CHARLOTTE, N.C. - When Donovan McNabb finally emerged from the Eagles' locker room after today's game, he wasn't wearing the expensive suit that had been hanging in his stall. It would have been too painful to put on the dress shirt, vest and jacket - as agonizing as when trainers helped him remove his game jersey and pads in the fourth quarter.
As he shuffled slowly up the tunnel, flanked by his parents, McNabb did not look like a man who would play quarterback next Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
It could happen. From Ron Jaworski to Jason Witten, players have strapped on extra padding and played with broken ribs. And McNabb certainly has played hurt throughout his career. So it's no wonder coach Andy Reid said it's "not safe to say" McNabb would miss any games.
"He's not going to get much sleep these next few days," said running back Brian Westbrook, who broke a rib last season. "But Donovan's a tough guy."
Whatever happens, this thing just keeps getting more interesting. Moments after 300 pounds of Damione Lewis dropped on McNabb after his 3-yard touchdown run, the Fox Network cameras found Michael Vick sitting in owner Jeffrey Lurie's suite at Bank of America Stadium.
The suspended Vick can't play next week, and it's still not clear whether Kevin Kolb can play at all. Kolb had another chance to show something, anything, that would prove he's prepared to be a starting quarterback. He didn't throw interceptions, as he did in relief appearances last year, but that's the most positive thing there is to say about his performance.
"I've got trust in Kevin to do the job," Reid said. "The unfortunate thing with the No. 2 guys [is] that they don't get a lot of [practice] reps during the week. If he gets a chance to get some reps, I think you'll see a little more production."
That has been Reid's cover story for Kolb, but it ignores the fact that backups like Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley have stepped into games and played much better during Reid's tenure. It also raises the pretty obvious question of why Reid doesn't change his policy and get Kolb some practice time.
It didn't much matter today. Thanks to a wild and entertaining performance by the defense and an electric punt return by DeSean Jackson, the Eagles were in compete control of this game. They didn't need Kolb to do much more than avoid injury, since the third quarterback was wearing a suit in the owner's box.
But Kolb took big hits on a couple of sacks, fumbling the ball on one. He failed to complete the little shovel pass that McNabb and Westbrook have made into a signature play. He threw one ball outside that very easily could have been intercepted and returned for a touchdown, but the defender dropped it.
Kolb finished with seven completions in 11 attempts for just 23 yards.
The Eagles now face a fascinating week or two. If McNabb can't play next week, they'll need to add a backup. Feeley, released earlier this month, is still available, but the Eagles can offer him only a one-week job. Vick is eligible to come off the suspended list for Week 3.
That puts Kolb under considerable pressure. If he gets a full week of practice and still isn't productive against the Saints, there's not much reason to keep him at No. 2 on the depth chart.
"If I don't keep the rhythm going and we don't keep putting up points," Kolb said, "then it's my fault. . . . I've got to produce next week if I get the chance."
Things get very complicated if McNabb misses a second game. That's not so far-fetched, either. Week 4 is the Eagles' bye, so that would give McNabb three weeks for his bone to heal. But it would also create the possibility that Reid would choose to start Vick over Kolb in his first game back.
The mind reels at the possible scenarios and their potential consequences: a bad start by Kolb and a great start by Vick; a good start by Kolb followed by an injury-impaired performance by McNabb; McNabb rushing back and reinjuring himself, creating an opening for Vick. It's like a computer game, where each choice you make changes the direction of the story.
McNabb, of course, can make all of this neat and clean. After a few days of rest and perhaps an injection to numb the pain, he could cement his reputation as a gamer by playing and leading the Eagles to another win. Then Kolb would be No. 2 and Vick's return can be orchestrated as planned.
Neat and clean.
As McNabb sat wincing on the sideline, Vick sat watching from upstairs and Kolb ran from Julius Peppers, neat and clean were nowhere to be found.