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News » Sam Donnellon: Eagles season might be out of McNabb's hands

Sam Donnellon: Eagles season might be out of McNabb's hands

Sam Donnellon: Eagles season might be out of McNabb's hands
BALTIMORE - His last play of the game was a prayer, the kind Donovan McNabb made regularly on his way to all those championship games and Pro Bowls, the kind that were answered with alarming regularity.

Back then you wanted the ball in his hands at the end of the half, at the end of a game, in that stunning overtime playoff victory over Green Bay. With his legs, with his arm, with that goofy swagger of his,

McNabb, even on bad days, scared defenses.

Now they look across the line and say, "Yummy." He doesn't run much. He doesn't elude the rush the way he once did, creating space in the backfield, buying 14.1 seconds like that time against Dallas. His throws, especially the ones downfield, are all too often eye-wincing exercises in inaccuracy, picked off as regularly as he once made big plays.

Now, you want the ball out of his hands. And yesterday, after another ugly half of ineffective Football and a 36-7 drubbing by the Ravens, so did his head coach - arguably his greatest apologist, if not ally.

"I thought it might be a little bit of a spark," Andy Reid said. "And we might be able to get some things going."

Reid yanked McNabb after a first half in which he completed eight of 18 passes for 59 yards, threw two awful interceptions, and had another pass attempt swiped from his hands. He yanked him with the team down by three points, despite all that comeback history.

He yanked him without speaking to him, sending the message through quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur, sending perhaps another message about where their once closer-than-thieves relationship is headed, if it isn't already there.

"My first reaction was, 'Wow,' " McNabb said.

Hey, that was mine, too.

And probably yours, and yours and yours.

"I'm sure something happened with Donovan, injurywise," said John Harbaugh, the former Eagles assistant in his first season as Baltimore's head coach.

This was new turf, uncharted turf. McNabb has been bad before, and Reid has stuck with him before, even issued proclamations of faith as recently as 2 weeks ago.

Now? The coach will announce today - the day before McNabb's 32nd birthday - whether Kevin Kolb will start against the Arizona Cardinals Thanksgiving night, or whether he will stay with the quarterback who has defined him as a coach for the last decade, good and bad.

"Sometimes with a player, you can step back an inch and maybe you can go forward a mile," Reid said. "It's important that he plays the way I know he can play and that the guys around him do the same thing."

Except that some can't. Brian Westbrook is not Brian Westbrook. Correll Buckhalter went down with a sprained knee ligament yesterday. Lorenzo Booker was inexplicably deactivated before the game. When Dan Klecko has as many catches and more yards than Westbrook? Well, coach, you might want to ease up with that "players around him" talk.

Still, there were plays out there for McNabb to make. His first interception, intended for DeSean Jackson on the right sideline, was badly underthrown. The next time he had his hands on the ball, McNabb badly overthrew Kevin Curtis, who seemed to have a step or two on his defender, on the left sideline. Late in the second quarter, he took out a family of gophers with a pass intended for Hank Baskett.

Kolb was not better. The two actually competed for worst-ever passer rating against the Ravens. (Kolb won worst-ever on a technicality - he threw more than 20 passes, the statistical cutoff; McNabb only threw 18.)

Kolb completed 10 of 23 passes for 73 yards and threw one incredibly costly interception - a 108-yard return for a touchdown by Ravens safety Ed Reed. Kolb didn't find Reggie Brown, Greg Lewis or Jason Avant to be any more elusive than McNabb did.

Reid blamed his coaching, as usual. But one of these days, wouldn't it be refreshing if he also blamed his own talent evaluation?

McNabb's last pass of the day was an end-of-the-half Hail Mary into the end zone that was more accurate, and came much closer to completion, than some of his shorter throws. If Baskett comes down with that throw, McNabb and gang go into their locker room with a 14-10 lead, maybe a spark, and maybe the context of today is radically different.

Instead, McNabb finds himself between a reprieve and a hard place, the end of an era that tripped repeatedly at the threshold of greatness. No. 5, as he used to be called by adoring teammates when he made those throws, gave you a lot of thrills in between those postseason losses that now haunt his legacy here. He won a lot of games all by himself on Sundays like these, a lot more than he now seems to be losing by himself. He had pieces then, and he had his quickness and strength. Most of all, he had self-confidence and the confidence of others.

Reluctantly taking the podium after his latest debacle, McNabb spoke in a low voice that reflected neither.

"When you play a game like this, you don't focus on your future," he said. "You just focus on trying to win the game. At this present time, I'm not even thinking about what happens when the season is over."

Today, he might have to.

Because today, his season might be. *

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Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: November 24, 2008

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