In 2001, he waited until Week 16 to declare a game against the Giants as "pretty much do-or-die," making sure to give himself the out of "pretty much." In early November last year, McNabb said, "It's a must-win situation for us every week." He wasn't talking about a specific game but more about the tendency for the NFC East to be tightly bunched.
This was different.
"I've been in the league for a while now, 11 years, and at this particular point in my career, as well as this point in the season, this is a must win for us and that's the way that we have to approach it. I wouldn't care if it's at Soldier Field, I wouldn't care if it's playing in Champaign, Illinois, or we can play in Oklahoma, it doesn't matter. This is a game that we need to win. That's the way I'm approaching it and that's the way the other guys are approaching it as well."
If this game goes badly, the fallout will be significant. If this game goes badly and McNabb plays poorly, the fallout will be cataclysmic. McNabb must know this. He has spent a professional lifetime avoiding these kinds of statements for that very reason. But he has obviously made a calculation here - that this is the moment, as he said, in both his career and in this particular season. This is the point upon which everything will pivot.
It is all out there, then. Must win. But can the rest of them follow?
Leadership on this team after the loss to San Diego on Sunday. It seemed to be a call to arms for some of the young skill players on the offense, like running back LeSean McCoy, who might be starting for the rest of the season now that Brian Westbrook has suffered a second concussion. But the first sentence stood out: "Veteran leadership is something that we don't have that much of."
"I still don't know exactly what Donovan said, so I'm not going to paraphrase it or say that I know exactly what he said," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "I will say this, though: I meet with the players' committee every Wednesday morning and I look around that room and there are some pretty good leaders in that room. I think we're OK in that area.
"I think Donovan probably alluded more to the young players, that it's time to step up - it's that time of the year. He was kind of giving them a little pat on the back there. This is the time of year where your [college] season last year was ending and now it's time to kick it into high gear and keep playing hard."
And now comes this next pat on the back, which really was about as subtle as a right cross. Must win. This seems to be a clear tactic on the quarterback's part. But can the rest of them follow?
"I've tried to put a little pressure on my shoulders to challenge those guys and make sure that they are prepared early in the season, also throughout the course of the season," McNabb said. "At this particular point, I think every young guy and guy who is in their first year here with the Eagles has been faced with a lot of different adversities. I think they have understood exactly the things that we have to do and what we ask of those guys to do.
"I don't think at this point, is for me to go back into what I talked about during minicamp or going back to talk about what I talked about in training camp. It's just kind of reiterating it and just going out and showing them on the field about work ethic, preparing yourself, film watching and just going out and playing the game."
There has been all of that, and now McNabb has added this final challenge. Must win. And with that, the quarterback has assured that a football season will turn on Sunday night, one way or the other.
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