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Paul Domowitch: Third down's the charm for Eagles in recent weeks

OUR EAGLES word for today, boys and girls, is "manageable." According to Webster's dictionary, it means able to be easily managed, controlled or accomplished. Both Andy Reid and his offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, used the word this week to help explain why the Eagles' offense suddenly has become adept at converting third-down opportunities.

OUR EAGLES word for today, boys and girls, is "manageable."

According to Webster's dictionary, it means able to be easily managed, controlled or accomplished. Both Andy Reid and his offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, used the word this week to help explain why the Eagles' offense suddenly has become adept at converting third-down opportunities.

In their three staying-alive wins over the Cardinals, Giants and Browns, the Eagles have converted an impressive 33 of 50 of their third-down chances, or 66 percent. In their previous eight games, only three of which they won, they converted just 31 of 107, or 29 percent.

Twenty-seven of the Eagles' 50 third-down chances the last three games, or 54 percent, have been "manageable," which, for the sake of argument, is 5 yards or fewer. In the previous eight games, starting with their 24-20 loss to the Bears and ending with their 36-7 loss to the Ravens, just 46 of their 107 third-down opportunities, or 42.9 percent, were 5 yards or fewer.

"We've kept it a little bit more manageable," Mornhinweg said yesterday. "We've made some long ones as well. We're just doing an overall better job in third-down situations. And that's big. If you convert one third down on a drive, your chances of scoring go way up."

Increasing the number of manageable third-down situations is only half the battle. You also have to convert them, and the Eagles have been doing that. They're 22-for-27 on third-and-5 or fewer (81.5 percent) in the last three games, including 10-for-10 from 2 yards or fewer. In the eight games before that, they converted just 19 of 46 (41.3) third-and-5 or fewer situations, including a pitiful 12-for-26 from third-and-1 and third-and-2.

"Our third-down conversion [ability] has really helped us in so many ways, and I think that's something that we have truly focused on and we need to continue to improve on," quarterback Donovan McNabb said.

Around the league

* Chiefs owner

Clark Hunt

has hired the New York executive search firm of Russell Reynolds Associates to assist in the search for a replacement for president/general manager

Carl Peterson

, who was let go earlier this week. Two NFL executives expected to draw interest are Patriots vice president of player personnel

Scott Pioli

and Colts vice president of football operations

Chris Polian

, the 37-year-old son of team president

Bill Polian


It's doubtful that Pioli would be interested, though. A source close to the search said Hunt is looking for someone out of the Tom Dimitroff mold - an up-and-comer from a successful organization. Dimitroff, who worked under Pioli as the Patriots' director of college scouting, was hired last January by the Atlanta Falcons to be their general manager. Dimitroff, who beat out Eagles GM Tom Heckert for the job, is a leading candidate for NFL Executive of the Year for the impressive job he's done turning around the Falcons.

"I want somebody who's a shrewd evaluator of football talent," Hunt said. "Obviously, I'm looking for a strong leader, a good communicator, preferably somebody who has experience in building a winning NFL team."

Hunt has told coach Herm Edwards that his fate will rest in the hands of the new GM, which means Edwards is as good as gone. Hunt has told people in the organization that he isn't interested in bringing in a new coach and giving him final say over personnel decisions, a la Andy Reid. Which would rule out Bill Cowher, unless he wants to bring in Cowher to run the front office, like the Dolphins did with Bill Parcells. But that seems unlikely.

* While Browns coach Romeo Crennel is almost certain to be fired, league sources say that general manager Phil Savage probably will survive. The reason: the 4-year extension he signed last winter that pays him a whopping $2.7 million a year.

* Tony Gonzalez update: The Chiefs' tight end had six catches for 62 yards and a touchdown in last week's loss to the Chargers, bringing his nine-game numbers since the October trading deadline to 63 receptions, 748 yards and six TDs. By comparison, during that same period, both of the Eagles' tight ends have caught a combined 37 passes for 397 yards and 2 TDs. I'm sorry, I couldn't resist. One more thing: Gonzalez needs just 59 more yards to become the first tight end in league history with four 1,000-yard seasons.

* The biggest difference between the Patriots with Matt Cassel at quarterback and the Patriots with Tom Brady at quarterback is fewer long throws with Cassel but more yards after the catch. Of the Patriots' 3,369 passing yards this season, 1,845 have come after the catch, according to STATS Inc. That percentage (54.8) easily leads the NFL. The Titans are second (51.6), the Jets are third (51.4) and the Redskins are fourth (51.2).

* Redskins middle linebacker London Fletcher is really, really, really ticked about not making the Pro Bowl. San Francisco's Patrick Willis and Carolina's Jon Beason were selected to the NFC squad ahead of him. The Giants' Antonio Pierce is the first alternate. "I don't garner a lot of attention, but when you turn the film on each and every week, each and every play, I'm gonna show up," he said. "That's what I do. My career has been Hall of Fame-worthy. But some coaches and some players get caught up in the hype, reading the newspapers or listening to some national TV game as opposed to watching the game with no sound. I put myself up against anybody playing the position. Anybody. To have it happen year after year after year, you can't tell me ... An eight-time alternative? C'mon, man."

2-minute drill


* "I think this league is getting bigger, stronger and faster and it's hard to make it through the season with just one guy as far as a marquee [running back]. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a running team that doesn't have at least two marquee guys." - Panthers coach John Fox on the importance of having at least 2 good running backs

* "They're not 6-8. I've got a lot of friends that left messages on my [voicemail] that said, 'Watch out for these guys.' They're talented. You have rosters, you have programs - they're a star-studded football team." - Bucs coach Jon Gruden, on his team's opponent Sunday, the 6-8 Chargers

* "Did any of you writers have us at 11-3? No. So that tells you right there what kind of spot we are in. Not one writer can look me in the face and say they had us winning the division. Not one writer thought we'd be in this position ... So how do you think we feel? We feel great, and now we really have another chance to put another look on your faces after we go out there Sunday and hopefully play very well." - Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce, on the negative perception of his team after back-to-back losses to the Eagles and Cowboys


* The Browns have gone 17 quarters and 46 consecutive possessions without scoring an offensive touchdown.

* Rookie QBs Joe Flacco of the Ravens and Matt Ryan of the Falcons have combined for 5,671 passing yards this season. They need just 247 more to pass Charlie Batch and Peyton Manning for the most combined passing yards by two rookies in a season (1998).

* The Dolphins, 1-15 a year ago, are 9-5. If they beat the Chiefs and Jets in their final two games, they will tie the '99 Colts, who went from 3-13 to 13-3, for the biggest one-season turnaround in league history.

* The Cardinals have three players with at least 70 catches - Anquan Boldin (89), Larry Fitzgerald (88) and Steve Breaston (71).

* Homefield advantage might be more important to some teams than others. The 11-3 Panthers, who will face the 11-3 Giants Sunday night for NFC homefield advantage in the playoffs, are 8-0 at home and just 3-3 on the road.

* The Falcons lead the league in "explosive" plays with 105 of them. Explosive plays are considered runs of 12 or more yards and pass completions of 16 yards or more. They have 42 explosive rushing plays and 62 explosive passing plays. The Vikings are second with 86.

Thumb things to ponder


* To Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, for his unreasonable reaction to a reasonable question this week by Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Dustin Dow. Dow asked Lewis whether a strong finish by the 2-11-1 Bengals, who upset the Redskins last week, would show how much improvement the club had made or mask improvement that still needed to be made. Responded Lewis: "I don't think it covers anything up that we feel interiorly, and that's the only thing that matters ... I think your question is disrespectful for what we're doing. I really do. I really don't like the angles you take in here each and every week." And you people think Andy Reid is arrogant.

* To for its absurd report that there is a "strong rumor" - as opposed to a weak one, I guess - that Dick Vermeil might replace Carl Peterson as the Chiefs' president. If the guy who runs that Web site had been covering football for more than 5 minutes, he'd know that Vermeil and Peterson have been close friends for nearly 40 years, and that even if Vermeil were interested in getting back into football, which he's not, there's no way he would step over the body of his friend and take his job.


Record: 11-3

Last week: beat Broncos, 30-10

This week: at 11-3 Giants

Next week: at 7-7 Saints

Current draft position: Nos. 29-31

Current position of Eagles' own pick:

No. 19

Domowitch's rankings

1. Steelers 11-3

2. Titans 12-2

3. Panthers 11-3

4. Colts 11-4

5. Giants 11-3

6. Vikings 9-5

7. Cowboys 9-5

8. Falcons 9-5

9. Ravens 9-5

10. Eagles 8-5-1

11. Bucs 9-5

12. Patriots 9-5

13. Broncos 8-6

14. Dolphins 9-5

15. Bears 8-6

16. Jets 9-5

17. Texans 7-7

18. Cardinals 8-6

19. Niners 5-9

20. Chargers 6-8

21. Saints 7-7

22. Redskins 7-7

23. Bills 6-8

24. Jaguars 5-10

25. Packers 5-9

26. Chiefs 2-12

27. Bengals 2-11-1

28. Browns 4-10

29. Seahawks 3-11

30. Raiders 3-11

31. Rams 2-12

32. Lions 0-14