Paul Domowitch | McNabb off to a slow start

Posted: September 10, 2007

GREEN BAY - When we last left Donovan McNabb almost 10 months ago before that freaky sideline knee injury put him out of commission for the third time in five seasons, he was struggling.

After a sizzling seven-game start (16 touchdowns, five interceptions, 2,151 passing yards) he seemed to lose his mojo in a 13-6 late-October loss to Jacksonville and never regained it. In the 10 quarters right before the right knee cried uncle, his production went into free-fall - a .493 completion percentage, just two TDs and a poor 6.80 yards-per-attempt average.

His knee supported by a brace, McNabb made his return yesterday. But it was neither triumphant nor impressive. The Eagles lost to the Packers, 16-13, and their five-time Pro Bowl quarterback still was looking like the guy from last November.

McNabb completed just 15 of 33 passes for 184 yards against the Packers. He wasn't totally to blame for those poor numbers. While he was sacked just once, his offensive line seldom gave him sanctuary from Green Bay's pass rush, forcing him to rush his throws.

His top two wideouts, Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis, caught just three passes. Running back Brian Westbrook caught six passes, but dropped a couple of others. Correll Buckhalter also had a drop.

"I had full command of everything that was going on out there like I thought I would," McNabb said. "But when you get in the game, you've got to take care of the little things and we didn't do that today. We'll watch the film tomorrow and come back next week and try to change some things."

McNabb's Week 1 performance had just a few high notes - a pretty, right-in-stride 37-yard throw to Kevin Curtis on the final play of the first quarter that set up the Eagles' first points on a 33-yard David Akers field goal; a 14-yard second-quarter dart to slot man Jason Avant after dodging the Packers' pass rush, and a 9-yard touchdown throw to Avant three plays later. But that was about it.

In an impotent second half in which the Eagles managed just three points and five first downs, McNabb completed only five of 16 passes for 73 yards.

He had a first-quarter pass for wide receiver Hank Baskett picked off by middle linebacker Nick Barnett, which set up the Packers' first points - a 53-yard field goal by rookie Mason Crosby - and nearly threw another one in the fourth quarter when he failed to see Packers free safety Nick Collins in his passing lane on a throw to Avant.

"They really pursued well and did a good job of stopping me from picking up many yards when I scrambled," said McNabb, who had just 9 rushing yards on four carries. "I tried to throw the ball while I was moving."

His first-quarter interception came as he was running to his right to avoid a sack.

"I was trying to buy time," he said. "I saw Hank get away from his man. He was about 5 yards behind the linebacker [Barnett]. The linebacker had fallen. I just tried to put it on his body. But [Barnett] got up real fast and made an excellent play.

"If I had the opportunity to do it again, would I do it? I would. But maybe I'd put air under it. But in that situation, throwing across my body, you don't want to put air under it."

The Eagles' offense just never seemed to get in sync. A flea-flicker on the third play of the game failed miserably. McNabb ended up drawing a penalty for intentional grounding. The Eagles went the first 11 1/2 minutes without a first down.

The Eagles' 13 first downs and 283 total yards are a far cry from the 24 and 441 they racked up in their Week 1 win over Houston last September. In fact, only twice last season did the Eagles have fewer offensive yards than they had against the Packers - 227 in Week 8 vs. Jacksonville and 263 in Week 14 against the Redskins.

"We didn't have that many mistakes the early part of last year," McNabb said. "We have to get back into a rhythm. You don't want it to take long. You want it to be quick. We have to come back out [next week] and make sure we're clicking."

Rhythm was the common theme in the Eagles' locker room when players were asked why the defense struggled.

"I'm not going to say we're a rhythm offense, but when we get into one, we're tough to stop," said tight end L.J. Smith, who had two catches for 14 yards.

"We're a rhythm team," Westbrook said. "We've got to get into a rhythm and we never really did. We didn't do a good job of getting into a flow early."

THUMBS DOWN:

-- To the Eagles for going into the season with Greg Lewis and J.R. Reed as their two primary punt return options. Make fun of Reno Mahe all you want. If the sure-handed ex-Eagle had been back there yesterday, the Eagles would be 1-0 right now.

-- To Andy Reid's game-opening script of plays. He tried to dazzle the Packers' defense with a different formation and personnel grouping on almost every play. But the only ones who seemed confused were the Eagles' offensive players.

-- To the curious playcalling by the Eagles early in the second quarter when they had a first-and-goal at the Green Bay 6-yard line. After a Westbrook run produced just 1 yard, McNabb threw two lame swing passes to Westbrook, one that was overthrown and another that went for no gain. Why did they draft 233-pound Tony Hunt again?

DID YOU NOTICE?:

-- Greg Lewis' painfully slow reaction following his first-quarter punt muff. He didn't make a move for the loose ball for nearly 2 seconds.

-- The Eagles didn't notch their initial first down until there was 3:20 left in the first quarter.

-- With A.J. Feeley still recuperating from a broken bone in his non-throwing hand, rookie Kevin Kolb was the No. 2 quarterback yesterday.

-- Rookie tight end Brent Celek was on the field yesterday considerably more than L.J. Smith.

-- The two missed tackles by middle linebacker Omar Gaither on the Packers' final possession of the first half, both of them in space against running back Brandon Jackson.

-- The two dropped passes by Brian Westbrook on the Eagles' first possession of the second half.

-- Holder Sav Rocca did a nice job of handling an imperfect snap from Jon Dorenbos on David Akers' 47-yard field goal in the third quarter.

-- Brett Favre's two Houdiniesque escapes from Eagles' pass rushers on a third-quarter drive. On a third-and-10, he managed to elude linebacker Takeo Spikes and cornerback Joselio Hanson and scoop the ball to running back DeShawn Wynn, who ran for an 18-yard gain. Two plays later, he escaped from the grasp of defensive end Juqua Thomas and completed a 6-yard pass to tight end Donald Lee.

-- Spikes had nine tackles, but he blew a golden opportunity for an interception in the second quarter that could have produced points when a Favre pass went in and out of his hands.

-- How close Hank Baskett came to blocking Jon Ryan's punt with 10 1/2 minutes left in the game.

BY THE NUMBERS:

-- The Eagles' defense hasn't given up a touchdown to the Packers in their last two meetings. They allowed just three field goals last year in a 31-9 Week 4 win.

-- Donovan McNabb's completion percentage in his last four games is just .481.

-- With just 9 yards on four carries against the Packers, McNabb has rushed for just 276 yards in his last 21 starts.

-- The Eagles had just four rushing first downs yesterday. Not including last year's meaningless final regular-season game against the Falcons, the last time they had that few was in their Week 8 loss to Jacksonville last year (also four).

-- The Eagles turned the ball over three times against the Packers. Since the start of last season, they are 0-4 in games in which they've had more than two giveaways.

Send e-mail to pdomo@aol.com

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