SAN DIEGO - You put a MiG-25 on one side and an F-14 Tomcat on the other, the P-51 Mustang between them is going to get some action.

Speedy, deadly receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Mac-lin spent much of yesterday attracting two defensive backs each, safeties dropping, rolling their way, leaving the soft underbelly wide open for sure-handed, sure-footed Jason Avant.

And Avant killed the Chargers.

His eight catches for 156 yards eclipsed his previous bests by one catch and 55 yards.

Avant was the main reason Donovan McNabb managed 450 passing yards, just 14 short of his career best. And Avant did it with style.

Generally considered the Eagle with the best hands, the go-to guy on third down, Avant burnished that reputation at the end of the third quarter yesterday.

It was third-and-18 from the Chargers' 34. The Eagles were down 19 points. A fourth field goal wouldn't do much, so a first down was crucial. The Chargers, of course, knew that, too, so they flooded the field with defensive backs and double-covered everything in a pattern. Even Avant.

No matter.

As McNabb let fly, Avant leaped near the sideline, shot his right hand up and snared McNabb's high pass, a delivery that seemed destined for incompletion out of bounds. Instead, Avant neatly tucked it into the crook of his elbow and landed, 21 yards and a first down secured.

The catch led to the Birds' first touchdown, which broke their red-zone curse and sparked a strong, if failed, comeback.

It also ensured Avant's presence on every highlight reel for the next few days.

"Jason is a guy who went out there and played his butt off," Maclin said. "He had some incredible catches."

That came as no surprise to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

At least, the fact that Avant was available so often didn't surprise him.

"I thought Jason could have a big game, as well as our tight end. I thought both of them could have a big game," he said. "Sometimes, it doesn't turn out the way you envision it."

It didn't, totally. Tight end Brent Celek had six catches, but for only 47 yards.

"I thought we could have done just a little bit more in there," Mornhinweg admitted.

Maybe Mornhinweg meant that Avant could have been targeted more. He didn't see a pass in the first 20 1/2 minutes.

Certainly, more could not be asked of Avant.

Oddly, it hasn't been, lately.

He caught a career-high seven passes for 79 yards and a touchdown in Game 2 against the Saints this season . . . and caught seven passes for 101 yards in the next six games combined. He had one catch for 12 yards in a three-game stretch against the Bucs, Raiders and Redskins.

When Tampa Bay shut down Jackson, Maclin erupted, not Avant; he had only that one catch. When the Raiders shut down everyone, Avant didn't whimper. When McNabb plodded through the win at Washington, Avant never complained.

It isn't in him.

Heck, he wouldn't even really address his fancy catch, or his big day.

Devout, he thanked the Lord for the ability to make that circus grab.

Deferential, he declined to crow about his career day . . . or McNabb's.

"It's not me out there. It's not Don. It's the whole unit," Avant said.

Surely, though, he had to anticipate that the Chargers' scheme might afford him better production than usual, right?

"I don't know if it's anticipation. When you go out there, things happen. I didn't anticipate anything," Avant said. "Every game is different. A particular guy who's open could be hot. Donovan does a good job of finding you."

Especially when the super jets on the outside are attracting all of the attention.