John Smallwood: Against Cowboys, McNabb was good enough for a Redskins win

Posted: September 13, 2010

LANDOVER, Md. - Donovan McNabb was in a new city, with a new team, but the situation sitting in front of him was all too familiar.

I'm sure it wasn't just coincidence that the Dallas Cowboys were the opponent for McNabb's debut with the Washington Redskins.

Not only are the Cowboys the Redskins' biggest historical rival, but they are also the team that effectively cinched McNabb's fate as the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles.

We don't know for sure whether the Eagles still would have turned the page on the McNabb era had Dallas not smashed the Eagles in consecutive weeks to end the 2009 season.

But we do know that the season-ending beat-down Dallas put on the Eagles, followed by the rerun they performed on the Birds in the NFC playoffs, made it easy for those involved in the final decision to not look back.

Well, let the debate about the issue that doesn't matter anymore begin again.

It's not that McNabb necessarily gave his backers a lot to hang their hats on, but with Kevin Kolb playing poorly yesterday before being knocked out of the Eagles' 27-20 loss to Green Bay with a concussion had already provided the ammunition for "I told you so."

And while McNabb may have not been overwhelming in the Redskins' 13-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, he didn't look like a quarterback whose tank has run dry.

McNabb was pedestrian, completing 15 of 32 passes for 171 yards and no touchdowns.

"As an offense, I'd be hard on ourselves and say we didn't get the job done today," McNabb said. "We moved the chains, got the ball into the red zone but didn't finish it. That's disappointing."

But the Redskins won, and for all the complaints about McNabb during his 11 years in South Philadelphia, the one thing he proved way more often than not was that he found ways to win. McNabb posted his 35th win against an NFC East opponent, more than the other three quarterbacks in the division combined.

Things started off well enough for McNabb.

At 8:38 last night, McNabb took his first official NFL snap wearing a uniform other than that of the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Washington Redskins quarterback - hey that wasn't that difficult to say - handed off to running back Clinton Portis for no gain.

His first pass, a play-action to tight end Chris Cooley, only gained 2 yards, but McNabb would lead the Redskins on a 12-play, 69-yard scoring drive.

It was highlighted by a sharp 16-yard pass to receiver Santana Moss and a 17-yard scramble by McNabb that was reminiscent of his explosive younger years.

Even though the drive stalled with the Redskins settling for a field goal, it still marked the first time Washington had scored on the first drive of a season since 2006.

The Redskins offense went into neutral after that.

The Redskins got the lone touchdown of the game when Dallas quarterback Tony Romo inexplicably dumped a pass off to running back Tashard Choice on the last play of the first half.

Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall stripped the ball from Choice, picked up the fumble and ran 32 yards for a touchdown with no time on the clock.

McNabb didn't produce many points, but at the same time, he showed he still has some of the abilities that made him one of the top quarterbacks of this century.

“I’m trying to forget some of the plays I’ve had in the last 11 years and focus on the ones that I have now," McNabb said. "Some things are different, some things are the same. Obviously, it’s a new group outside with the offensive line and the receivers and you just have to get the chemistry and spend that time with them.”

Also to be fair, right now, Washington's receiving corps is basically limited to Moss and Cooley.

Some of McNabb's passes were off target but more than a few of his incompletions were simply due to other players dropping what should have been easy catches.

On successive plays in the third quarter, receiver Anthony Armstrong dropped fade passes from McNabb - yes, fade passes to the corner of end zone - that should've resulted in a touchdown.

The Redskins' receivers look like only a slight upgrade from McNabb's days with Todd Pinkston and James Thrash.

But with Washington clinging to a three-point lead in the fourth quarter, McNabb drove them on a 10-play, 46-yard march that consumed nearly 4 1/2 minutes and resulted in an insurance field goal.

It nearly didn't hold up as Romo threw a touchdown to Roy Williams as time expired, but a holding penalty nullified Dallas' score.

Since there was no time left, the game ended.

Hey, as they say, "Any way you can get them."

That can be an underrated truism, but it could wind up being the one thing Eagles fans will miss the most without McNabb.

"Just beating anybody is big," McNabb said. "The most important thing is to get the win."

McNabb was asked if he watched any of the Eagles game before the Redskins took the field.

“No, I really didn’t," he said. "We have a big game here and my focus is what’s going on here. I played with a lot of guys out there that are great friends, but I was just focused on this game and fired up to get ready to play.”

McNabb certainly didn't have the type of game that makes you believe he'll elevate the Redskins from missing the playoffs to challenging for the Super Bowl.

But, once again, he showed he has a knack for finding a way to win games.

For a decade, that was good enough to always keep the Eagles in the mix. We'll find out how it works out for the Redskins.

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