Even injured, Owens is still the focus

PHILADELPHIA -- Forgive Andy Reid for getting a little too revved up after Sunday's 27-10 victory over the Falcons in the NFC championship game.

Goaded by Fox broadcaster Terry Bradshaw, a stoked Lincoln Financial Field crowd and a national television audience, the usually mild-mannered head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles lost his composure. Will injured wide receiver Terrell Owens, Bradshaw demanded to know, be back for the Super Bowl on Feb. 6?

"Well," said Reid pausing, and then giving into the giddy moment. "I have a feeling he will."

Twenty minutes later, in an interview room populated by several hundred media types, Reid distanced himself from those remarks.

"I got caught up in the emotions," Reid said. "We'll see. We'll see. He was standing right there, so I had to make him feel good."

Owens, for the record, suffered a fractured right fibula and two torn ankle ligaments in a Dec. 19 game against the Dallas Cowboys. Super Bowl XXXIX will be played seven weeks after that gruesome fact.

On Monday, when the topic of Owens dominated his press conference, Reid reiterated his wait-and-see position.

"Somewhere in the next few days here, he's going to try and run on that thing, jog on it, see what he can do and progress from there," Reid said.

"He was going to play this game, if he had his choice. He's very confident and, hey, he's making real progress, he really has. He's chomping at the bit here to play."

Owens' surgeon, Dr. Mark Myerson, may have the final call.

"Can he do it?" Reid asked. "Can he cut on that thing? He's got a couple of different things in there: the pain from the broken part of the leg, and he really doesn't have much from the ankle. But, again, he hasn't run on it.

"We have to see how that holds up when he runs."

And while it could be argued that the presence of Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour, who missed his third consecutive game on Sunday with a nagging knee injury, might have a greater impact on the field in Jacksonville, it's going to be all T.O. for the next two weeks -- all the time. His rehabilitation efforts this week will be scrutinized relentlessly. His body language in interview sessions will be examined for hints to his condition. His walk to the podium on Media Day will be broken down like a Ron Jaworski playbook.

Will T.O. play? That is the only question.

Here's the reality: How can Owens not play? How can he resist the platform, the stage that Jacksonville will offer him. Would the doctor dare rule him out before he heads down to Florida? Not likely.

Owens did not utter a public word after the Eagles' victory on Sunday, but when approached by a reporter in the chaos of the locker room he smiled, shook his head and slipped away to an area off limits to the media. That smile seemed to say: I understand that, on this one occasion, it's not about me -- but just wait.

Despite Reid's retraction, most of those players in the locker room privately believe he will play, or try to play.

"Well, you ask him, he said he's going to be back, so that's the only thing that we can go by," said Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. "I'm not a doctor, so I can't tell you what's going on with that, but I'm sure he's going to rehab well and try to get his self back out on the field."

Three days after his injury, Myerson inserted two screws into Owens' ankle and added a plate on the outside. His vigorous rehabilitation effort has progressed as the team was in the process of winning both its playoff games to give him an outside chance of returning. Owens is now walking without crutches and, during his fourth quarter cheerleading exhibition and post-game trophy hoisting exercise, didn't seem to favor his right leg.

If things go well when he tests the leg this week in practice, presumably Owens will travel to Jacksonville with the idea that it might be viable for game action.

Certainly, there is a sense that the Eagles will need him if they want to defeat the Patriots, who find themselves in their third Super Bowl in four seasons and opened as a six-point favorite in the game.

With the news Monday that tight end Chad Lewis, who caught both of McNabb's touchdown passes against the Falcons, will miss the Super Bowl with a foot injury, Owens' presence is even more critical. Lewis suffered what is known as a Lis Franc sprain, seen more often in car accidents. Lewis injured his foot on his second score, a 2-yard play in the fourth quarter that closed out the scoring.

Three wide receivers -- Greg Lewis, Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston -- combined for five catches, 98 yards and no touchdowns against Atlanta. That kind of non-lethal production is what moved the Eagles to pursue Owens as a free agent after the 2003 season. He responded with 77 catches for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns in 14 games.

While the Eagles were happy to have Owens waving towels on their behalf, he can be a touchy subject with certain players. Did Philadelphia prove something by winning two playoff games without Owens?

"I am getting tired of that question," Lewis said after the game. "We won last week, we won the previous week, it doesn't matter. T.O. is part of the team, but he's not here right now. We're trying to go on and not proving to anyone we can win without T.O. We're trying to win the Super Bowl."

Owens and his endless series of media-friendly end zone celebrations has taken pressure off the Eagles players all season long. At the Super Bowl, where the presence of thousands of reporters can send a minor story soaring into the headlines, Owens will ease the burden born by Philadelphia in its first Super Bowl appearance in 24 years. Even as a decoy, an appearance on the field by Owens would seem, at worst, to give the Eagles an emotional lift.

"If T.O. is out there, he won't be a decoy," McNabb said. "We brought T.O. in here for a reason and T.O. has done a wonderful job for us.

"If T.O. is out there, T.O. will catch some balls."

To play or not to play? Judging from the answer of owner Jeff Lurie, the answer seems obvious.

"In the NFL, I can't imagine another player more obsessed than Terrell Owens to get back and rehab and do everything possible," Lurie said after the game. "This guy is incredibly committed to winning -- not only in the offseason, but in season.

"The guy is just a stud."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.