Rich Hofmann: Again and again, we wonder whether Reid's Eagles would be up to Super Bowl task

Posted: February 03, 2009

THE DAY AFTER the Super Bowl was Groundhog Day, appropriately enough, because it was the occasion for asking the question, and asking it again, and asking it again. Every big NFL game is like this anymore. Every game that features a late comeback ends with the same discussion.

Not, "How about that Kurt Warner?" Not, "Wasn't that Ben Roethlisberger something?" No, not that.

This:

"Why can't Donovan do that?"

Again and again and again.

The answer to the question almost doesn't matter as much anymore as the fact that people cannot help but keep asking it. The whole thing is exhausting. That is the real issue for the Eagles as McNabb prepares to meet with the front office in search of a new contract and a big, sloppy pile of cash.

Not, "Can he do it?"

Rather, "Are we strong enough to deal with it?"

First, the Warner pass to Larry Fitzgerald that put the Cardinals ahead. With all due respect to Fitzgerald, the best receiver in the game, the Eagles have receivers who could have made that play. There are plenty of things the Eagles' receivers cannot do with anything approaching Fitzgerald's proficiency. They don't have the big, strong, sure hands or the acrobatic moves or the sheer size.

But this play really was not about any of those things. This play was about single coverage over the middle, a pass thrown on time and in stride, and then Fitzgerald running up the heart of a defense that was not configured with a centerfielder but, instead, with two deep safeties on the outside.

Again, all respect to Fitzgerald, Kevin Curtis or DeSean Jackson could have made that play given the same circumstances - the same throw and the same defensive coverage. Both are more than fast enough. The question on that one is whether McNabb could deliver the ball where and when it needed to be delivered.

What would Donovan do?

Hit Fitzgerald in the back shoulder?

That's a fair question.

But the Steelers' game-winning drive was different. That last throw to Santonio Holmes in the back corner of the end zone, with three Cardinals defenders all in the frame, was an incredible piece of work. For Roethlisberger, the whole last drive was. He bought time and extended plays and pump-faked and improvised under an inhuman amount of athletic pressure.

He also got great receiver play from Holmes. He is only 5-11, so there isn't the whole physical-monster element to his game that a receiver such as Fitzgerald has. But the guy played huge, even acknowledging the ball that went through his hands on the play before the greatest catch in Super Bowl history; sorry, David Tyree.

Nobody knows he can make that catch until he is put in the situation, but Holmes made it - the catch, the toe-tapping inbounds, the extension, all of it. The throw was great, strong and true. McNabb has made that throw before. Again, nobody knows whether he can make it in that moment until he is in that moment - but McNabb has made that throw.

No, you have to look at his receivers on this one. Jackson could end up being the kind of player who makes that play someday, maybe as early as next season, but he wasn't this season. He dropped a great throw in Washington that cost the Eagles a game. In the same game, on the last play, McNabb again made a great throw in a game-winning spot - only to have Reggie Brown run a lame route and get stopped just short of the end zone as time expired.

And then, Curtis? He is a better player than people here want to acknowledge, and he played with the aftermath of sports-hernia surgery all season. But he also dropped that ball at the end of the NFC Championship Game at Arizona.

So, what would Donovan do?

Watch somebody not catch that pass?

Again, that is a fair question.

There is no answer, though. And it is maddening, the very asking. That is the question that Jeffrey Lurie, Joe Banner and Andy Reid have to ask themselves when McNabb comes in for a visit in the coming days/weeks/months.

Can this organization function at its best level if it is forever answering these questions, be they spoken or unspoken, internal or external?

If the answer is yes, extend the contract. If you aren't sure, well, you have your answer there, too. But after a decade of this, that is the real issue, not why Donovan can or can't do something. *

Send e-mail to

hofmanr@phillynews.com, or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

http://go.philly.com/theidlerich.

For recent columns go to

http://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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