NEW ORLEANS - If/when the Eagles decide to bring Donovan McNabb back next year as their quarterback, the video of this game is the one that will be playing on a continuous loop in their minds. McNabb shredded the New Orleans Saints, an amenable opponent, yesterday in the Louisiana
Superdome. He toyed with the NFL's 30th-ranked pass defense, a weak bunch weakened even more when cornerback Mike McKenzie was hurt on the game's first series. He was
decisive, and he threw with authority, and he ran with abandon, and the whole thing just clicked. If you closed your eyes, you could almost see 2002.
"When you get into a rhythm on the offensive side, and everyone's kind of jumping around, and you look
into the eyes of the guys in the huddle, and the next play you just have that confidence that it's going to be a big one - that's what we used to be . . . " McNabb said, indicating that it is what he felt yesterday, too.
Last week against Dallas, in a physically brutal game, McNabb earned praise for his toughness (even if the Eagles' offense did score only 10 points in their
victory). This time, it was his legs and his arm. Four days after saying that the team needed to bring in more weapons next
season, McNabb completed
passes to seven different receivers, including six apiece to Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown.
It was like the old days, and it began with an audacious scramble, a 40-yard run around end that ended in slapstick - the ball punched out of his arms for a fumble, the rush to get it, and then Curtis falling on the ball in the end zone for the game's first touchdown.
"I think teams now see the
progression of me coming off the injury, and seeing that I'm getting my mobility back" McNabb said, going on to explain that he thinks the defensive approach against him is changing a bit, that things are loosening up.
So better health, as we are now past a year since McNabb tore up his knee, explains
"That's part of it, but no,"
McNabb said. "It's a lot of different things when you look at this season. But to be back healthy,
a little bit better than usual, it helps."
He is right, though. He's been pretty healthy for a while now.
It does not explain everything. You can spin this any way you want and here is one way: Against pass defenses currently ranked 30th (New Orleans), 31st (Detroit) and 32nd (Minnesota) - the three worst in the NFL - McNabb had three of his best days this season (eight touchdowns, zero interceptions, 70.1 percent completions). Against everybody else, in 10 games, he had 10 touchdowns, six interceptions and 57.9 percent completions.
What does that mean? It is hard to know at this point. Good quarterbacks pad their numbers against lousy secondaries, and that is what McNabb has done. He and this offense have been very good this season at picking apart the pliable. Other than that, it's tough.
McNabb doesn't often let you in to his thinking - as he said again yesterday, "I try not to
focus on the personal aspect" - but you wonder where his
confidence was and where
his confidence is.
"A lot of people ask a lot of questions about Donovan, is he the old person that he used to be," running back Brian Westbrook said, adding that he
always thought it would take
a year following the major knee surgery last fall before McNabb was fully back.
"He's getting back, rallying back . . . " Westbrook said,
adding, "These last 2 weeks
were crucial for him."
The temptation is to dump on all of this, to brand it as meaningless, as a waste, as frustrating eyewash for a team that should have been better than 7-8. It is
really hard to argue with that
position, except for one thing: McNabb. Because if their intention is to bring him back next season, these games do matter. His performances do matter. If he is coming back, an offseason where he can feel decent about himself and the way the year
ended is a critical building block in the foundation for 2008.
"The word is 'consistency,' " McNabb said, and that really is what has been lacking from
everyone on this team, beginning with him. Short of that, we have these moments: first half against Detroit, second half at Washington, first half yesterday, and maybe one or two more.
In short bursts, we have seen what was - this Saints game
being the latest example.
But what might be?
Who can see that?
It really is why Andy Reid gets paid the big money. *
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