Les Bowen: McNabb likely to return as Eagles starter next year, but . . .

Posted: December 17, 2008

With every successive solid Donovan McNabb performance, it seems less likely that the Eagles will want to change quarterbacks after the season.

Of course, if the Birds miss the playoffs and McNabb throws four bad picks in the game that eliminates them, we might find ourselves right back where we were last month. But let's pretend for a moment that he continues to play well. From what you've seen of McNabb, overall, this season, and from what you've seen of Kevin Kolb, are you really as ready to turn the page as you might have been at halftime of that Baltimore game back on Nov. 23?

If the Eagles run the table here, even if they become the first team to ever miss the playoffs at 10-5-1, I don't see how Joe Banner and Andy Reid can comfortably make that switch. Equally relevant, though, is McNabb's thinking on the subject.

A lot of people were surprised at the end of last season, when McNabb spoke so fervently of wanting to continue to play in a city that he very much believes has treated him unfairly. The benching and its attendant hoopla has brought those lack-of-appreciation feelings to the surface. After the Arizona game and again Monday night, McNabb made pointed comments to network postgame shows. On Thanksgiving, among other things, he spoke of needing to have a postseason conversation with Eagles management. Monday night, again egged on by postgame panelists' declarations of his greatness and the lack of due respect he has received in Philadelphia, McNabb went all Joni Mitchell on us.

"When you've been in one place for 10 years, people get tired of seeing you and they say they want something new," McNabb said, after Steve Young burbled that McNabb could play another 10 years, at age 32. "Until you're gone, they don't realize what they have."

McNabb also talked about his continuing unhappiness over the decision to bench him - despite clear evidence from teammates' words and their performances that benching the franchise quarterback galvanized the team. McNabb asked, "Why use me as a scapegoat?"

Because you're getting paid to be the face of the Eagles, and you'd just turned the ball over seven times in seven quarters while playing the worst back-to-back games of your life?

Overall, McNabb has completed 60.9 percent of his passes this season (307 for 504) for 3,511 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. With two games left, that's already the most yardage and most TDs he's managed since 2004, the Super Bowl season, and the second-highest yardage total of his career. It's hard to recall the last time an NFL team discarded a 32-year-old quarterback with the numbers McNabb is on pace to post this year.

"He's playing right now as well as he's ever played," Andy Reid said yesterday.

In the end, though, McNabb's attitude toward the situation could affect the situation. His disconnected, grudging "Guess I'll stick around so y'all can blame more stuff on me" routine sure seemed to be one of the factors that nearly derailed the Eagles' season.

Stay tuned. There's a lot more to be said and done here before No. 5's future is settled.

Who knew?

That you could have three different guys throw interceptions and still breeze to victory?

Obscure stat

DeSean Jackson is likely to become the Eagles rookie receiving yardage leader Sunday at FedEx Field. He currently has 852 yards, trailing Charle Young (854 in 1973) and Keith Jackson (869 in 1988). Jackson's 58 catches tie him for second with Don Looney (1940), 23 receptions behind Keith Jackson.

Developing storylines

*Heck of a game for young Quintin Demps, who played a lot in the defensive backfield, notched his first career sack, and averaged 29.3 yards on three kickoff returns.

*Nobody has worked harder to make an impact than 2006 fourth-round draft pick Jason Avant, who notched the first 100-yard receiving game of his career Monday night. Avant's rise as a tough, go-to third-down guy has been a big factor in Reggie Brown's demise.

"He has great change of direction, he has phenomenal hands, very strong to the football," Andy Reid said yesterday of Avant. "And Donovan has a lot of trust in him, that he's going to be there when he needs him."

*The last three games, the Eagles have had the ball 112:22, to the opposition's 67:38. That's a difference of 44:44, or nearly three-quarters of a game. Has to save some wear-and-tear on the defense.

Extra point

Hank Baskett felt personally responsible, when disaster yawned Monday night.

Baskett was the intended recipient of a fade to the left corner of the end zone with 9 seconds left in the first half, except the ball was thrown a little short, and Cleveland cornerback Brandon McDonald did a fine job of boxing out Baskett and reeling in the pass. While Baskett stumbled backward in horror, thinking of how he could have interfered or deflected or done something to prevent the pick, McDonald took off for the opposite end zone with no one in his way.

"When I saw he'd caught it, I just knew I had to chase him down," Baskett said yesterday, after a long treatment session for the right medial collateral ligament sprain he suffered early in Monday night's game. "You never stop. The play's never over until the whistle blows. You don't wait for someone else to make the play; you be the person to make the play."

But McDonald had a huge lead on Baskett. The wideout never would have caught him if Brian Westbrook hadn't angled in. Westbrook seemed in position to make the tackle. Somehow, he whiffed. Would the Eagles give up a TD on the final play of the first half for the second week in a row?

No. Westbrook delayed McDonald long enough for Baskett to catch up, and they tumbled out of bounds together at the Eagles' 7, time having expired.

"I knew the half was over, I knew that was going to be the last play," Baskett said. "I knew I had to do whatever I could. I probably couldn't have caught him if Westbrook hadn't slowed him down . . . That [potential interception for a touchdown] is a lot of momentum, going into halftime."

Baskett said he thinks he'll be able to get his knee ready for this week's game at Washington.

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