DONOVAN McNABB, enjoy yourself this week, how ever you decide to spend the bye.
(Repair that troublesome downspout on the garage, repaint the front door, maybe get the furnace checked out before it starts to get cold.)
If anybody earned a free pass for the next few weeks out of Sunday's shenanigans, it was the Eagles' quarterback.
A week ago in this space, he was asked to step up as a leader, to take the season on his shoulders, to overcome even the problems created for him by others (then it was Andy Reid's playcalling, this week it was Rory Segrest's special-teams traveling circus). With considerable and timely help from the Eagles' defense Sunday, McNabb did just that.
I think most of Eagles Nation thought the game, the season, and the McNabb era might have ended when No. 5 tried to hit L.J. Smith on a slant, and Smith decided to play Todd Pinkston to Takeo Spikes' Ricky Manning Jr., down at the 49ers' 12, with 22 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Eagles trailed the underwhelming San Francisco 49ers by nine. They had allowed 20 successive points, and had managed to get a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. Now they'd just given the ball away after a long drive. One more clock-eating drive for points by the 49ers, and they would be the team coming out of this game with new life.
But the defense dug in, keyed by Juqua Parker finally notching the Eagles' first sack of the game, and a short punt put McNabb back in business at the 49ers' 38. He shook off a Hank Baskett false start and produced a TD in five plays, a 2-yard pass that was Smith's only catch of the day.
The Eagles added three field goals, two of them set up by 49ers turnovers, before Parker put the game away with a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown.
McNabb was 23-for-36 for 280 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He did get frustrated when the afternoon started to go sour. He had no Brian Westbrook, no Reggie Brown. Somehow, he got the job done, using Correll Buckhalter, DeSean Jackson, Baskett and a maybe a roll of duct tape.
It was what had to happen, for McNabb's credibility as a leader, especially in the wake of the team meeting he called last week.
"That's when leaders lead," Reid said, when asked afterward about McNabb's reaction to the interception.
We're not saying this means everything is wonderful now, forever and ever, that the concerns lots of people had going into San Francisco are forever vanquished. We are saying the man earned a week with his feet up, without being picked apart and second-guessed. He did his job.
Developing story lines
* The end-zone fade pattern to Hank Baskett, long thought to be a myth similar to the one about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, made a surprise first-half appearance. Texting congrats to high-leaping Hank were the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot.
* I don't think the Eagles believe Kansas City is going to trade tight end Tony Gonzalez before tomorrow's deadline. He sure would be an upgrade for at least one local franchise. (Can you imagine Iguodala on the break with that guy clearing the glass?) OK, maybe two local franchises.
* Shoutout to Quintin Demps, who broke out with a 63-yard kickoff return a week after looking pretty average against the Redskins.
* Shoutout also to Max Jean-Gilles, who knocked down people on screens the way Shawn Andrews does.
* The Eagles forced only 19 turnovers all last season, but they have a dozen through just six games this year.
That by continuing to take the ball away from the 49ers and score points late, the Eagles were going to mess up an opportunity for a rare win in a close game? You'll recall the Birds lost five of six games in 2007 decided by four points or fewer. Then they lost their first two in that category this season. You'd think starting the fourth quarter down nine would present a pretty good opportunity for such an accomplishment, and the Birds were up four with a little more than 3 minutes left, but Trent Cole forced a fumble that led to a late field goal, and then Juqua Parker really blew the thing up by intercepting a pass and running it in for a TD. A 14-point win does not qualify as close, no matter how you got there.
Before doing it Sunday, when did the Eagles last score 23 points in a fourth quarter? Why, in 1959, of course, according to stat maven Reuben Frank, of the
Burlington County Times.
Unfortunately, when Brian Dawkins flew through the air to rip the ball away from Ben Roethlisberger in Week 3, a week after looking old against the Cowboys, that didn't mean the rest of the season was going to be a heartwarming saga of redemption for one of the franchise's all-time greats, who turned 35 yesterday.
Dawk really seemed to struggle against the 49ers. He's still capable of providing great moments, and you have to honor the warrior's spirit that keeps him insisting he hasn't lost it, but that 57-yard catch-and-run where Vernon Davis ran away from both Dawkins and Quintin Mikell was painful to watch. Almost as bad was seeing Frank Gore bust a Dawk arm tackle, when the free safety couldn't quite get his feet in front of the running back.
I think both No. 20 and Jim Johnson need to be smart about who Dawk is now, and how he should be used. No more one-on-one in the red zone with Terrell Owens, please. Maybe they could blitz him more and leave him chasing spry receivers less.
Again, no joy in pointing this out, but with his contract expiring, another pact here seems really unlikely.