McNabb finds going tough in Eagles debut

Rookie quarterback gets warm reception, but has up-and-down night

August 13, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- One of the Eagle fans hung a banner at Veterans Stadium last night that read: "McNabb is no Couch Potato."

For one night at least, he's wasn't a Couch, either.

The second player picked in April's draft after Couch, McNabb failed to duplicate the fine showing Couch had in his debut for the Cleveland Browns on Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys, as the Eagles lost to the Ravens, 10-7, in a typical, sloppy first exhibition game.

McNabb got a rousing welcome from the Eagles fans, who booed when the Eagles selected him over running back Ricky Williams, when he came into the game with 12: 32 left in the second period for starter Doug Pederson.

McNabb, who signed a seven-year, $53.7 million contract after an acrimonious holdout, got another cheer from the fans when he completed his first pass, a 10-yard gain and a first down.

But McNabb didn't give them much else to cheer about in his three series.

He completed five of nine passes for 35 yards, was sacked once and threw an interception.

McNabb showed some scrambling ability as he ran three times for 17 yards, but at times he seemed too quick to run.

McNabb got to play only three series because new coach Andy Reid went in the second half with Koy Detmer and Bobby Hoying, who are fighting for the third-string job.

Detmer and Hoying had better nights than the first two quarterbacks, but they were playing against second- and third-string Ravens on defense.

Detmer completed seven of eight passes in the third period, but his one miss was on a third-down play from the Ravens' 24, which set the stage for a missed field-goal attempt.

Hoying, who opened last season as the starter, directed a 90-yard, fourth-period touchdown drive that tied the score, 7-7, before the Ravens won it on a late field goal.

It's likely that playing quarterback for the Eagles this season will be a difficult job. The Eagles don't appear to have many offensive weapons to help the quarterback and could have problems improving on last year's 3-13 mark. On top of everything else, the Eagles lost their starting tight end, Jamie Asher, for at least three months and possibly the season with a left-ankle injury.

But Reid was upbeat after the game despite the poor offensive showing, pointing out the defense McNabb is usually ahead of the offense at this point.

"This is a timing offense and it's going to take time," Reid said.

He added, "I'm very optimistic coming out of this game. I mentioned to the players there's no reason to hold your head down. We're finding out about each other. That's what this whole thing is about. [I told them,] `Hey, you're not the same old Eagles. You can take that to heart.' "

Reid continued, "Even with a veteran group, you see the defenses normally start a little bit faster than the offense. By no means is that an excuse. But you mesh in a lot of new faces and a few different looks thrown at you, and it takes a little time. That's what preseason is about," he said.

Reid also said McNabb was the victim of the Ravens' defensive scheme.

"I don't want to use an excuse for Donovan, but they ran a little different defense, a soft two-deep zone look. Donovan has been taught you attack the middle of the field. That's what Donovan did," he said.

In a similar situation next time, Reid said he'd do something different.

Reid also said that McNabb got a bit winded from his scrambles.

McNabb said, "It was a change to playing an actual game. I was a little winded. I admit that. I can look back on this and say I got my feet wet, and now it's time to move on and get better."

McNabb said he watched Couch's good showing on TV, but said he wasn't trying to compete against him.

"I don't get into trying to battle any individual player. I think it's team vs. team," he said.

The game showed that one good move the Eagles made in the off-season was signing veteran punter Sean Landeta, who's with his fifth NFL team in 15 seasons. He punted for Towson almost two decades ago when it was known as Towson State.

The only drama of the lackluster game came when Landeta punted to Jermaine Lewis, who's always a threat to break one.

Unlike some punters, Landeta didn't kick away from Lewis. He punted right to him but hit high booming punts that gave the Eagles' coverage teams time to stop Lewis.

His first five punts went 52, 47, 53, 50 and 49 yards and Lewis' returns were 5, 1, 0 (touchback), fair catch and 12 yards. Landeta finally shanked his sixth punt out of bounds for just 19 yards.

The way the Eagles' offense looked, Landeta's likely to do a lot of punting this year.

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