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BENGALS Eagles starters ready for bench



Published: Sat, January 1, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Bengals hope to seal their second consecutive .500 season with a win.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The Philadelphia Eagles' starters will break out their favorite caps, sneakers and sweat suits this week.

Hoping to stay healthy for the playoffs, the Eagles (13-2) are treating Sunday's regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals (7-8) like another preseason game.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb probably won't play more than one series, the same as he did in last Monday's loss at St. Louis. Running back Brian Westbrook could be inactive for the second straight week, and defensive end Jevon Kearse again might spend the whole game standing on the sideline.

"The starters are going to start the game and we will see how it goes from there," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "I have a lot of trust in the veteran players. If I didn't have that trust, I would struggle to do this. But I know those guys will handle it right. They are working like crazy. They are focused. I have a lot of confidence in that group."

McNabb prefers to play the entire game. The Eagles missed a chance to finish 15-1 by losing to the Rams.

"I understand the logic behind why the players aren't playing a lot," McNabb said. "I would love to play. I want to win every game, if I could. Being in there, you have a chance of helping the team win. That's a coach's decision. We have full confidence in coach Reid."

Palmer questionable

Meanwhile, the Bengals are hoping to finish at .500 for the second consecutive season under second-year coach Marvin Lewis. They'll probably have to do it without quarterback Carson Palmer, questionable after missing the last two games with a knee injury.

Lewis would rather face the Eagles at their best, but he has no problem with Reid resting his starters.

"There is no way around it," Lewis said. "What if one of his guys gets hurt and they miss an opportunity? He has to do what he feels is best for his team."

Though they haven't had a winning year since 1990, the Bengals would consider ending the season with consecutive wins a positive step heading into the offseason.

"When you go into the offseason with a win, the last thing that you have is an impression of a win and a good feeling," said quarterback Jon Kitna, who'll start if Palmer can't play. "That would be a great thing for this organization. All those things are stepping stones for the future."

Milestones

A few Bengals will be playing for milestones. Running back Rudi Johnson needs 81 yards rushing to break Corey Dillon's single-season team record of 1,435 yards set in 2000. Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh needs 93 yards receiving to reach 1,000 yards and join Chad Johnson, giving Cincinnati two players over 1,000 yards for the first time in club history. Chad Johnson also is trying to become the first Bengal to lead the AFC in yards receiving two straight years. His 1,287 yards are 10 ahead of Tennessee's Drew Bennett.

The Eagles stopped playing for personal goals after securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with two games left. An ankle injury that likely will keep Pro Bowl wide receiver Terrell Owens sidelined the rest of the season has dampened everyone's mood, though the Eagles still are favorites to reach the Super Bowl.

"It's sad that with one player down, everyone feels that the season is over," McNabb said, referring to critics. "No one really talks about how hard our team has played and the adversity we've been faced with and how we were able to overcome all of that and keep a positive outlook on things."

If the Eagles lose to the Bengals, they'll end the season with two straight losses for the first time since 1998. Only the 1967 Green Bay Packers lost the final two regular-season games and won the Super Bowl.




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