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McNabb Off Bench, Eagles Off Mat

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 17, 2008

McNabb

63.2 comp. pct.

92.0 rating

Westbrook*

16 avg. carries 70.3 avg. yards

*Westbrook was inactive for two games

When Coach Andy Reid benched Donovan McNabb for half a game last month and then reinstated him the following day as the Philadelphia Eagles' starting quarterback, Reid said that sometimes a player must take a step backward temporarily to ultimately move forward.

At the time, it sounded like a rationalization, NFL coach-speak for there being only four days before the Eagles' next game and not enough time to properly ready young quarterback Kevin Kolb to make his first professional start. There was speculation that Kolb would have gotten the start if the Eagles hadn't been scheduled to play a Thursday night game that week, and that the beginning of the end of McNabb's long stay in Philadelphia was at hand.

But it's beginning to appear that maybe Reid was right. Since Reid sat him down in favor of Kolb in the second half of a loss in Baltimore, McNabb has rebounded with three crisp performances. The Eagles have won all three of those games and are back in the playoff race in the NFC as they prepare to play the Washington Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field.

A day after the Eagles beat the Cleveland Browns, 30-10, on Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field to improve their record to 8-5-1, Reid said he thinks McNabb is playing as well as ever.

"I know that I've always said this: I think the city of Philadelphia is very fortunate to have him," Reid said at a news conference at the Eagles' training facility. "I know we are as an organization. The things that he's done here, playing that position for the number of years that he's done it, I think is phenomenal."

Asked if he feels better now about McNabb's future with the organization than he did a few weeks ago, Reid said: "I haven't even gone there. I honestly haven't. We're kind of in the grinder right now."

McNabb was benched by Reid after totaling five interceptions and losing two fumbles in an ugly tie against the Cincinnati Bengals -- after which McNabb said he hadn't known that an NFL game could end in a tie -- and the first half of a 36-7 defeat to the Ravens. In the three games since then, he has thrown seven touchdown passes and one interception.

"That tells you about the kid, what a great guy and what a great person he is, and what a great football player he is," Reid said. "I think he's playing right now as well as he's ever played. I think that's a tribute to him and the guys around him. I think they've all stepped their game up a little bit."

During his postgame news conference late Monday night, McNabb referred to the Cincinnati and Baltimore games as a "two-game slump."

McNabb said: "I think the satisfaction is the fact that you look up and we're winning ballgames. I've never been one to kind of look at the stat sheet and wonder how many yards I passed for, or whatever it may be. I'm all about winning ballgames and spreading the ball around and getting guys involved and giving them opportunities to contribute."

Reid and others said it's not only McNabb who is playing better.

"I love what I'm feeling from the locker room," veteran safety Brian Dawkins said Monday. "I love the confidence. I love the attention to detail. I love just the aura that's coming from the locker room, not the odor but the aura. It's something to get jacked up about. . . . We've had some growing pains with this team.

"Whatever happened in that Baltimore game, everybody felt it and it brought us together and we're playing some pretty good ball right now. . . . We weren't going to allow [McNabb] to take the fall by himself."

Reid has had a tendency in the past to abandon the running game but has done his part lately by getting tailback Brian Westbrook more carries to keep opposing defenses honest.

"It's a combination of things," Reid said yesterday. "I think I mentioned a couple. You go from leading the league in drops to catching basically everything thrown at you, that sure helps. You mentioned Brian being healthy and Buck [backup tailback Correll Buckhalter] being healthy at the same time. I think [that] is important.

"But Brian obviously is a big part of that. And in the pass game, he's someone that Donovan trusts, and we all know Brian can run the football. . . . That's so important to the good quarterbacks in the league to have a guy like that."

Perhaps Reid's benching of his franchise quarterback sent a message to all of his players that no one's job was safe. Dawkins said late Monday he thinks other Eagles players began to take more pride and accountability in what was going on. Reid wouldn't say yesterday whether he intended to send such a message.

"I'm sure they probably all did that," Reid said of his players making personal assessments of their own performances. "If they're saying that to you, then that's probably what they did. And that's okay."

The Eagles' winning streak has included triumphs over two first-place teams, the Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants, and Reid was quick to praise his players yesterday.

"The guys are the ones doing the job," Reid said. "They're the ones that are stepping up and handling this thing, and my hat's off to them. That's not an easy thing to do, where they were at a few weeks ago. They've rallied themselves and they're just playing their hearts out. You saw that [Monday] night.

"By record, a team comes in with the record that Cleveland has, and you could have a letdown. And there was no letdown. The guys were emotionally as excited to play in that game as they were in the Giant game. That doesn't happen in a lot of places around this league and I was proud of them for that."

But the Eagles, a half-game behind Dallas, Atlanta and Tampa Bay in the race for the two wild-card spots in the NFC, require help to reach the postseason. McNabb and Reid both spoke of the need to focus on beating the Redskins without worrying about whether they get that assistance in the outcomes of other games.

Said McNabb: "It's important that you're playing well at this particular point in the season. . . . If we continue to play at a high level, hopefully things will take care of themselves."

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