For the first time in 11 NFL career starts, McNabb was dominant. He threw for 311 yards - the first 300-yard game of his passing career - completed 30 of 44 passes, and had two touchdown passes as the Eagles defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 38-10, at Veterans Stadium.
The win gave them a 3-2 record and a share of first place in the NFC East with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins.
Using his legs, his arm, his smarts, and 10 receivers, McNabb got stronger as the game progressed. He ultimately destroyed the Falcons' defense with a fourth-quarter drive that seemed more the culmination of a rise from the struggle of Weeks 2 and 3 than a game-breaker.
"I was happy for him," said wide receiver Charles Johnson, who caught six passes for 47 yards, including the touchdown reception that helped put the game away in the fourth quarter. "I thought he handled some adversity and criticism a few weeks ago extremely well. He showed his maturity level has risen."
With one stunning third-quarter play, McNabb and the Eagles reversed the course of what appeared to be a game that would end in heartbreak because of their inefficiency. It all changed when McNabb saw wide receiver Torrance Small deep over the middle. He threw it with confidence, and Small made the catch, then took the ball to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown - the Eagles' biggest pass play of the season.
"As Donovan continues to progress, the more you open up the field with downfield throws," coach Andy Reid said.
As if that play wasn't enough, Small snagged a pass with one hand on the two-point conversion attempt to give the Eagles a 14-0 lead with 11 minutes, 24 seconds to go in the third quarter.
The Eagles were leading by 17-7 early in the fourth quarter, when McNabb led them on a nine-play, 85-yard drive that ended in an 11-yard touchdown pass to Johnson.
With that, the game was over. McNabb had guided his teammates to the knockout punch, showing a killer instinct the Eagles have not had in some time.
McNabb had done it. He had his big game, which had been expected of him. He now has "answered the question," as he likes to say, and proved that he belongs.
This morning, the 15-of-31, sacked-five-times statistics line of Week 3 against Green Bay seems to be a distant memory.
"It's all about chemistry," McNabb said. "For the second game in a row, all our tight ends and wide receivers were healthy. We're back in training-camp mode."
That being a relaxed, confident, attacking mode.
The win did not come without some trouble, though.
Running back Duce Staley left the game in the fourth quarter with what was believed to be a sprained foot. X-rays were negative, but Staley's status was unknown.
"I don't see Duce missing next week," Johnson said. "It hasn't crossed my mind. Knowing Duce, I don't see him not playing."
When Staley left, the Eagles turned to Brian Mitchell, who had just scored on an 89-yard kick return, to ice the game.
In a wild turn of events, Mitchell owned the fourth quarter and propelled the Eagles to a blowout.
Mitchell's return was the 11th for a touchdown in his career, which tied him with Eric Metcalf atop the NFL's all-time list.
He added an 85-yard run up the middle for a TD to provide the Eagles' final points.
He ran twice for 105 yards and caught three passes for 35 yards, all in the fourth quarter. He had 229 combined yards rushing, receiving and returning in the fourth quarter alone. For the game, Mitchell had 290 combined yards.
"That fourth quarter was, probably, one of the best . . . I'd say best games I've ever had," Mitchell said.
The Eagles' defense was again dominant, yielding only 200 net yards. Jamal Anderson was held to 47 yards on 19 carries.
"We don't have that swagger yet," said defensive tackle Corey Simon, who had his fourth sack in five games. "That's going to take a while. We'll let that swagger come. We just want to improve the things we haven't been good at."
By stopping the run, its glaring weakness, the defense took another big step last night.
The Falcons scored their only TD on a 70-yard punt return by Tim Dwight to cut the lead to 14-7 in the third quarter.
Later, the Eagles added a 19-yard field goal by David Akers, his third of the game, for a 17-7 lead.
The explosive second half did much to make a horrible first half forgettable.
The last drive of the half showed in plain and painful terms how the Eagles blew some scoring opportunities right into the October wind.
McNabb found Small for two 19-yard plays to put the Eagles at the 23. McNabb hit tight end Chad Lewis for 4 yards before he scrambled left and ran out of bounds at the 3 for a 16-yard gain.
First-and-goal at the 3.
McNabb, facing pressure, ran for safety and stepped out of bounds at the 7-yard line, instead of trying to throw the ball out of bounds.
On the next play, Bubba Miller was called for a holding penalty.
It was second and goal at the 17.
And in case the Eagles hadn't done enough to draw their fans' ire, on a third-down play at the 17, they tried to dink a short pass to Staley, which resulted in a 4-yard loss and boos from the stands.
The good news was that Akers made the 38-yard field goal to give the Eagles a 6-0 lead with nine seconds remaining in the half.
The Eagles held the ball almost 20 of the 30 minutes in the first half but could produce just two field goals.
The Eagles used a 46-yard kickoff return by Mitchell to set up a 39-yard field goal by Akers to go up by 3-0 at 10:35 in the first quarter.
After Mitchell returned the ball to the Eagles' 47-yard line, McNabb connected on 5 of 6 passes for 27 yards to scoot the ball to easy field-goal range.
After holding the Falcons on their first possession, the Eagles again successfully moved the ball, but that drive was halted when a trick play did not work. On a first down play at their 46, the McNabb handed off to Small, who stopped, and heaved a pass into double-coverage. Charles Johnson tried to leap, but Atlanta cornerback Ray Buchanan intercepted. McNabb was intercepted once, on a tipped ball, but that was about the only thing he did wrong.
Afterward, Reid said he thought McNabb had his best game at picking up the blitz and responding.
Jerry Brewer's e-mail address is email@example.com