WHEN BRIAN Dawkins found out last March that the Eagles had signed wide receiver Kevin Curtis to a 6-year, $30 million free-agent contract, well, let's just say he didn't pop open a bottle of Dom Perignon.
"Respect isn't given," the six-time Pro Bowl free safety said. "It's earned. Coming in, getting the contract he got, I'm not saying it wasn't deserved. But nobody really knew.
"But he far exceeded what I thought as far as his playmaking ability. What he was able to do on the field this year was impressive."
Curtis caught 77 passes, which was the fourth most by an Eagles wideout since the league went to a 16-game season in 1978. He had 1,110 receiving yards, which was the seventh most by an Eagle since '78. And he averaged 14.4 yards per catch, which was eighth among NFL receivers with at least 60 receptions this season.
But while Curtis might have long ago earned the respect of Dawkins and his other teammates, the rest of Eagles Nation seems to be a little slower in coming around.
They've been showing their appreciation for Curtis' impressive season by calling the talk shows and/or sending out e-mail missives to the media clamoring for an upgrade to the wide-receiving corps.
Welcome to Philly, Kev.
Don't take that as a vote against bringing in a veteran wide receiver this offseason. The more pass-catching weapons they can add to this offense, the better.
But let's give Curtis a little respect. He proved this season that he can be a solid starting wideout in this league.
Part of his problem is that he's a tad undersized - 5-11 and only about 185 pounds.
"For a little guy," offensive tackle Jon Runyan said when asked his impressions of Curtis, "he's strong and he's not scared of anything. The only problem is he's a little on the small side."
Another part of his problem is that he's white, which, in most people's minds, translates to slow.
Curtis is one of just five white starting wide receivers in the league. But the notion that he's slow is a fallacy. He ran a 4.41 40 at his predraft workout in 2003. That's faster than Javon Walker (4.43), faster than Deion Branch (4.51), faster than Bernard Berrian (4.59), faster than Reggie Wayne (4.55), faster than Larry Fitzgerald (4.52), faster than many receivers who are considered more dangerous vertical threats than the Utah native.
"Everybody gets stereotyped," an AFC personnel man said. "I'm don't know that it's malicious. Sometimes it is. But sometimes, you almost get trained. You take for granted that that's what it is. Like the John Fogerty song says, 'It must be true because I heard it on the radio.'
"Curtis can run. If he's not 4.4 speed, he's 4.4 quick. He's a good [No.] 2 receiver. He's just not real big, and big seems to be in vogue right now. So maybe that's part of the issue with him. Smaller guys are viewed as Wes Welkers and slot guys."
Around the league
* Don't be shocked if Brian Billick, who was fired earlier this week as the Ravens' head coach, winds up as an offensive consultant on Andy Reid's staff. Billick and Reid are longtime friends. You might recall that Reid brought another pal, Marty Mornhinweg, on board after he was fired by the Lions 5 years ago.
* Bills owner Ralph Wilson hasn't decided what he'll do about replacing general manager Marv Levy, who stepped down this week. Rather than go outside for a replacement, Wilson might just increase coach Dick Jauron's authority and expand the roles of some of the Bills' other football people, including college scouting boss Tom Modrak. Modrak has no interest in replacing Levy. He lives in Jacksonville, Fla., and is content in his current role.
* If Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was looking for a vote of confidence from coach Brad Childress, he didn't get one. Jackson finished the season with a 70.8 passer rating. He threw just nine touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Asked if he was comfortable with Jackson as his starter in '08, Childress said, "I don't know that it's ever good to get comfortable." He later added, "I'm glad I saw positive progress from him. He, as everybody does, has a lot of things he needs to collectively and individually improve on. So we'll just see if those things come to fruition as we keep moving."
* Cowboys owner-GM Jerry Jones said the team probably won't replace departed vice president of college and pro scouting Jeff Ireland. Ireland was hired by the Dolphins earlier this week to be their new GM. "We have a director of college scouting and we have a director of pro scouting," Jones said. "I don't know that we need to replace Jeff." Translation: Jones' voice in personnel decisions will be getting a lot louder.
* The Cowboys are counting on Terrell Owens being ready for next week's divisional playoff game. Owens is recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered 2 weeks ago. He no longer is wearing a walking boot and has been able to jog the last couple of days. "I can only go by what has happened [when Owens has been injured] in the past," receivers coach Ray Sherman said. "He's been working. He's been in there every day. He's working at the facility. He's working at home. I'm very hopeful he will be back."
By the numbers
* Redskins coach Joe Gibbs is 3-0 in wild-card playoff games on the road. Beat the Bucs in Tampa in '05, beat the Vikings in Minneapolis in '92 and beat the Eagles at the Vet in '90.
* Best reason to like the Bucs over the Giants: The Bucs have an NFC-best plus-15 turnover differential. The Giants are minus-9. Since Jon Gruden was hired as the Bucs' head coach, they are 16-0 in games in which they haven't committed a turnover.
* The Bills scored just 20 offensive touchdowns this season, which is the fewest by the franchise since the NFL went to 16 games in 1978.
* The Chiefs scored just 226 points, the worst 16-game total in their history. They scored more than 20 points only once in a season-ending nine-game losing streak.
FROM THE LIP
* "I want to be a starter. Here or wherever. That's what I live for. I live to be a starting quarterback, because I relish that moment of being in that huddle and looking the 10 other guys in the eyes and seeing the fire and intensity and trust. There's no greater feeling." - Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, who was benched earlier this season in favor of Kellen Clemens.
* "Sean's death brought us closer together. We're like family right now. We're playing with our angel out there." - Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, on the impact of Sean Taylor's death on his team.
* "We couldn't handle him. We played against him twice a year and we couldn't handle him - couldn't tackle him, couldn't cover him and had to double him a lot. He was a tough guy for us to match up with." - Patriots coach Bill Belichick, on why he traded for wide receiver Wes Welker.
* "You can see when he plays, he makes everyone around him better. He's one of those guys, he's like a little kid playing in the backyard. He just makes things happen and makes plays out of improbable situations." - Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, on Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia.
* "I'm not stepping aside to slow down. I'm stepping aside to speed up.'' - 82-year-old Marv Levy, who stepped down as Bills general manager this week.
o Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, who, according to the NFL Network's Adam Schefter, is considering 30 candidates for his team's vacant head-coaching job. Thirty? Well, at least that means most of the Baltimore-area high school coaches are out of the running. I mean, his decision to whack underperforming Brian Billick hardly came out of the blue. Didn't he give any earlier thought to possible replacements? Didn't he ask around? Didn't he call 1-800-HIREACOACH? Even Jeff Lurie supposedly has a short list of candidates written down somewhere in case he ever has to go shopping for a replacement for Andy Reid.
1. Patriots 16-0 (1 last week)
2. Colts 13-3 (2)
3. Jaguars 11-5 (4)
4. Cowboys 13-3 (3)
5. Packers 13-3 (5)
6. Chargers 11-5 (6)
7. Steelers 10-6 (7)
8. Seahawks 10-6 (8)
9. Titans 10-6 (9)
10. Browns 10-6 (10)
11. Bucs 9-7 (11)
12. Giants 10-6 (12)
13. Redskins 9-7 (13)
14. Eagles 8-8 (14)
15. Texans 8-8 (17)
16. Cardinals 8-8 (18)
17. Saints 7-9 (15)
18. Vikings 8-8 (16)
19. Broncos 7-9 (22)
20. Bills 7-9 (19)
21. Bears 7-9 (21)
22. Lions 7-9 (20)
23. Panthers 7-9 (23)
24. Bengals 7-9 (24)
25. Ravens 5-11 (27)
26. Jets 4-12 (26)
27. 49ers 5-11 (25)
28. Raiders 4-12 (28)
29. Rams 3-13 (29)
30. Chiefs 4-12 (30)
31. Falcons 4-12 (31)
32. Dolphins 1-15 (32)