"I'M SO tired of talking about it," Andy Reid said yesterday, cutting off a follow-up question about Donovan McNabb's future as an Eagle. "I've answered it and answered it and answered it. I mean, I can't tell you any more than what I already have. Just pull out last week's, or the week before - that quote, and we'll take it."
OK, let's. Let's take him at his word, take Joe Banner at his word, assume for a moment that Donovan McNabb will be this team's quarterback next season. Take Donovan McNabb at his word for that matter and accept his denial after Sunday's game against the Cowboys that he told Pam Oliver that he thinks his days are numbered here.
Let's even assume even that his second-quarter scramble for 28 yards - juking past linebackers and taking a big hit at the end - indicates that he can and will regain the mobility that made him a perennial Pro Bowler, and the quarterback to one of the NFL's most prolific offenses in years past. Assume, too, that pass he made to Brent Celek in the final minutes Sunday - down the middle of the field, laced between four defensive backs - will be a constant next season, when he is more confident of that rebuilt knee of his.
Let's imagine the best possible Donovan McNabb scenario for next season, OK?
Now ask this:
Is the talent assembled around him capable of making this team a Super Bowl contender again?
Is the coaching staff, as currently constructed, capable of it as well?
Will Greg Lewis know to run to the side McNabb is scrambling to next season, the way he didn't in the final minutes of the Seattle game? Will Reggie Brown learn to create separation from the defensive back he stood next to as McNabb scrambled earlier in that game? Will the playcalling that leads us to criticize A.J. Feeley for making big passing plays and big passing mistakes one week and McNabb for doing the exact opposite the next week change at all?
Yesterday, I asked Reid if the offense's lack of explosiveness this season, as compared to 2004, was solely a matter of McNabb's health or whether the skill positions needed to be improved. He answered as if I were asking if the current personnel needed to improve.
"I think it's a little bit of everything," the coach said. "I don't think it's one guy. And to be honest with you, we're moving the ball really, really well. Until we get to that red zone. And that's a place where we've gotten a little better over the last month-and-a-half, but it's a place where we stalled early in the year in particular and need to get better at it."
That led to a follow-up about poor execution by the quarterback. "Yeah, but I look at how many plays I would like back for putting in there in the red zone," Reid said. "So you'd like to say it's all about the execution of the plays. But it's also what you dial up and I can do a better job there."
Nine times the Eagles crossed the 50-yard-line Sunday. They reached the red zone three of those times. At times it has been very clear that McNabb's inaccuracy hurts them, but there are plenty of other occasions in which the playcalling has relied as much on trickery as it has execution.
McNabb's knee is not the only instability to the offense this season. In recent weeks, Reid has often cited his team's improved health for a perceived improvement in play, but his own family troubles may have played as large a part in the early struggles as well.
There have also been significant coaching changes since the Eagles reached the Super Bowl: Brad Childress has Minnesota in playoff contention, Steve Spagnola has helped the once-porous Giants defense
reclaim its pride. John Harbaugh, who did magic tricks with the special teams, is now coaching the Eagles' secondary. While that was apparently a promotion for John, it might not have been the best thing for the Eagles.
All that, and their battles with Dallas and New England, seems to have led to the dangerous self-perception that the Eagles are not far from being as dangerous to other teams as they were to themselves this season.
"I think I know what we are," Reid said yesterday. "We've been coming together here the last month. We've come up a little short, I know. But we've been getting guys out there playing together and then yesterday was just kind of a culmination of guys getting back into the swing."
He then mentioned momentum and health and even playoffs. A day after his once-mighty offense scored 10 points, a few moments after saying once again that his quarterback wasn't going anywhere next season.
You wonder what he sees that everyone else doesn't. Or whether he refuses to see what everyone else does. *
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