DONOVAN McNABB was benched a few weeks back. Maybe you remember a little of what was going on then - seven McNabb turnovers in seven quarters, one offensive touchdown, no running game, passes into the stratosphere on third-and-1.
Then, after a miserable half a game huddling under a parka in Baltimore, McNabb emerged, seemingly renewed. In victories over Arizona and the New York Giants, McNabb has completed 46 of 69 passes for 451 yards and five touchdowns. He has neither thrown an interception nor lost a fumble.
A much healthier Brian Westbrook has helped balance the playcalling, and that has been a huge factor in McNabb's turnaround, but Westbrook, important as he is, can't account for the whole thing. Suddenly, McNabb seems confident and purposeful again, scrambling for important first downs, sidestepping pass rushers to complete clutch third-down throws, avoiding heaving the ball into crowds.
Eagles coach Andy Reid lauded McNabb yesterday for not trying to do too much last Sunday at the Meadowlands, where gusty winds made passing an adventure.
"The conditions were a little crazy," Reid said. "I joked with him during the week that he probably hadn't seen that since high school [in the Chicago area], a windy situation like that. I didn't see him forcing the football, which you can do in that kind of situation. He just took what was given to him and kept it in front of him. He didn't force anything down the field, if a gust came up, and all the things that a pro quarterback does."
Immediately after the Baltimore game and then again the next day, when he went back to McNabb as his starter, Reid talked about a player sometimes needing to step back to move forward - implying that he made the switch to Kevin Kolb not in despair but in hopes of giving McNabb a chance to regroup. McNabb has never embraced that concept, which Reid referenced again yesterday.
"He's a great player," Reid said. "Like I said, sometimes you just need to take a step back and things kind of clear up for you. He's playing great football right now."
McNabb's weekly news conference follows Reid's. Since the coach brought it up, someone asked McNabb again yesterday if sitting out the second half in Baltimore had helped him, even the teensiest, tiniest bit.
"No," McNabb said, clearly and forcefully.
Usually at the news conferences, reporters start shouting to get the next question in almost before the current answer is finished. This time, nobody said anything for several seconds, as everyone waited for McNabb to add something to that. But he didn't. That was his word on the matter: "No."
As is often the case with McNabb, you had to wonder what he was really thinking, what resentments might lurk behind his carefully controlled words. At one point yesterday, McNabb talked about how "if you win games, everything gets sugarcoated."
And when McNabb was asked if he felt it wasn't so much up to him to win the game the past few weeks, McNabb said:
"I've been asked to win the game every game. Although it may not look that way, quarterbacks are asked to win the game - some quarterbacks."
Hmm. "Some quarterbacks," meaning, perhaps, that somewhere there might be a coach or two who has seen fit to provide his QB with a greater array of effective weapons? McNabb didn't explain, moving on to extolling Westbrook and offensive balance.
"In this situation, Brian has definitely aided in that, in being able to pick up yards for us . . . Early on in the season, we were throwing the ball a little bit more and picking up big yards and scoring touchdowns," McNabb said. "At this point in the season, it's important that you be able to run the ball, obviously due to weather. Teams now have to decide if they want to blitz or sit back in the zone. If they decide to sit in the zone, you have to be able to run the ball effectively."
Westbrook said McNabb has reacted the right way to having been benched.
"He's always been positive. He's remained that way," Westbrook said. "He still remains as a leader of this team, and is a person that everybody on this team really looks at as a leader, and goes to for advice and different things. That situation with being benched, of course, I'm sure it . . . made him sad and depressed or mad or whatever, but he came back to work, worked hard, and continues to be that leader, and he helped us win those last two games."
Westbrook said he feels the offense responded to McNabb being benched by rallying around him, trying to do more to help the quarterback.
"I think, as a team, we have taken some of the pressure off him. He hasn't had to carry the team every single game, which he is definitely capable of doing, but we have a very good football team, and he shouldn't feel like he needs to carry this team every week," Westbrook said. "I think guys started playing better, so I don't know if it was just because Donovan got benched, but these last couple of games, guys have played better."
Westbrook has run for 241 yards on 55 carries and caught nine passes for 92 yards the past 2 weeks, scoring six touchdowns. He said he definitely responded to the quarterback's benching; he hinted that his own improvement wasn't just a matter of feeling better.
"I just knew that I needed to take my level of play to another level. I wasn't able to really help him out a lot getting a couple of carries, a couple of yards," Westbrook said. "I just wasn't helping him enough . . . to be the effective quarterback that we all know he can be. He needs a running back that is going to help him, and I wasn't doing my job well enough at that time."
Wideout Jason Avant said the offensive turnaround was "a matter of each person looking at themselves in the mirror, and I think guys didn't like what they saw. They started to change that."
Specifically, when they saw McNabb benched, "a lot of guys felt bad because he was getting a raw deal, because of our mistakes," Avant said. *
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