The way coaches and teammates praised Dononvan McNabb after the Philadelphia Eagles rose up from a 14-point deficit and pushed the Washington Redskins to the brink, it was difficult to tell they were describing a rookie making his third NFL start rather than a veteran who had produced time and again when it mattered.
Coach Andy Reid talked about McNabb's poise, his resiliency and the promise of a bright future for a franchise that has been in near free-fall since its last playoff appearance in 1996. Tight end Luther Broughton gushed over McNabb's calm temperament amid long odds. Running back Duce Staley pointed to his unpredictability and elusiveness. Safety Brian Dawkins simply called him "big time."
"That was great to see that guy make the plays he did," Dawkins said of McNabb after the No. 2 pick in the draft rallied the Eagles to a 17-17 tie before losing, 20-17, in overtime yesterday at FedEx Field. ". . . That's something to grow on. That's something that will boost his confidence and the whole offense's confidence to know that they can do those things in the fourth quarter."
Specifically, a pair of 91-yard touchdown drives beginning late in the third quarter went a long way toward validating McNabb as the Eagles' appointed savior.
The first began with 5 minutes 8 seconds left in the third and the offense in dire need of a jolt. The Eagles got that and more when McNabb ran for nine yards on a draw on third and seven from the Philadelphia 12, then showcased his rifle arm by connecting with wide receiver Torrance Small for 28 yards.
McNabb later used a bit of daring to extend the Eagles' drive, running a bootleg to the right sideline and diving past the first-down marker for two yards on fourth and one. Later, McNabb converted another fourth down, when he dumped a pass to Staley for two yards to the Redskins 30.
"There is more to come of that," Staley said of McNabb, who finished the drive with a three-yard touchdown pass to Broughton to cut the lead to 17-10. "He is a great quarterback. A lot of people wanted to hold his hand, bring him along, nurse him, but we let him go, and he made some big plays."
McNabb continued to do so two series later, completing passes of 16 yards to Staley, nine yards to Broughton and seven to wide receiver Na Brown before tying the game on a 26-yard touchdown throw to Broughton. McNabb also made his most dazzling play of the game during the possession, skipping out of trouble on first and 10 from the Eagles 27, pump-faking to get safety Sam Shade off his feet and running for 26 yards.
"To see him out there playing like that, when he gets out of the pocket, I'm thinking he's going to score every time. He's like a running back when he gets out of the pocket," Broughton said. "Even sometimes when I'm on the field trying to get a block, I'm just checking him out doing his thing. He's going to be a player."
McNabb logged 71 yards on eight carries to finish as the game's leading rusher and completed 16 of 28 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. And his statistics would have been better if it were not for a handful of drops by receivers still adjusting to McNabb's hard throws.
"I think I'm feeling a lot more comfortable being out there," McNabb said. ". . . As a quarterback, you have to be a leader, and you have to set the tone. . . . You're being challenged, and you definitely have to take the challenge and get the ball in the end zone, and we did that, but unfortunately things didn't come out our way."
CAPTION: Redskins' Eddie Mason can't catch Donovan McNabb, who directed 2 late scoring drives.