FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - DeSean Jackson admits he got a little jealous after watching Quintin Demps' 101-yard kickoff return touchdown for the Eagles in tonight's preseason game against New England at Gillette Stadium.

"I definitely thought about that he scored one before I did," Jackson said. "It went through my mind. I thought the next time I get out I've got to take it the distance because he did. It's a very competitive game."

Soon after Demps' return, Jackson, the electrifying Smurf from California, returned a punt 76 yards for another TD as the Eagles beat the Patriots, 27-17.

A week earlier, the Eagles had all kinds of issues with their return teams - failing to hold blocks, fumbling catches, and returners' being unable to quickly spot lanes ahead of them.

All of that changed dramatically tonight, thanks to the two Eagles rookies.

"They're both explosive players and different in their games," coach Andy Reid said. "They're young and have a lot of energy. They love to play. Veteran players love watching them."

It was a hollow victory, however. Starting free safety Brian Dawkins suffered a right ankle injury in the second quarter and was carted off the field. X-rays were negative, but an MRI was planned for today.

The Eagles improved to 2-1 in the preseason, with a final exhibition game set for Thursday night at home against Brett Favre and the New York Jets.

"I thought it was a good game in some spots and in others where we need to pick up and do some work," Reid said. "I was glad to see we tackled better and caught the ball better than last week.

Demps had to break just one tackle, brushing aside kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

"You have to have a mentality that every time you have a shot to return it," Demps said. "My blockers, I just trusted them so I could get going. I took advantage of my opportunity."

Jackson took the ball off the far left sideline, cut through a gaping hole in the wedge, then outsprinted three defenders in returning the punt for a touchdown. He had predicted he was "close" to breaking one.

"It was a beautiful punt return," Jackson said. "I felt the punter got a good kick on it and kind of outkicked his coverage. I just did a great job of catching the ball and making two moves to the side, hitting the seam, and getting right up the middle. From there, it was nothing but daylight."

The Eagles had a red-zone touchdown and field goal in the first half; another red-zone TD was called back. Donovan McNabb looked sharp, completing 13 of 17 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown in the half. Jackson had four catches for 67 yards, and L.J. Smith had three for 44. Jason Avant had the lone TD reception.

Because of Kevin Curtis' sports hernia, the receiving game is still up in the air, but Jackson's sizzling catches and runs after the catch could be the X-factor against opposing secondaries.

"I felt great," McNabb said. "We are progressing week in and week out. . . . I think you have to give guys opportunities to make plays, and we did that."

Although the Eagles went 76 yards on 14 plays to open the game with a 24-yard field goal by David Akers, they could have had seven points.

McNabb used Brian Westbrook liberally during that drive, with the big play a 19-yard screen pass in the right flat that gave the Birds a first down at the Patriots' 18. From there, however, McNabb threw two incompletions in the end zone, with the second toss batted by Tedy Bruschi to Smith out of bounds.

The mystery surrounding Patriots quarterback Tom Brady continued. Bothered by a right-foot injury, which the club won't elaborate on, he has not yet taken an exhibition-game snap. It has been confirmed that the injury is unrelated to what bothered him near the end of last season.

Matt Cassell started for Brady and displayed some running ability with an 18-yard dash through the linebackers.

The offense got bottled up pretty good on the Eagles' second possession when Tra Thomas was nailed for holding, then Bruschi sneaked inside to sack McNabb, setting up third down and 23. McNabb completed a pass to Greg Lewis well short of the first down.

Jackson nearly broke a punt in the first quarter, settling for a 45-yard return that was nullified by two holding calls.

Contact staff writer Tim Panaccio

at 215-854-2847 or tpanaccio@phillynews.com.