September 16, 2008

Out with the Old

Can you blame the starting quarterback, he of the "25 for 37, 281 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT" gem that kept the Philadelphia Eagles from being blown out of the water by the Dallas Cowboys, can you blame him for ultimately losing the game, 41-37?

Absolutely. If you're a Philadelphia sports fan, you've got a PhD in spreading blame, and Donovan McNabb earned his fair share.

Of course, so did Brian Dawkins, so did the entire Eagles secondary, so did the offensive line in the second half and the defensive line throughout the game. Surprisingly enough, for a game as competitive and entertaining as last night's Monday night showdown turned out to be, as my friend Walt put it, "the blood was on everyone's hands."

And partly on Donovan's. Yes, he looked like the quarterback of old - scrambling, evading tacklers, pulling miraculous plays out of nowhere, even breaking an old-fashioned run here and there. But at the same time, he really looked like the Donovan of old. The Donovan who has never been much for fourth-quarter comebacks, the Donovan who often seems to tighten up in a tough situation. Both he and Andy Reid have shown a tendency in the past to abandon what has been working when a game gets close, and last night, there was McNabb, forcing balls into double-coverage, into the ground, into the open air a solid foot above Brian Westbrook.

And then there's the fumble, something I still haven't had explained to me by the various Eagles sites I frequent day after day. I'm not sure which lines were crossed between Westbrook and McNabb, but I do know that it was a key error, perhaps even more damaging than Romo's earlier fumble in the endzone. Romo's blunder was painful, but the Eagles' fumble was in the waning moments of a shootout, and the Cowboys received an extra bullet in their chamber. The way Romo, Barber, Witten and Co. had been playing up to that point, one more shot was all they really needed.

Did McNabb lose the game, either with the fumble or the failed final drive? Technically, yes, but you can't pin the bulk of it on him. Dallas might be the best team in the NFL, and a more optimistic human being might note that we gave an elite team all it could handle, in their own arena, on football's biggest stage. But the NFL doesn't offer a column on the division standings for "Good Efforts." A loss is a loss, and this ended up being a telling loss, indeed.

On one hand, it told us that the Eagles can probably play with anyone. It told us that our offense has the potential to be tremendous, even without Kevin Curtis and "That Other Guy Who Used to Start Before We Got DeSean Jackson." It told us that our defense is still a work in progress, and our special teams, even more so. Most of all, though, it told us that our quarterback is as close to back as he's going to get. If he stays healthy, he's going to win a lot of games this year. But, at the same time, he's still the Donovan we remember throwing up in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. He had his first real test in three years, and he came a little short of acing it. Last night, I remembered how much I appreciate Donovan McNabb, but I also remembered why his fingers are still ring-less.

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