ST. LOUIS — For Donovan McNabb, the heartache began at the hands of the St. Louis Rams.
For three straight years, the Philadelphia Eagles have finished their season one victory away from the Super Bowl. The trend began in January 2002, a 29-24 loss at St. Louis where McNabb remembers jealously watching the celebration on the field.
“I still have that in the back of my mind, and that continues to drive me,” McNabb said. “Especially when you get to this point.”
That’s why McNabb has plenty of motivation heading into tonight’s game at St. Louis. The Eagles (13-1) clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs last week, meaning two no-pressure weeks to get ready for most players.
“I’d love to play the whole game,” McNabb said. “We have opportunities to get better. We’re in a position where we can obviously improve going into the playoffs, and I’m looking forward to it.”
He is far from caught up in the Eagles’ record, tops in the NFL, because of the baggage of unfinished business.
“The way the season’s been going, we’re excited about it,” McNabb said. “But this season is not over.”
It’s not over for the Rams (6-8), either. Despite losing six of eight they remain in the playoff picture, a game behind the Seahawks in the NFC West and holding the tiebreaker.
“The record sounds a little funny to still be alive, but that’s just the nature of the NFL,” defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said. “Everybody’s good, or everybody’s mediocre, however you want to look at it.”
It’s been a strange letdown season for the Rams, whose season has been trashed by problems with special teams, a new defense that took players two-thirds of the season to learn and a feeble offense of late.
While quarterback Marc Bulger was sidelined the past two weeks with a bruised right shoulder, his replacements mustered a total of one offensive touchdown in consecutive losses to the Panthers and Cardinals. Bulger returns this week, and it could provide a spark for the rest of the team.
“The heck with them, it’s a spark for the old coach,” Rams coach Mike Martz said. “It’s amazing how fast he picks things up. I can’t explain how thrilling it is, and that’s a part of the game that gives me goose bumps, when you see a guy like that who really gets it.”
The Eagles are trying to retool their offense without wide receiver Terrell Owens, out for most if not all of the postseason with torn ankle ligaments.
“It’s unfortunate what happened to T.O.,” quarterback Donovan McNabb said. “We definitely would love to continue this thing with all of our guys healthy. But this is an opportunity for other guys to step up and make plays for us.”
The Rams have issues in the backfield beyond quarterback. Marshall Faulk played his first game in three weeks last week and ran for only 22 yards on 10 carries, but first-round pick Steven Jackson, also healthy after missing two games, dressed but saw no action.
Martz said Jackson didn’t play against the Cardinals because Faulk is better schooled at picking up the blitz. But he said Jackson would play Sunday.
“That was a weird game last week,” Martz said. “Things kind of got so goofed up that he didn’t get in the game.”
The Rams’ troubles on the offensive line also continue with the team saying Sunday that guard Chris Dishman will miss the rest of the season after re-injuring his left knee in practice.
Dishman tore both his ACL and MCL in a workout Friday. Dishman, in his eighth season, had retired and was back in Nebraska when the Rams, desperate after injuries to several linemen in training camp, lured him out of retirement in August.
He has played in seven games at left guard, starting five. He initially injured the knee in a Nov. 14 23-12 win against Seattle and had missed the past five games.