When Philadelphia took Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb with the second overall selection in this year's NFL draft, a group of Eagles fans in attendance booed lustily. They wanted the team to take Texas running back and Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams. But before, during and after today's 35-28 victory over the Washington Redskins, McNabb heard mostly cheers.
McNabb's statistics (8-of-21 passing for 60 yards and no touchdowns) do not fully illustrate his contribution in his first career start. It was what he did not do that impressed the hard-to-please Philadelphia faithful. He didn't become frustrated despite numerous dropped passes, and more importantly, he did not turn over the ball.
"I feel good," McNabb said. "This is a big win that we felt we can feed off of and take it to another level. It's the second half of the season. We have a shot to compete."
The Eagles this week decided to give McNabb his first NFL start against the Redskins' sagging defense, which entered today's game ranked last in the league. But it was the Redskins' offense that gave McNabb and the Eagles good field position with six turnovers.
Philadelphia had trouble converting the turnovers into touchdowns, especially near the end of the first half and start of the second. Dropped passes inside the 5-yard line twice resulted in field goals instead of touchdowns for the Eagles. After Troy Vincent's interception of Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson gave the Eagles possession at the Redskins 11 with 1 minute 15 seconds left in the first half, the Eagles settled for a field goal after fullback Kevin Turner dropped McNabb's third-down pass at the goal line.
Then, after Johnson fumbled in the third quarter to give Philadelphia the ball at the Redskins 8, tight end Ed Smith dropped a well-thrown pass at the 3. The Eagles had to settle for another field goal. Philadelphia receivers dropped five passes total, including two by Charles Johnson. Coach Andy Reid said some passes may have been dropped because McNabb was overly excited and tried to throw the ball too hard.
"In practice, you can't take into account the factor of adrenaline," Reid said. "Obviously, Donovan was pumped up and the ball was being thrown hard. This week in practice some of our receivers were taping their fingers. The ball was being thrown hard, but that's not an excuse for dropped passes."
McNabb's scrambling ability was the catalyst for Philadelphia's first offensive touchdown of the day in the third quarter.
On the first play of the drive, McNabb avoided defensive linemen Anthony Cook and Dan Wilkinson behind the line of scrimmage to complete an 11-yard pass to Jed Weaver for a first down.
On the next play, McNabb again avoided a sack and scrambled 12 yards, putting the ball at the Redskins 33. Two plays later, running back Duce Staley scampered into the end zone from 20 yards. McNabb then converted a perfectly executed quarterback draw on the two-point conversion to give the Eagles a 24-21 lead with eight seconds left in the period.
One of McNabb's few mistakes--a tipped pass that was intercepted by Washington safety Matt Stevens late in the fourth quarter--was negated by offsetting penalties. The Eagles got the ball back, and Eric Bieniemy later scored on an 11-yard touchdown run that put the Eagles ahead to stay at 35-28.
"There are times when you look into a players' eyes and there will be a hollow look," Reid said. "And there wasn't a hollow look [in McNabb's eyes]. He was into the game and he was battling."
At philadelphia in the 1990S
Veterans Stadium Woes
After posting a 6-4 record in the 1980s in games played against the Eagles in Philadelphia, the Redskins have won only once this decade at Veterans Stadium. The chart below shows the teams' records going into the games in Philadelphia, and each outcome for the Redskins:
1999 2-7/5-3/L, 35-28
1998 0-5/0-5/L, 17-12
1997 1-3/3-1/L, 24-10
1996 7-3/7-3/W, 26-21
1995 2-3/2-3/L, 37-34
1994 3-1/1-4/L, 21-17
1993 2-0/1-1/L, 34-31
1992 9-5/9-5/L, 17-13
1991 9-6/14-1/L, 24-22
1990 4-4/5-3/L, 28-14