When it happened, way back through the long portal of three weeks time, it seemed as if Andy Reid had reached into another pocket and produced the white flag.
He threw it in the half-time locker room in Baltimore, seemingly bringing an end to the Eagles' hopes for this season, and, depending on one's point of view, to the entire tenure of Donovan McNabb as the unassailable quarterback of the franchise.
Reid benched McNabb midway through another game that was going nowhere, in another season that appeared doomed. It was a momentous change, an upheaval for the team, a parting of the ways between the past and the future.
Except it wasn't any of that.
The end of the McNabb era lasted only until noon the following day. Reid said McNabb was still the starter. Sometimes players need to take a step back to move forward. It was as close as the coach came to acknowledging his action had been nothing but a motivational tool to get the quarterback's attention. After the first flurry of reaction, he didn't speak of it again.
Well, here we are three weeks into the second McNabb era, and Reid might not be the coach of the year, but he could be psychologist of the year. In the NFL, that's just as difficult an award to win.
In last night's ritual 30-10 win over the Cleveland Browns, the third straight win for the Eagles in their pursuit of an improbable playoff berth, McNabb was sharp and efficient again. For the third straight game, his passer rating was over 90, the first such stretch for McNabb since the opening games of the 2006 season, just a few weeks before he tore his anterior cruciate ligament and was lost for the rest of the year.
"I thought it was another good night for him," said Reid, who added that he isn't surprised by McNabb's turnaround.
"I know the kind of person he is," Reid said. "He's always been a great player."
It's fair to point out that two of the wins, and two of the efficient games, came against the Arizona Cardinals and, last night, against the Browns - teams that are not great pass defenders. The other came against the Giants, of course, a game in which most, if not all of the credit went to Brian Westbrook and Reid's grudging return to the rushing game.
All true but perhaps beside the point. The Donovan McNabb that returned to the team after his 30-minute vacation didn't look like the one that had terrible games against the Giants, Cincinnati and Baltimore. The new boss - same as the old boss - threw the ball with both zip and touch, depending on what was needed, and didn't throw interceptions.
McNabb did have one interception last night, as he tried to force in a score on the final play of the first half, but otherwise he was quietly brilliant. There weren't any deep throws in the mix - his longest completion was for 25 yards - but there didn't have to be. He lofted a delicate sideline pass over the defender to get Kevin Curtis the first touchdown of the game on the opening drive.
He threw other passes on string, placing them between defenders and into the hands of his receivers. He stepped away from pressure, bought himself time and didn't always check down to the easy swing pass when time was ticking against him. On his final pass of the night, McNabb threaded another pass through the crowd to Greg Lewis for another touchdown and a 30-3 lead.
McNabb came to the sideline, shook hands and exchanged his helmet for a knit cap. His night's work was over, but the latest era, and the Eagles' postseason chances, were still very much alive. He was 26 for 35 for 290 yards, with a passer rating of 105.7. In the three games since his benching, McNabb is 87 for 125 (69.6 percent), for 741 yards.
They don't remember how you play early in the season, McNabb said. "They always remember how you are playing toward the end," he added, "and hopefully things will work out well, but we have to enjoy this win now and get ready for Washington next week and see where it takes us."
Reid probably couldn't have predicted this turnaround when he simply got tired of what he was seeing in Baltimore. It was merely the last thing he could try and the thing he had never tried before with McNabb.
The way McNabb played before the benching was, according to Reid, "something very abnormal for him, particularly in the turnover category."
"That's not how he plays," Reid said. "[Now], he's playing like he does. This is what Donovan is all about here. He's playing confident. He's aggressive with the ball, and he's managing the game very well."
After McNabb threw that final pass for the touchdown to Lewis last night, Kevin Kolb replaced him again. But there was no upheaval this time, no momentous change. There was only a veteran getting a break from garbage time while the backup mopped up the rainy field.
The starter isn't a different quarterback. He's the same guy he was before. Nothing has changed but the results.
"I'm always happy. I'm happy to be out here just playing football, and that's the most important thing," McNabb said. "That's something that I told myself that no matter what situation I'm in, I'm going to have a ball out here, and the people around me are going to enjoy it, too."
Sometimes a step back moves you forward. Reid said it. He might have believed it.
But even he might not have believed it would work quite this well.
Bob Ford: McNabb is Back on Track
Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb continued his hot streak after being benched against the Baltimore Ravens three weeks ago. Last night, he hit nine different receivers.
Date Opponent Att.-C. Yds. TD INT Rating
Nov. 16 at Bengals 28-58 339 1 3 50.9
Nov. 23 at Ravens 8-18 59 0 2 13.2
Nov. 27 vs. Arizona 27-39 260 4 0 121.7
Dec. 7 at Giants 19-30 191 1 0 92.5
Last night vs. Browns 26-35 290 2 1 105.7EndText