By the time his orthopedic surgeon appeared at a noon news conference in Baltimore, and just a scant two hours after he lay on an operating table at Mercy Medical Center, Terrell Owens already was winding his way back to Philadelphia yesterday.
"I think there is a reasonable possibility that he will return to play in about six or seven weeks," Dr. Mark Myerson said. "But that is not predictable, and a lot will depend on his recovery and rehabilitation over the next month or two."
The surgery to repair two torn ligaments in Owens' ravaged right ankle was a success, but now it's the Eagles who may not recover.
Myerson, the director of The Institute of Foot and Ankle Reconstruction at Mercy, needed about an hour to put two screws and a small plate in Owens' ankle and stabilize the joint.
An internationally recognized leader in reconstructive foot and ankle surgery, Myerson did not rule out a return to the field this season for Owens, 31. But he indicated it was a difficult timetable, at best, to be ready for the Super Bowl, which is little more than six weeks away.
"Under normal circumstances, this type of injury takes approximately eight to 10 weeks to heal the tissues and heal the ligaments sufficiently to return to athletic activity," Myerson said.
"While it is not unreasonable to hope that he returns to play in six weeks, it's not something that we would expect."
For now, the Eagles are left to contemplate their misfortune. At 13-1, they have clinched home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs for the third straight year.
But each of the two previous NFC championship games were preceded by costly injuries - quarterback Donovan McNabb returned from an ankle injury to play in the 2002 postseason and running back Brian Westbrook missed last year's playoffs with a torn triceps muscle.
The Eagles lost both those championship games and the one before that. That's why they acquired Owens in a huge offseason deal that involved the Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. Now, they're back to banking on a receiving group that includes Todd Pinkston, Freddie Mitchell and Greg Lewis.
"Losing T.O., obviously it's tough," McNabb said during a news conference, "but we have the full confidence in the rest of the guys stepping up and making the big plays when we need it."
Owens, who successfully fought to overturn a trade to the Ravens last summer, was in Baltimore only briefly yesterday. He arrived early in the morning for the outpatient procedure, and left shortly before noon.
By then, he'd already been named to the Pro Bowl with his 77 catches and 14 touchdowns. He was injured in Sunday's 12-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys when he was pulled down from behind by safety Roy Williams.
Getting his foot caught under him, Owens tore the deltoid and syndesmosis ligaments in his ankle and the resulting force fractured his fibula. No surgery was required for the fibula, however.
It wasn't the first leg Williams snapped this season with a back-of-the-jersey tackle. On Nov. 21 in Baltimore, he dragged down running back Musa Smith from behind and Smith suffered a compound fracture of his tibia.
Myerson said Owens would be on crutches for two weeks and then begin non-weight bearing exercises. At four weeks, Owens could be doing weight-bearing exercises.
Asked if the receiver could be full speed for the Super Bowl in the race against time, Myerson declined to speculate.
"It's too unpredictable. I cannot answer that now," he said. "I think it is reasonable for him to return to activities, and some athletic activity, between four and six weeks. Whether or not that's going to imply the full activities that he needs to be able to do, I do not know."