the Cowboys 14. But the Eagles settled for David Akers’ 27-yard field goal that made it 10-0.

Marion Barber’s 2-yard TD run made it 10-7. Then Ware returned McNabb’s fumble 69 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Greg Ellis hit McNabb, the ball popped in the air and Ware caught it with no one in front of him.

The Eagles answered quickly, taking a 17-14 lead on McNabb’s sneak from the 1. McNabb connected with L.J. Smith on a 60-yard pass to set up the score.

Bledsoe, not known for his scrambling, scored on a 7-yard run to give the Cowboys a 21-17 lead.

Owens helped Philadelphia reach the Super Bowl in his first year with the Eagles in 2004, but he was unceremoniously dumped seven games into last season following a series of infractions, including repeated criticism of McNabb and the organization.

AP-ES-10-08-06 1953EDT


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