Les Bowen: Further Review: The bottom line - Eagles' McNabb bucks midseason trend

Eagles' Donovan McNabb has survived a lot of ups and downs.
Eagles' Donovan McNabb has survived a lot of ups and downs.
Posted: January 13, 2009

The last time Donovan McNabb faced Kurt Warner in an NFC Championship Game, much was made of the fact that McNabb stayed on the field afterward to watch the St. Louis Rams celebrate their Super Bowl berth.

McNabb was 25 then, new to this big-game business; the theme was watching and learning.

Here's guessing that if Warner and the underdog Arizona Cardinals win this Sunday, McNabb won't be scrutinizing their celebration. Now 32 and scarred, in more than one sense of the word, McNabb has had plenty of such chances in the intervening years - to watch the Bucs celebrate beating the Eagles in the NFC title game following the 2002 season, to watch the Panthers celebrate the same feat following the 2003 season, and to watch the Patriots celebrate winning the Super Bowl 4 years ago. That was 2 weeks after McNabb's lone chance to hold a conference title trophy aloft, as confetti rained down at the frozen Linc.

This page isn't big enough to enumerate all the ups and downs McNabb has survived in the last 4 years. The bottom line, though: McNabb, very much the better quarterback when matched against Eli Manning Sunday at the Meadowlands, is close to ensuring that the Eagles have to do whatever he wants this offseason. He is two victories away from redefining his legacy forever, which is a hard thing to do in your 10th season in Philadelphia. Where is there a parallel situation? Maybe Mike Schmidt, in 1980?

About 6 weeks ago, the Eagles seemed poised to begin the Kevin Kolb Era. Now, if McNabb gets the new deal and hefty signing bonus he wants, there won't be a Kevin Kolb Era, at least not anytime soon.

At first glance, you might think that with Andy Reid as his agent right now, McNabb has little need for the talents of Fletcher Smith.

"Donovan keeps getting better and better with age here," the Eagles' coach said yesterday. "Sal [Paolantonio, from ESPN], asked me yesterday if he's playing better now than he did at the beginning of the year or in previous years, and I would have to say he is. He's upped his game, which you don't normally see this late in a player's career. He has great command of the offense."

Birdologists might pick over Reid's odd "this late in a player's career" remark, especially with the Eagles about to face a quarterback who turns 38 in June, who was scrapped by the Rams and the Giants and even benched by the Cardinals, at one point. Could Reid be subtly staking out a bargaining position - we'll rework your contract (which McNabb can void in 2010) for a few years and more money, but we're not doing a long-term megadeal with a 32-year-old QB?

A few weeks ago, that would have seemed a reasonable stance. Things change quickly in the postseason. Three weeks from now, McNabb might be able to name his terms.

Let's hope that somewhere along the way, he gets a break from the segment of the fan base that seems determined to find fault, regardless. The only thing wrong with McNabb's "phone in" from the Giants' sideline, after the outcome was decided Sunday, was that he felt the need to apologize afterward, instead of coming up with a disarming quip. When a certain attention-starved wideout used to do stuff like that, the same people criticizing McNabb on Sunday thought it was hilarious, just the brash note that the team needed, etc.

Reid didn't seem scandalized, when asked about phonegate yesterday.

"It was creative," Reid said, smiling.

Developing storylines

*Eagles strong safety Quintin Mikell didn't hesitate yesterday when asked about Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald. "No doubt about it, he's the best receiver in the league," Mikell said. Fitzgerald's 96 catches for 1,431 yards led the NFC and ranked fourth in the NFL this season. His 12 receiving touchdowns led the league. When the Eagles defeated the Cards on Thanksgiving, Fitzgerald caught five passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns.

*Andy Reid said strongside linebacker Chris Gocong "probably had his best day" Sunday against the Giants, but "has been improving all season." Gocong's penetration was big on the fourth-and-inches stop of Eli Manning.

*Arizona has become a gathering place for former Eagles special teamers. Sean Morey made the Pro Bowl as the special teams specialist. The Cards also employ Rod Hood, Matt Ware, Pago Togafau and Steve Spach. Spach is done after tearing his ACL against Carolina, though.

Obscure stat

There are 14 Eagles, including a couple of guys who were on injured reserve at the time, who were part of the last Birds squad to play in the NFC Championship Game, 4 years ago.

Who knew?

That Eli Manning would miss David Tyree this much?

Extra point

Probably the most surprising thing about the Eagles' victory over the Giants on Sunday was how little Giants coach Tom Coughlin trusted his quarterback, and how little poise and presence the Plaxico Burressless Eli Manning showed.

This, after all, was the MVP of Super Bowl XLII. The author of what might be the most memorable play in Super Bowl history.

Where was that guy Sunday? He threw two awful interceptions. He didn't take any sacks, mostly because he threw the ball away every time he sensed pressure. Manning wasn't afflicted much by drops, the way he was early in that Dec. 7 loss to the Eagles; he just couldn't make plays, couldn't seem to force the ball through the wind the way Donovan McNabb did. Couldn't convert big third downs the way McNabb did.

If anything, the New York print media was a little too kind to Manning, preferring adjectives like "uninspiring" to other possible choices, such as "dreadful."

Manning blamed himself afterward, but he also said, "It's not like we came out here and they just flat-out beat us."

You really didn't need to view the game through green-tinted glasses to suggest that it kind of WAS like that, especially in the second half, when Manning's team would have been held scoreless except for a field goal set up by an interception.

Maybe the biggest thing to come out of the Giants' December-January collapse is that you have to think New York will want Burress back instead of cutting ties to the star wideout, as seemed likely in the wake of the flap over Burress accidentally shooting himself. But will Burress' return be enough to put Eli back together again?

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