John Smallwood | Birds should be concerned about McNabb

Posted: September 18, 2007

FRANKLY, THE last time Donovan McNabb looked this bad at the start of the season was in 2003 - when, coincidentally, he was coming off a serious injury that cost him significant playing time the year before.

But in the first two games of the 2003 season, the Eagles played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots, the teams that had won the previous two Super Bowls.

Through 2 weeks in '03, McNabb completed 37 of 82 passes for 334 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions.

In reality, McNabb's poor play continued for five more games, but the Eagles managed to recover from a 0-2 start and win four of their first seven games.

Despite McNabb having his worst season as a starter, 16 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a passer rating of 79.6, the Birds still won 12 games and advanced to their third straight NFC Championship Game.

This doesn't have that kind of feel.

For starters, the Green Bay Packers, who beat the Eagles in Week 1, and the Washington Redskins, who took out the Birds, 20-12, last night at Lincoln Financial Field, aren't considered Super Bowl contenders much less champions.

More relevant, McNabb is now a 30-year-old quarterback with 8 years of NFL pounding on his body, and instead of coming back from his first serious injury, he is coming back from his third in the past five seasons.

It's not time to panic, but it is time to be concerned.

"I'm always hard on myself," McNabb said after he had a pedestrian performance for a second straight week. "We didn't win, and so I didn't play well.

"If I'm out there I have to make plays. There were plays to be made and plays I should have made."

On one hand, this just could be the anticipated slow start of a guy who is recovering from a major knee injury that limited him to 10 games last season.

Ten months probably isn't enough time to get back to 100 percent.

But there is a scarier alternative.

Daunte Culpepper, who like McNabb was drafted in 1999, was coming off a career season with the Minnesota Vikings when he shredded his knee seven games into the 2005 season.

Two years later, the quarterback of the Oakland Raiders is officially an NFL journeyman.

Obviously, it's way too soon to say that McNabb is headed down the same path, but the Eagles were concerned enough about McNabb's future that they ignored many other needs and used their first pick in the 2007 draft to select University of Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb.

Clearly, the old McNabb, the one whose explosive legs acutely complemented his passing skills to make him one of the NFL's most dangerous playmakers, is gone.

The question of what the new McNabb is, the one who is a few steps slower and must now rely on the guile he has gained from making 100 NFL regular-season starts, still will have to be answered.

These first two games aren't nearly what you'd like them to be.

After passing for just 184 yards with a touchdown and an interception in last week's 16-13 season-opening loss in Green Bay, McNabb didn't exactly bounce back against Washington.

Against the Redskins, McNabb completed 28 of 46 passes for 240 yards. He didn't throw an interception, but he also failed to lead the Eagles into the end zone.

Right now, McNabb is like a batter with warning-track power.

Five times last night, McNabb took the Eagles deep into Redskins territory only to see them settle for four field goals from David Akers.

With a chance to drive for a late touchdown that could have resulted in overtime, the Eagles could not score after having first-and-10 on the 13.

The most glaring mistake came on third down when Kevin Curtis broke open out of a pattern a step inside the end zone, but McNabb missed him badly.

"I was hit on it, but I've still got to make that throw," said McNabb, who has guided the Birds to just one touchdown in 22 offensive possessions. "I think we did some positive things, but it was a mistake here for not capitalizing in the red zone. We've got to get better."

What was supposed to be the easy part of the schedule is suddenly off to an 0-for beginning. Now the Eagles take a 0-2 record into Sunday's game against the 2-0 Detroit Lions.

The positive spin is that McNabb is still slightly out of sync.

The negative take is that this is what he now is as a quarterback and, if so, that is not going to be good enough. *

Send e-mail to smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/smallwood.

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