Act II: Redskins set for Eagles rematch

Team hoping same plot brings different result vs. rookie quarterback

November 28, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The plot line hasn't changed much in two weeks.

For the second time in 15 days, the Washington Redskins play a struggling Philadelphia Eagles team led by rookie quarterback Donovan McNabb.

The oddsmakers have listed the Redskins, who have the home-field edge this time around, as 10 1/2-point favorites.

All they have to do is handcuff McNabb the way they did two weeks ago, when he threw for only 60 yards against them in his first NFL start.

After all, McNabb turned the ball over six times -- including four fumbles -- last week in a 44-17 thrashing at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts. He appears to have a long way to go before he becomes a polished quarterback.

The only problem with this scenario is that the Redskins somehow lost the first game, 35-28, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia despite McNabb's poor showing.

That's because the Redskins were guilty of six turnovers, five by quarterback Brad Johnson, and Allen Rossum burned Washington's special teams with two long kickoff returns.

That's why the Redskins can't take anything for granted, even though the Eagles' best receiver, Charles Johnson, is sidelined with an injury.

The Redskins can't assume they'll get an easy victory to boost their record to 7-4 before they play the final five games that will make or break their season and decide the fate of coach Norv Turner.

Three of those games are against winning teams -- at Detroit and Indianapolis and a home finale against the Miami Dolphins.

If the Redskins beat the Eagles and one of those two winning teams, they can finish 10-6 and probably win the NFC East by beating a pair of losing teams, the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.

The 23-13 victory over the New York Giants last Sunday gave Turner a one-week reprieve from all the talk that he'll be fired by new owner Daniel Snyder.

But they can't look ahead.

First things first.

They know they can't assume McNabb is going to simply hand them the game.

"We have to remember the feeling in the locker room after that game," said Washington fullback Larry Centers. "There was so much disappointment in the room, it was crazy.

"We don't want to feel that again. If we keep that in mind, it'll be easy to focus."

Johnson, though, doesn't believe the Redskins can dwell on the first game.

"We let one slip away in Philadelphia. But you can't get into a revenge type of thing playing these guys," he said.

The Eagles' only hope is to limit McNabb to handing off most of the time.

The game pits the two leading rushers in the NFC in the Redskins' Stephen Davis, who has gained 1,034 yards, and the Eagles' Duce Staley, who has 942.

They each ran for 122 in the first game, and unless Johnson turns the ball over the way he did in the first game, the Eagles' only chance is to shorten the game by pounding Staley at a Redskins rushing defense ranked 28th.

If the Eagles fall behind the way they did against Indianapolis, it'll be over quickly. They know they can't expect too much of McNabb at this point.

"It may be similar to a child learning how to ride a bicycle," Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said. "You take it step by step, and there is a point where you let go and cut him loose."

The Eagles aren't at that point yet if the Indianapolis game is any indication.

"I figured the second game would be tougher than the first," McNabb said. "I knew they would attack me more, and they did."

The Eagles are trying to put the best spin on McNabb's showing against Indianapolis, insisting he's maturing with every game.

"That was a learning experience for him," said offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower. "He understands a lot more what it means to get looks in practice.

"Seeing it in practice and then seeing it in a game and reacting to it, those are two different things."

After the loss to Indianapolis, the Eagles are trying to sell the idea that Peyton Manning went 3-13 last year and now is playing like a polished quarterback in his second season. But, at this point, McNabb appears to be several years behind Manning.

McNabb does seem to match Manning in one area -- he's mature enough to know he's accountable for his play.

When he was asked how much of the responsibility he took for the lopsided loss to the Colts, he said, "All of it."

Unless the Redskins gift-wrap the game the way they did the first time, they figure to confuse McNabb and get an easy victory.

Washington knows what's at stake.

If the Redskins get swept by an Eagles team that comes in with a 3-8 record, Turner might as well start cleaning out his desk.

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