ASSUMING HE successfully navigates Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, Donovan McNabb will finish a season healthy for the first time in 3 years, since he walked off the field in Super Bowl XXXIX, long ago and far away.
Yet, that isn't really the headline when you assess McNabb and 2007, is it?
The Eagles aren't going to the playoffs, largely because their offense has scored fewer than 20 points nine times this season, because McNabb struggled mightily in his comeback from ACL surgery. Throw in some caveats about the receivers and the playcalling not helping McNabb as much as they could have and you have the bottom line on the Eagles' 75th anniversary season, in which an improving young defense and a year for the ages from Brian Westbrook ended up not mattering enough.
As McNabb himself predicted yesterday, in his final Wednesday news conference of the year, it's going to be an entertaining offseason. So far, indications are that the Eagles intend to try to win with McNabb next year, instead of handing the keys to 2007 top pick Kevin Kolb - but the statements to that effect from Eagles president Joe Banner and coach Andy Reid don't seem to have made much of an impression on the rest of the NFL, which continues to speculate about a possible McNabb trade.
McNabb said yesterday that an offseason of trade rumors won't much matter to him, but if you take the view that Fox reporter Pam Oliver wasn't fantasizing a week ago Sunday in Dallas, you have to wonder if that's really how he feels. Oliver, of course, related a pregame conversation that left her with the impression that McNabb feels he might be traded, and that he feels the organization is distancing itself from him.
McNabb first said Oliver was mistaken, then indicated he'd felt the remarks were not for attribution. Most of what Oliver said mirrored what people close to McNabb have been saying for months.
"My mind-set, again, I just don't even focus on it. I look at it as being here again next year," McNabb said. "They can talk about where I may go or what may happen, but until something's final, I'm still here in Philadelphia and that's the way I'm going to treat it . . . Every offseason has been kind of entertaining for me, since I've been here, anyway, so this will just be another one to put under the belt."
The past few weeks, in leading the 7-8 Birds to victories at Dallas and New Orleans, McNabb has seemed more mobile and less reluctant to pull the trigger. McNabb's recent improvement has made going forward with him in 2008 seem a much more attractive option than it might have appeared a month or so ago.
Before McNabb spoke yesterday, Reid was asked if he planned to sit down with McNabb in the offseason to discuss the situation and the rumors.
"I talk to him every day. I'm living it every day," Reid said. "Whatever anybody writes and does, Donovan and I communicate every day. Normally, we sit down and talk after the season, but we talk all the time. I don't know how much he needs to hear or I need to say, or anything like that. He kind of knows how we feel."
The imaginary Donovanmeter arrow moved another fraction closer to the "staying" side yesterday when Reid, while extolling Kolb's grasp of the offense, said he didn't feel any need to see the rookie play even a few series in the season finale. Kolb played very briefly in the Eagles' only blowout win this season, 56-21 back on Sept. 23, against Detroit. He hasn't been seen since.
Asked about McNabb's recent play, Reid said: "I like the improvement he's made. I think he's playing confident football. I think it's great for him to finish up the season that way. Like I've said before, he's coming off an injury that he's been way ahead of the other cases that have had the same injury, productionwise. Just to carry that over to the offseason is a real positive for him."
Of course, this being the Eagles, McNabb then said that he and Reid don't talk every day, about that sort of thing, anyway.
"It doesn't come up with Andy. I don't talk about it," McNabb said, when asked if he seeks clarification from the coach about his future. "I come here to talk to you guys because you ask the questions, but when I leave here, I don't talk about it."
Someone then told McNabb what Reid had said.
"We talk all the time, but I don't talk about trades or where I may play," he said. "It's already been said that I will be here. I don't go further into talking about being anywhere else. If you begin to do that, then it becomes a distraction."
Still, you don't get the idea that a trade would shock McNabb. He was asked yesterday if he'd feel betrayed, should he find himself in one of those circumstances Banner recently said he could not envision.
"Things in life, sometimes - you have to be prepared for the worst," McNabb, 31, said. "You just never know what can happen. At this given time, I'm going to do what I have to do and play at a high caliber, play my best. If something was to happen, it happens. I wouldn't be the first."
McNabb said he wouldn't mind seeing Kolb get some game reps Sunday, that he hoped things would go well and maybe lots of guys could play, eventually.
"I've been in a situation where I was a draft pick and you're on the sideline, and you just want to get in there and play," McNabb said. "I want him to play. We're going to do what we can to make sure that everybody gets an opportunity to play."
From the outside, it sure seems that when McNabb is confident in his mobility, everything else works better - decision-making, accuracy, red-zone efficiency.
"My whole confidence and my whole psyche was fine," McNabb said, when asked if playing well lately had helped his confidence. "I didn't have a problem with that phase of it. For myself, it was more or less knowing that the knee was healthy, that it was fixed, and the only thing I had to do was stay on it, as far as strength is concerned . . . I think, early on, obviously I didn't have the mobility that I had before the injury, so I had to work on other things. Then, once things started to come back, then I felt more comfortable doing different things I wasn't able to do earlier in the season."
McNabb said continuing his recovery would be the focus of his offseason, not following trade talk, or seeking updates from Reid.
"It wouldn't bother me," if more rumors come up, he said. "There's been talk throughout the year. For me to not even bring it up this year to Andy, why would I bring it up in the offseason? I have an agent [Fletcher Smith], and my agent would at least be aware if something was going on. For me, [the emphasis] would be to approach the offseason [planning on] being here and coming back full strength, working on the little things that I definitely need to work on and just coming back ready to go." *