DONOVAN McNABB, through everything, has not tended to be a big excuse guy. He mostly acknowledges failure and then buries it in circumlocution. When he talks about something going wrong, you get the impression he is searching for the politically correct explanation, and that search is often a pretty tortured journey. Most of the time, though, there are no excuses.

This was different. On the day after his wife gave birth to twins, McNabb seemed to say that her pregnancy has been weighing on him, and linked it with the recent slump in his play that saw him benched at halftime two games ago in Baltimore.

Except that, well . . . here is what he said:

"I can't sit here and say, 'Yes,' that it was on my mind in the previous weeks. But I tried to not let it affect my playing, knowing that I didn't play as well as I wanted to in the previous weeks. But it's sort of a weight off your shoulders knowing that everyone is healthy and everyone is fine and [you] kind of can come back out here and have fun."

Deep breath, everybody.

There you go.

After he spoke, people walked away thinking McNabb said he had been affected on the field. That's a fair reading of the overall context. It also is an interesting insight into the man and the football player.

But the words don't all match up, as is sometimes the case with McNabb. And not wanting to misrepresent his intentions, at the request of reporters, the club went to the quarterback for a clarification.

Which was this:

McNabb meant to say, "I can't sit here and say, 'No,' that it wasn't on my mind in the previous weeks . . . "

So it was on his mind. You can criticize him, or choose not to believe him - it's your decision and always has been. It is hard not to have a few questions, just listening to him. But the guy remains a focus of great fascination. How could you not be intrigued when he says something like this:

"And no matter what happens out on the football field, you always know that you go home to the loving individuals who just truly love you for who you are, not what you do."

McNabb has always been a pretty closed book. He leaves you to interpret hints, mostly. That is where we all are here, as he prepares to play another proverbial must-win game against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands on Sunday. That is where we all are, guessing.

In some ways, it is hard to believe that these worries would have affected McNabb on Sundays. The game is so fast and the adrenaline is pumping and the crowd is roaring and the bodies are hurtling past you, intent on mayhem. It is hard to see a player's mind wandering during that compressed period of intense action.

Preparation, though, is a different matter. Depending upon what he was worried about - again, we don't know; hell, we don't even know the twins' names - it is very easy to imagine McNabb being unable to focus as usual during the week. We do know that he took a personal day in the week leading up to the Cincinnati debacle, but that is all we know. No one has said that McNabb was preparing badly.

One other point: None of this explains the Arizona game on Thanksgiving night. In theory, all of the same concerns for his wife and the babies she was carrying, whatever those concerns were, would have existed that night, too - yet McNabb played a fabulous game, throwing accurately from the start, looking like his old self. His ability to compartmentalize during that game was fine.

So, as a neat-and-easy explanation for the way his play declined for the month before Thanksgiving - for the weeks of slow starts, and then the total debacles at Cincinnati and Baltimore followed by the great game against Arizona - this all falls a little bit short. At the same time, the very fact McNabb even brought it up is meaningful because it really isn't something he does.

McNabb does not do neat-and-easy and never has. He is a complex guy, and this just adds to the complexity. He always leaves you with more questions than answers, and that is the case here, as well.

There is one question in particular, as the Eagles try to make an improbable run to the playoffs:

What if it's true? *

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