Suddenly, there seems to be virtually no doubt that Donovan McNabb will be A-OK for this week's game against the New York Giants.
Eagles coach Andy Reid said yesterday that McNabb "should be back for Wednesday's practice" after missing the last two games with a sprained ankle and a jammed thumb. The Eagles deactivated McNabb for both games, meaning he wasn't even available to hand the ball off, had both A.J. Feeley and Kevin Kolb been injured. This seemed a bit strange, especially since McNabb worked out after practice every day last week, and couldn't have been all that far from being able to play, given that yesterday, the day after the game, Reid declared him ready for practice.
Most likely, the Eagles were trying to avoid fueling speculation that McNabb had effectively been benched in favor of A.J. Feeley, which they might have felt would have been the interpretation had McNabb been active and in uniform but not starting.
The whole business is a touchy point with Reid, who made it clear at his weekly postmortem news conference that he did not want to belabor the details of the decision not to start or activate McNabb for Sunday's 28-24 loss to Seattle, in which Feeley threw four fatal interceptions.
"I just got done telling you. Open your ears," Reid said, when a reporter pressed for McNabb's reaction to Reid's decision that he was not ready to play against the Seahawks. Previously, Reid had said: "One thing about Donovan, Donovan's always going to want to go. He loves playing the game, most players do. So, you have to make a decision there if you're putting him in a bad position, both he and the football team in a bad position. That's something between the doctors, the trainers, he and myself that we've got to evaluate."
One subtext here is media and fan speculation that McNabb was not all that eager to play with a bad right ankle, given that his right knee is still recovering from last year's ACL surgery, and given the corrosive criticism he has endured this season. Some people close to the situation say McNabb has played in years past with worse injuries. But some of those people also say that he played in those situations because the team asked him to play, when going into a game without McNabb was considered a bigger obstacle to victory than it has seemed during his recent struggles. The Eagles did not ask McNabb to try to play against the Seahawks, a source said.
Most likely, after Feeley's interception-marred but stirring effort against the Patriots, which followed his rally to victory over Miami in relief of McNabb, Reid and the Eagles thought they would be safer going with Feeley - on a slippery field, against an aggressive pass rush. Maybe they thought it would be unfair to put McNabb in that position, and maybe they also thought Feeley gave them a better chance to win. Whatever the calculation, Feeley's four picks changed the equation enough that there seems to be little question now about McNabb's health.
"I think we'll be there. I said before I want to make sure we got to that [100 percent] point and we're very, very close to that," Reid said. "I thought he moved around last week. As the week went on, I thought he got a little bit better, and I think a couple days rest here has helped him."
The last time the Eagles played the Giants, Sept. 30, Reid and his staff neglected to give rookie tackle Winston Justice any blocking help as he stepped in for William "Tra" Thomas. New York's Osi Umenyiora notched six sacks and the Giants managed 12 overall in a 16-3 victory. Thanks largely to that evening, the Giants lead the NFL with 44 sacks - making them perhaps a less than ideal opponent for a sore-ankled McNabb, operating against New York defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, a former Jim Johnson assistant who knows the Eagles' offense as well as Reid's mentor, Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, knows it.
"They've got a heck of a football team and they got after us last time, in a big way they got after us," Reid said yesterday. "So, we'll do what we need to do to protect the quarterback, whether he had a sore ankle or not. We'll do what we can to protect him. They've got some pretty good pass rushers. Spags did a nice job with the scheme last time."
Andy Reid said defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley had a "precautionary" MRI yesterday on his MCL injury. Bunkley missed Sunday's game. Reid said he didn't know details, but that Bunkley was "going to be OK" . . . Reid said cornerback Lito Sheppard, who left Sunday's game with knee inflammation, couldn't pick out a play in which he'd reinjured the knee, which cost him four games earlier in the season . . . Reid said strong safety Quintin Mikell (knee) is "getting better." *