The reaction after the play was as entertaining and telling as the play itself.

Faced with a third-and-5 situation in the fourth quarter of the Eagles' win over the New York Giants, Donovan McNabb backpedaled into the pocket looking for a receiver.

The quarterback had relied primarily on the legs of Brian Westbrook during the first six plays of the time-consuming, lead-protecting drive. But this time, he was trying to find a receiver to keep the ball in the Eagles' possession and the clock ticking.

Having exhausted all his throwing options, McNabb looked left and saw an opening. Now he was in a foot race to the first-down marker with middle linebacker Antonio Pierce. With the help of a downfield block by guard Todd Herremans, McNabb won the race, picking up 7 yards and a first down with less than five minutes to go.

As McNabb ran out of bounds, he sarcastically waved to the Giants' fans as if to say, "I'm still here, and my legs are working just fine."

Before McNabb returned to the field, teammate Asante Samuel came running down the visitors' sideline at frigid Giants Stadium and gave him a hearty chest bump.

Samuel knows what it's like to take away a team's receivers and then watch as the opposing quarterback runs to make the secondary's effort futile.

"It's like, ahhhh - it just takes all the breath out of you," Samuel said Thursday as the Eagles prepared for tonight's game against the Cleveland Browns. "You've got them stopped, you're thinking about getting off the field, and they get a first down with the quarterback. That's rough . . . on the defense."

And it's a jolt of energy for the offense.

Much has been made in the last couple of games about the Eagles' resurrected running game, but that talk has mostly focused on Westbrook and the offensive line. McNabb has also been a small but vital ingredient to the successful running recipe. A dash of his speed always makes the offense a little spicier.

"Any time a defense has to try and stop the running back and the wide receivers and try to keep their eye on the quarterback, it's very tough to do," Westbrook said. "They've been kind of forgetting about Don a little bit, so he's been able to get some yards running the ball.

"It's good, because it's helping our team. He's a very good player when he does it, and that kind of makes a difference between him and some of the other elite quarterbacks in the league. That running ability is something special."

The fourth-quarter run against the Giants marked the second time in the game that McNabb had turned nothing into something. On the Eagles' opening possession of the second half, he converted a third-and-6 play with an 11-yard scramble.

McNabb wants to be known as an elite quarterback for his throwing ability. Running is always his last resort.

"I'm looking to throw," he said. "It's about buying time for your receivers. If there's a running lane, you step up in the pocket. Hopefully, one of your receivers or running backs finds a way to get open. Then, you just deliver it to him to give him an opportunity to make a play."

McNabb's view of his position is coached and correct, but sometimes it's still criticized. (See J. Whyatt Mondesire, circa 2005.)

"I think Donovan, at this point in his career, is the kind of guy who knows when to take off," said former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, who will work tonight's game as a color commentator for ESPN. "He just doesn't take off for the sake of running. He'll read the man coverage, and if the pocket breaks, he knows he has room to run. If there's a zone defense, he's not as quick to run, because he knows people are going to converge on him quickly."

The Browns are known for playing a zone defense, so maybe McNabb won't run as often tonight as he did the last two games, when he hurt the Arizona Cardinals and Giants. But the fact that he is willing to run when the situation presents itself is just another thing for the Browns to worry about.

"It certainly breaks the heart of the defense when you've stopped everybody and the quarterback breaks the pocket and gets a first down," Jaworski said. "People aren't playing him the way they used to, with the spy and things like that, but they still respect his running ability. I still see the mush rush, where the defense works real hard to stay in their lanes, but eventually this offensive line will move some people and create some seams. And Donovan really does break their heart when he gets those first downs."

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.