Dave and I discuss (linked above) Donovan and LeBron’s very public flirtation with the New York Knicks.
The anticipation of the Thanksgiving Day contest between the upstart 7-4 Arizona Cardinals and the 5-5-1 Philadelphia Eagles focused heavily on whether Donovan McNabb would have the resolve to lead his struggling team to a much needed victory…with so much heavy national scrutiny swirling. The whispers, which before the Cardinals game became all out screams, centered on the game possibly being the last of the McNabb era.
The last nine inch nail was about to be slammed into his proverbial Lincoln Financial Field coffin with the force of a tired city of desperate and frustrated fans–still on a Phillie Phanatic hangover–while thirsty media circled to see if Donovan really bleeds Eagle green or another shade of red.
The Cardinals came into town flexing a high powered offense; breaking the necks of numerous opponents with sheer size, speed and talent powered through their prolific passing attack. Curt Warner was back it seemed. The tandem of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald were performing like no other receiving corps was capable. Warner this season has transformed from Matt Leinart’s grey beard back up into a top MVP candidate. Throw in the flash fast ability of another young talented and speedy receiver, Steve Breaston, and you have a team confident it could score at will on anyone at any stage of the game.
A perfect storm was brewing to ensure McNabb’s Philly death in front of a national audience and NFL Network was poised to deliver the eulogy.
Many are miffed why a quarterback of McNabb’s stature was being treated with such disrespect. Would Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Brett Favre have been benched in a similar situation? Is it possible this town forgets Donovan led Philly to four consecutive NFC Championships with less than stellar talent? Maybe Philly forgets Donovan coming one belly healthy drive from upsetting the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. Is it conceivable they forget the number one all time ranking of pass to interception ratio record Donovan currently holds and also his top three winning percentage among active quarterbacks?
While all of the aforementioned is relevant, the criticism is warranted.
Donovan himself will admit he hasn’t played well. He knows there are no excuses and being the most important athlete in Philadelphia, he full well understands what’s at stake in this stage of his career. The Eagles have underachieved this season and in most cases across the board, the criticism begins up top.
Donovan and Andy Reid are joined at the hip.
When Reid was hired, he bucked conventional wisdom and picked Donovan over Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams. They’ve grown up together, been through the highs…the lows and now are veterans of each other, but Reid’s loyalty was questioned this week and rightfully so.
When Andy Reid told a coach to let Donovan know he wouldn’t open up the second half of a 10-7 game against Baltimore, on the road, many were stunned. Why didn’t Andy tell his first ever pick himself? Donovan had three turnovers in the first half and six in the last two games but the Eagles were in striking distance of a team having its own offensive problems. Jimmy Johnson’s defense was keeping Philadelphia in the game. After the benching and seeing the image of Donovan standing alone with that look on his face, one could feel the air being squeezed out of the Philly sideline.
Baltimore 36, Philadelphia 7.
The hunt was on. Fans were done with McNabb and the media had its middle finger on the pulse. Clamoring
for a spot to write how Donovan’s #5 was going to Lincoln Financial Field rot until his jersey became daisies a new quarterback would trample on until McNabb was just another bad Philly memory.
The problem is there is no quarterback ready to take over the helm. Kevin Kolb possibly could be the long term answer, but for now he’s just another NFL quarterback looking to gain experience at any cost. The swagger he’s looking for is the swagger Donovan had lost. Can he handle what Donovan has given away is a question to be answered not yet…
The financial justification.
Donovan is to make 10 million next season and if he isn’t playing up to his standard, why would the organization pay this amount even though they themselves negotiated the contract?
Moral here is Donovan’s salary means nothing. It’s only media filler which eventually leads to another story. Do you know Tom Brady or Brett Favre’s salary? Thought so. See the difference.
Then there’s class.
How many professional athletes would have been right to question publicly the organization’s motives behind his benching? How many quarterbacks would have snapped at grizzled Philly reporters snickering and sniveling…finally rid of a quarterback they’ve mentally shaped into the most minimal box? How many professional athletes would have told the fair-weather Philly fans to kiss their behind because they routinely cheer and boo, cheer and boo?
There was none of that. Donovan is as professional as they come. It’s his signature. He’s been raised by great parents who always stressed the big picture.
To have handled himself under such extreme circumstances isn’t something to be admired…it’s what is expected. Anything less is just not in his character. Think back to those tumultuous days where Terrell Owens was kicking his own jersey out of town to Eagles fan’s delight with all his ubiquitous words and obnoxious actions.
Donovan smiled, joked and did whatever he could to keep the moment sane. He knows how Philadelphia works and obviously he loves playing in Philly or he would have pushed the I want to be traded button a long time ago.
There would be many suitors for Donovan McNabb.
Philadelphia is a tough town. Many of its fans are tried and true but then you have this element of the fan nonsensical. One who trips incessantly over the thin line between love and hate…apologetic-or not-when the tripping is noticed as yet another beer can is being smashed…thud.
In these cases, the latter fan seems to get most of the shine and that’s very unfortunate.
After the plates are no longer full and the Christmas fires have put many of us to sleep, Donovan McNabb was trotting out on the field for pregame introductions. It just so happens the defense was introduced first and the last player announced was Mr. Weapon X himself, Brian Dawkins.
The crowd roars.
After it subsides, Donovan’s name is announced and huh?
Is this Philly?
Hmm…very interesting and a bad omen for the Cardinals. The crowd supported Donovan from the gate. One of those rare occasions where normalcy becomes the bizarre.
Of course the Eagles offense started first. First down pass for a short gain thrown with nice zip and then two big runs by Brian Westbrook. A couple of nice passes thrown to the sideline for more first downs. Nice drive when the black cloud of scrutiny abounds.
Westbrook was not having his quarterback catching all the wreck and it showed early even though his ankle was not full strength. Playing with a chip on his shoulder he himself admitted to in the post game press conference, Brian was showcased heavily on the drive which culminated when he caught a 5 yard shuffle pass from Donovan for an opening score.
He ended up with four total touchdowns and 110 rushing yards (5.0). In the process he became the first NFL player since Lydell Mitchell in 1975 with 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns each running and receiving.
How’s that for balance?
As a team the Eagles rushed 40 times for 185 yards.
Since 2000, the Eagles are 52-10 when they run more than pass. In that same span they are 37-5 when rushing 30 times or more. They are 5-0 this season when doing so and 1-5-1 when throwing more.
I asked Brian Westbrook if this team will be successful establishing an early balanced offensive attack: “We were today. We are a very good team that when we do establish the run early we have a better chance of winning football games that way and being more successful. Today was proof of that. If we continue to do that the next couple of games, we have an opportunity to win.”
“You know Donovan is a guy, he’s resilient, he’s a guy that’s going to come out and give everything he has every single game. Sometimes in the course of doing that, you’re going to throw some interceptions and take some chances that he probably shouldn’t take, you know and you’re going to throw those types of picks. But you know he’s a fighter, he came out and fought tonight and led the team.”
This team needs everyone to step up and do their part. Rookie Quintin Demps agreed when I asked him what it would take for this team to get into the playoffs:
“That’s the most important thing. Everyone has to do their 1/11th and when people do that, it’s hard to beat us.”
Defensively, the Eagles did what it took to win. They didn’t allow any of the talented receivers to break anything long and held Fitzgerald and Boldin to 65 and 63 yards respectively. Although they didn’t sack Warner, they kept him guessing enough to harass him into throwing three interceptions despite being without stalwart Asante Samuel.
Brian Dawkins, who had one of those aforementioned picks is the undeniable soul sonic force of the defense, BDawk commented when I asked him whether or not there was a lot of talk amongst the players leading up to this game, and also if there was something extra keeping the most feared receivers in the NFL at bay:
“Most of the talking is done by example. Sometimes you have to play through games you normally couldn’t play through. You have to force yourself to play through some pain and injuries sometimes. Your overall attitude in practicing-even when you’re losing. Every once in a while I find myself having conversations with guys to make sure we are all on the same page about where we need to go from here. Where we need to go from here is what we did tonight. Every phase (of the team) played-we had a couple of bloopers every once and a while-for the most part came to play and had significant contributions to this win.”
“You want to play against the best and they were putting up some big numbers as a corps. We stand up to that. We knew that having (Asante Samuel) go down that maybe (people thought) the unit wouldn’t be able to stand up. We knew we had to be physical with them. We could not allow them to run around the football field and have 7 on 7 catches all day. It was a huge challenge to our defense-not just our secondary.”
Here comes the class.
Donovan McNabb was 27 of 39 for 260 yards and 4 touchdowns. McNabb also rushed 4 times for 25 yards and pretty much had an all around great game. The big thing was Donovan scrambled when he needed and kept drives alive by picking up crucial first downs. His back was against the wall and he made sure his team knew he had their back.
He would not let this team lose.
We had a good laugh when I commented on his suit after the game. He was smiling again. Playing the quarterback position in the NFL he knows you can’t be too up or down, but this was a huge game in his 10 year career and he stood up to the challenge before him with enough passion to come out of a critical week looking stellar.
I posed to him what his mental approach leading up to what could be his most defining week playing in
Philly and also his quick decisions to scramble correctly when the Cardinals collapsed the pocket:
“You know what? I kind of went back to the basics. Watching film…understanding if the opportunity to go down field to take it. If not, hit the check down. Buy time with my legs if I had to. I think that was important. Early on in the season, I took a more aggressive approach of giving guys the opportunity by putting the ball up there and letting them compete for it. Today I still kept that mentality but tried to be smarter with the ball. Just trying to be me out there.”
“Instead of just sitting back there and waiting for things to open up, I took advantage of the opportunities that were there. I didn’t expect to run as much but whatever this team needs for me to do I’m willing to do that. I think the most important thing for us was picking up yards on first and second down. Our run game opened up a lot of things on the outside for guys to make big big plays for us.”
Don’t get it wrong, there was a smattering of boos when Donovan threw his initial incompletion despite his team being ahead.
He didn’t stop. He fought. He led. He played with urgency and his team won.
You knew his teammates did this for him. There was much relief in the locker room after the game and most players to a man spoke of what type of class Donovan shows game in and game out and what he means to them as teammates. There is no dissension in Philadelphia’s locker room and it starts with the quarterback.
Donovan knows this is one mighty step on the stormy path to right his ship and there will be many more needed to return this season to his standard of Philadelphia respectability.