Paul Domowitch: Don't pin this loss on Donovan

Posted: September 16, 2008

IRVING, Texas – Those of you out there who have been in such a damn hurry to ship Donovan McNabb out of town and commence the Kevin Kolb era really need to rethink your position.

The Eagles quarterback proved once again here last night that there's still plenty of life left in his 31-year-old arm and his surgically-repaired knee.

There are a lot of Eagles whose fingerprints were on last night's 41-37 close-but-no-cigar loss to the Cowboys. A defensive line that was unable to get any pressure on Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

A secondary that allowed Terrell Owens and Jason Witten to rack up 199 receiving yards and two touchdowns. A kickoff coverage unit that made Cowboys rookie Felix Jones look like a Hall-of-Famer. A tight end, L.J. Smith, who failed to catch a pass until late in the fourth quarter. Even normally sure-handed running back Brian Westbrook, who had a momentum-swinging fourth-quarter fumble.

But not McNabb. He was aces in the loss, completing 25 of 37 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown. And those 12 incompletions included five that were dropped by his receivers.

"We saw what Philadelphia is," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after the game. "McNabb, by having the experience he's got, is better than his younger years. He's still got that mobility. He does a better job when he gets the ball and doesn't have the turnovers. He was a mess out there for our guys tonight. We were fortunate to win this game and everybody knows it."

Said Cowboys coach Wade Phillips: "Anybody who thinks Donovan is too old or can't play anymore, they're absolutely wrong. The guy kept them in the game and made great plays."

In the Eagles' first two games, McNabb has a .657 completion percentage and is averaging an impressive 9.17 yards per attempt. For the second straight week, he didn't throw an interception. He's thrown just one in his last 219 attempts dating back to last season.

His impressive performance last night came against a team that he has struggled against lately. In his previous six starts against the the Cowboys, he had completed just 55.8 percent of his passes and had just five touchdowns and five interceptions. In the first halves of those six games, he had averaged just 5.76 yards per attempt and thrown only two TD passes.

But he came out firing last night, completing 14 of 19 first-half passes for 181 yards and one touchdown. It would've been two touchdown passes if not for rookie DeSean Jackson's showboating antics. The rookie wide receiver got behind the Cowboys' secondary, hauled in a perfect strike from McNabb that should've been a 61-yard touchdown, but made the inexcusable mistake of disposing of the ball before he crossed the goal line.

McNabb, who completed passes to eight different receivers in the Eagles' 38-3 Week 1 dismantling of the godawful St. Louis Rams, hit that many in just the first half against the Cowboys. And none of them were tight end L.J. Smith.

On the Eagles' first possession, he completed a 19-yard pass on third-and-6 to Smith's backup, Brent Celek. That set up a 34-yard field goal by David Akers that gave the Eagles a 3-0 lead.

Late in the first quarter, with the Eagles down eight, he and Brian Westbrook teamed up on a 6-yard touchdown pass. In the second quarter, he converted another third-and-long, hitting Jason Avant with a 12-yard completion. Followed that up with the 60-yard completion to Jackson.

Later, he converted another third-and-long with a 20-yard completion to Jackson. Another time, he showed that he can still run, getting out of the grasp of nose tackle Jay Ratliff and picking up a first down with a 10-yard scramble. On another run, Cowboys linebacker Kevin Burnett tried to put a hard lick on him. But it was Burnett who ended up getting the worst of that collision.

"Don played his heart out," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "And he played good. We just came up a little short."

By the numbers:

-- DeSean Jackson became only the second rookie in NFL history to put up 100-plus receiving yards in his first two games. The only other player to do it: another Eagle, Don Looney, in 1940.

-- The 78 points the Cowboys and Eagles put up last night were the most ever in the series.

-- Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, who had seven catches for 110 yards, has 56 receptions in 10 games against the Eagles, including 35 for first downs.

-- Donovan McNabb hasn't thrown an interception in 17 of his last 27 starts.

-- Prior to last night, the Eagles hadn't allowed a touchdown in their previous 11 quarters, dating back to last season.

-- The Eagles have started inside their own 10-yard line just twice in 24 possessions this season.

-- The Eagles have scored 51 points in the first halves of their first two games. Last year, they scored 197 first-half points the entire season.

-- Brian Westbrook has five touchdowns in the first two games. That's just seven fewer than he had all of last season.

-- The Eagles converted three of their five red-zone opportunities into touchdowns against the Cowboys. Against the Rams last week, they were 5-for-6. Last year, they had more than two red-zone touchdowns in a game just three times.

Just wondering:

-- What is defensive coordinator Jim Johnson going to do about Brian Dawkins? It never was more painfully evident last night that the 34-year-old free safety has lost a step. A very big step. He had a big downfield hit on rookie tight end Martellus Bennett early in the third quarter. But that was about the only highlight of his night. He struggled trying to cover Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (seven catches, 110 yards), and also gave up Terrell Owens' second touchdown catch on a 4-yard slant route.

-- Where tight end L.J. Smith was. I know he had to stay in and block a lot more than he did last week against the Rams. But still. McNabb completed 25 passes, but just one of them was to Smith, and that one didn't come until there was 4:11 left in the game.

Thumbs down:

To the Eagles' talented, but careless rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson for the second-quarter gaffe in which he caught a long pass from Donovan McNabb, only to throw away the ball away before he crossed the goal line.

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