By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 17 -- It took less than a half for the Philadelphia fans to begin booing Donovan McNabb.
On the face of it, this might not be particularly noteworthy -- we're talking about Philadelphia, after all. Still, the displeasure directed toward the franchise's most successful quarterback on the night of his 100th career regular season start came against a gloomy backdrop for McNabb.
After the Eagles' 20-12 loss to the Washington Redskins Monday night, the franchise is 0-2 for just the second time since McNabb became its full-time starting quarterback in 2000. If the Eagles lose to resurgent Detroit next week, McNabb would be 0-3 for the first time in his career.
And that is hardly the only ominous number hanging over the quarterback's head. His offense has gone 16 consecutive possessions without reaching the end zone, and has scored just one touchdown this year. Over McNabb's last five starts, he's thrown for a total of three touchdowns. And most significant, since the Eagles went to the Super Bowl after the 2004 season, they are 8-7 with McNabb on the bench and 9-12 with McNabb as their starter.
Which has led fans and media members in Philadelphia to wonder whether the McNabb era is nearing its end. After all, the team drafted quarterback Kevin Kolb in the second round last spring, and McNabb has fought through three major injuries -- including last winter's reconstructive knee surgery -- in recent years. Coach Andy Reid suggested that McNabb, who has lost six of his last seven starts, is still recovering from the operation, but the quarterback dismissed that concern and said his right knee is "doing all right."
"You know, I don't believe in rust and all of that," he said. "If I'm out there, I have to make plays. There were plays that were made and there were plays that I should have made, but the end result of it is that we didn't win the game."
To be fair, the quarterback showed flashes of his old self Monday night. There was the nifty 11-yard run for a first down in the third quarter, in which he outran three Redskins. There was the clever improvisation in the fourth quarter, when McNabb shuffled his feet and then shoveled the ball at an odd angle toward Thomas Tapeh for nine yards. There was the clutch completion on a fourth-down play on Philadelphia's final drive, when McNabb lobbed a pass to Reggie Brown that gained 19 yards.
"I ain't worried about Donovan one bit -- we all know what he can do," wide receiver Kevin Curtis said. "I mean, I have no doubt whatsoever in Donovan. My job is just to do my job and I'm disappointed in the way I played. I know I could have helped him out tonight."
"It's not all Donovan," Reid agreed. "It's me getting him in the right position to do some things. Like I said, we're off by a hair, and once we get that straightened out we'll be okay."
McNabb is less 10 months removed from the knee surgery that ended his 2006 campaign, and he seemed to acknowledge last week that he hasn't yet regained his pre-surgery quickness.
Still, the overall offensive struggles stand out, as do moments such as a potential touchdown inside the final two minutes Monday night that sailed far beyond the reach of an open Curtis.
"I was hit on that throw," he said, "but I've still got to make that throw."
After two late drives, McNabb's final numbers -- 28 for 46 for 240 yards -- looked fairly respectable, but his longest completion went for just 19 yards and several deep balls landed on the sidelines.
He said the Redskins' zone took away the deep patterns, forcing him to throw underneath and rely on his running backs and tight ends.
"You would have to throw over guys and that's just something that we don't do," he said. "You want to check it down and give your guys an opportunity to pick up yards or possibly run it into the end zone."
McNabb, of course, took the Eagles to four straight NFC championship games, and has the most postseason victories of any Eagles quarterback. His name is scattered around the Eagles' and the NFL record book.
And yet with Philadelphia already two games out of first place in the NFC East, the hometown boos will likely continue until his offense resumes scoring with regularity.
"You know, I'm always hard on myself," he said, when asked to critique his performance. "We didn't win the game, so I didn't play well at all."