By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 28, 2008
PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 27 -- Donovan McNabb's teammates heard the criticism that followed his benching in last week's loss to the Baltimore Ravens, vowing to back up the franchise quarterback in an effort to prevent him from becoming a backup.
Five days after the McNabb era in Philadelphia appeared to have its twilight within sight, it underwent a revival on Thursday night. Playing on the stage of Thanksgiving after a week when the obituary seemed ready to be written on his Eagles career, McNabb responded with one of the best performances of his career during a 48-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
"It's important that me, as a quarterback, you never show that it's affecting you, that it's ever bothering you from what you plan to do with your job," McNabb said. "And that you'll continue to work and try to get out of the so-called slump and to lead your team to a big victory."
An invigorated McNabb appeared on the first drive of a first half that Coach Andy Reid described as flawless. He was 5 for 5, including a five-yard shovel pass for a touchdown to running back Brian Westbrook. The Eagles gained positive yardage on all 12 plays, and converted a third and one -- a crucial conversion considering the team's short-yardage struggles this season.
McNabb's final totals -- 27 for 39 with 260 yards, 4 touchdown passes and 24 rushing yards -- made Thursday among his finest games this season and certainly his most important.
Westbrook finished with four touchdowns -- two on the ground, two through the air. The career high served as further evidence that he, not the much-discussed quarterback, who is most important to the Eagles' offense. Westbrook ran 22 times for 110 yards, just the second time this season he eclipsed 100 yards and the third time with 20 or more carries. When burdened by injury, the offense as a whole and the running game in particular are not the same. When displaying the dynamic ability such as on Thursday, the Eagles (6-5-1) are a dangerous team instead of one that plays to a tie against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Eagles were also helped by a defense that disrupted Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner both in the pocket and in his attempt to continue among the front-runners for this season's MVP award. Two of Warner's first five passes were interceptions, the first of which set up Westbrook's second touchdown. Although Warner finished with 235 yards and three touchdowns, Arizona's 20 points marked its second-lowest scoring output of the season -- the Redskins remain the lone team to hold Arizona below 20 points -- and another example of the team's woes on the East Coast, where it has now lost 10 consecutive games.
But McNabb was the team's dominant figure throughout the week, and he responded with continuous flashes of his vintage self during one of the most anticipated starts of his career. McNabb followed his nine turnovers during the past two games with none on Thursday. McNabb was also held to just one touchdown in both games. He threw two in the first half against the Cardinals (7-5).
When he completed his second touchdown -- on a third and two, nonetheless -- he sprinted past the 50-yard line from the red zone, a clear portrayal of glee during a week that added another spike on the busy seismograph of McNabb's career.
From a select group of Eagles fans booing McNabb on draft day in the 1999 to his taking the Eagles playoffs in his first full season as starter; from Rush Limbaugh's controversial comments to his string of five-straight Pro Bowls; and from his harmonic 2004 run to Super Bowl XXXIX to the discord with volatile wide receiver Terrell Owens the following season, McNabb has not been able to avoid headlines.
Yet through each episode, the steady string was his kinship with Reid, the coach who handpicked McNabb. But when the Eagles selected Kevin Kolb in the second round of the 2007 draft, questions materialized about whether McNabb's time in Philadelphia was going to expire. Those questions reached the high-water mark following his benching for the second half of last weekend's game.
"He doesn't deserve all the [criticism]," wide receiver Jason Avant said of McNabb. "I can see it if he was kind of a guy who was getting in trouble or things like that, but he never gets in trouble, you never see his name off in the news for anything. He's a team guy, and to get some of the things he gets is unfair. We want to fight for him for that reason."
The questions likely will not fade, but Thursday's performance should at least temporarily mollify direct focus on what will happen next season for Eagles. With the team's postseason fate vulnerable, McNabb ensured that he remain the Eagles' starter at least one more week.
"I don't focus on what people may say on the outside or how one may feel about me," McNabb said. "When it's all said and done and you hang your shoes up, how do you want to be remembered? This is all important in kind of working on your legacy."