Titanic Troubles Titans 31, Eagles 13: McNabb is out for the season as playoff hopes sink. Fundamental failures again leave Birds on losing end

Posted: November 20, 2006

The focus yesterday after the Eagles' 31-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans was almost all on what happened 12 seconds into the second quarter, and understandably so.

That's when quarterback Donovan McNabb rolled to his right and searched for an open receiver down the field. He fired a pass toward DontĀ Stallworth, then tumbled out of bounds after being lightly shoved by Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch.

The pass fell incomplete.

McNabb's season, on the other hand, was once again prematurely complete. The Eagles quarterback never stood up and eventually was carted off the field.

"I knew it was bad because he didn't get up," tight end L.J. Smith said. "Don is tough."

The quarterback is not nearly as tough as his luck, which so often seems to run out in the middle of November. Coach Andy Reid announced after the Eagles' fourth loss in five games that McNabb had a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

"It's an eight-month-to-a-year injury, so he's done for the year," Reid said.

It's the third time in five years that McNabb's regular season has come to a halt in mid-November. Last year, a lingering sports hernia finally ended his season Nov. 14 after he threw a critical interception in a loss to Dallas. In 2002, he suffered a broken ankle during a Nov. 17 game against the Arizona Cardinals and missed the final six regular-season games.

McNabb, who turns 30 Saturday, returned to play in a couple of playoff games in 2002, but that obviously won't happen this year. The fact that the quarterback will not be recovered from the torn ligament figures to be only part of the reason why.

The Eagles are 5-5 and they haven't looked like a playoff team for nearly two months even with a healthy franchise quarterback. They lost for the second time this season to a rookie quarterback and for the third time this season at Lincoln Financial Field.

"Very simply put . . . you have to catch the football, you have to tackle, and we didn't do any of those today," Reid said. "We gave up opportunities, we had too many penalties, and you cannot win in the NFL doing those things. We proved it today."

Reid did not think McNabb's absence was the problem, either.

"I just thought we didn't take advantage of opportunities even before Donovan went down," the coach said. "I've seen this team play without the mistakes, and they're a playoff-caliber team. I've seen them play with the mistakes and they are terrible."

McNabb, before his injury, played a major role in another slow start for the Eagles' offense.

With the Titans in front by 7-0 after scoring on their opening drive, the Eagles appeared to get even midway through the first quarter when McNabb threw what was initially ruled a 5-yard touchdown pass to Brian Westbrook. Titans coach Jeff Fisher used his red flag to challenge the call and it was overturned after a replay review, leaving the Eagles in a third-and-1 situation from the 1-yard line.

The challenge paid off big time when linebacker Stephen Tulloch intercepted a pass in the end zone that McNabb tried to loft into the hands of Smith. Instead of seven points, the Eagles ended up with nothing.

McNabb "didn't see [Tulloch]," Reid said.

The Eagles did finally get a 42-yard field goal from David Akers with 2 minutes, 35 seconds left in the first quarter. On their next possession, the Eagles found themselves back in Titans territory after McNabb connected with Stallworth for a 14-yard completion to close out the first quarter.

Two plays later, however, the quarterback's season was over and veteran Jeff Garcia was running the offense.

"Man, it's tough, tough, tough," Smith said. "He's our leader and he's the man around here. For him to go out, it's just tough. Somebody is going to have to step up."

Nobody raised a hand to do that on this day. On offense, the Eagles dropped at least six passes. Garcia completed 26 of 48 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown to Smith, but after the game Reid would not say that he was going to start the veteran quarterback again Sunday night when the Eagles visit the Indianapolis Colts.

A.J. Feeley, who led the Eagles to a 4-1 record in McNabb's absence in 2002, is the coach's other option.

"We'll look at [Garcia's] performance and see how he did," Reid said.

Garcia wants another chance.

"I hope he has enough confidence in me to give me the opportunity to let me be that number-one guy," he said. "But that's really his decision."

Defensively, the Eagles were once again inadequate at best when it came to stopping the run and getting off the field on third down.

What's worse was they had chances to make plays to turn the momentum in the Eagles' favor and failed. Safety Brian Dawkins let an easy interception slip through his hands in the first quarter, and cornerback Lito Sheppard let an interception that could have been returned for a touchdown slip away in the second quarter.

"It's just missed opportunities," Dawkins said, repeating a chorus that has been heard a lot lately. ". . . You make those plays and it's a different ball game."

The Titans rushed for 209 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown run by Travis Henry in the third quarter, and they also scored on a 90-yard punt return by Adam "Pacman" Jones.

"The 70-yard touchdown was completely my fault," defensive tackle Darwin Walker said. "I basically jumped offsides and tried to get back into my stance and rest. In the process of getting back and resetting, they came off on me and ran it."

The perfectly miserable ending came when Jamaal Jackson snapped the football over Garcia's head in a shotgun formation. Titans defensive tackle Randy Starks recovered the fumble and pitched the ball to Keith Bulluck for a touchdown.

Brian Westbrook, who had a career-high 34 touches but not a particularly special day, tried to remain a positive voice while also giving a vote of confidence to Garcia as the quarterback.

"Things don't look good right now," Westbrook said. "But we are an optimistic team. . . . We are going to continue to work hard and we still have a lot of key players that can make big plays. We are going to rally around Jeff and get this thing going in the right direction."

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

Airing It Out

Eagles quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Jeff Garcia combined to throw 61 passes yesterday against the Titans, the second most in franchise history. A look at the top five:

Att. QB Date/Opponent Result

62 Randall Cunningham Oct. 2, 1989, at Chicago L, 27-13

61 McNabb-Garcia Nov. 19, 2006, vs. Tennessee L, 31-13

60 Davey O'Brien Dec. 1, 1940, at Washington L, 13-6

57 Sonny Jurgensen Sept. 23, 1962, vs. N.Y. Giants L, 29-13

55 Donovan McNabb Nov. 12, 2000, at Pittsburgh W, 26-23 (OT)

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