The Eagles' extended exhibition season continued yesterday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field with another win that probably didn't mean as much as they would like it to mean.
This time, the Washington Generals were wearing the uniforms of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They didn't fall for the confetti-in-the-bucket trick, but just about everything else. In the end, the final score was 33-14. It could have been a lot worse if Andy Reid kept his foot on the gas, but there was little point in that.
The three teams the Eagles have beaten this year are now a combined 1-13. They would be winless if the Washington Redskins weren't trying to get Jim Zorn fired and figured out a way to lose to the Carolina Panthers yesterday.
That other Eagles' game this season - the 26-point loss to New Orleans - wasn't quite as easy, of course, but it came with Donovan McNabb on the sideline and perhaps wasn't any more meaningful.
The next two opponents, Oakland and Washington, are both dreadful, and if the Eagles hold serve in those games, they will arrive at Week 8 with no clear idea of their place in the NFL orbit and a date with the New York Giants that should finally help map the sky.
It's a long way until then, or at least it seems that way. McNabb came back from his rib injury yesterday and he was really, really good. Of course, he was really, really good against a defense that came into the game ranked 31st in the league. And that means the speculation can chase its own tail for another few weeks. Are the Eagles good, or just fortunate thus far? Don't really know.
You have to take the insights where you find them during this lull. Yesterday, among other things, we learned that Jeremy Maclin is not only talented, but he is tough enough to make big catches in traffic. We learned that you can put Jeremiah Trotter on a football field, but that doesn't mean you will notice he is out there. And we learned that Brent Celek has become such a good tight end that opposing defenses have to account for him on every play, which opens the field for others.
Oh, there is one other thing: McNabb - during training camp, the exhibition season, part of the opener and now, upon his return - is playing quarterback as well as he has in his career. Which is pretty good.
McNabb was 16 for 21 against the Bucs for 264 yards and three touchdown passes. He got out of the pocket and ran twice for first downs, totaling another 30 yards there. He threw nice touch passes, spread the ball around, and heaved it deep and accurately twice for touchdowns to Maclin.
Despite having not played for a month, he was almost unbelievably sharp, the kind of quarterback teams in the NFL dream of having in their huddles, the kind of quarterback you always want to have the ball in his hands.
So, naturally, because they are brilliant, the Eagles took the ball out of McNabb's hands now and then.
The ultimate wisdom of putting the Wildcat wrinkles into the offense will become apparent over time. Perhaps there will be a game in which one of the gimmicks provides a win, or when Michael Vick gets loose on an option run and turns it into a big gain.
Yesterday, however, that stuff was a distraction at best, and the waste of a down at worst. Every time the Eagles subbed Vick for McNabb, the offense was less dangerous. Every time they sent a direct snap to LeSean McCoy, the offense was more predictable.
If the idea is to have an offense that is more predictable and less dangerous, then the Eagles are really onto something. Otherwise, it makes more sense to leave the five-time Pro Bowl quarterback out there.
To McNabb, whose day was only interrupted six times by the Wildcat before he came out of the game midway through the fourth quarter, it wasn't that annoying, apparently, and he walked the company line afterward.
"I think it's important that you get that rhythm and get everything adjusted for the base package before you can throw anything else out there," McNabb said. "I think that we're at a point right now where our base offense can be very effective. Now we can open up the door a little bit for more things to present to defenses."
That's fine, but the numbers that came out of yesterday are hard to ignore.
The Eagles ran 46 plays and gained 327 yards against Tampa Bay, not counting two kneel-downs at the end. With the six Wildcat plays, they gained 16 yards. With the eight plays run by Vick after he replaced McNabb, and one run by Kevin Kolb when Vick was kneed in the ribs and missed a down, they gained an additional 18 yards.
That leaves 31 plays for McNabb and 295 yards to his credit, or 9.5 yards per play for the offense when he was in there. Those are eye-popping numbers regardless of the opponent.
"I thought he played well," Reid said.
No kidding. And there wasn't a single thing the Eagles did better with McNabb standing on the sideline.
Maybe that's something else we'll learn when the regular season finally begins, but it sure wasn't apparent yesterday.