McNabb running show again in Philly

QB's scrambling ability key as Eagles look to end NFC title game struggles

January 15, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Donovan McNabb looked more like a high-rolling corporate executive than a high-rolling NFL quarterback, resplendent in a gray, pinstriped suit and stylish cornrows.

This was 30 minutes after his Philadelphia Eagles pulled the great escape of the postseason. They needed all of regulation to catch the Green Bay Packers and then a couple of big breaks in overtime to beat them on Sunday.

McNabb arrived in the post-game interview room with a demeanor that implied he already had moved past Green Bay, past this fantastic finish, and on to his own personal house of horrors.

Asked where he ranked the improbable 20-17 win, he was succinct.

"I think that would be up to you guys. For me, I am moving onto the third round of the championship with a whole new mind-set," he said.

It was business, not pleasure, and McNabb, 27, oozed intensity.

The NFC championship game comes back to Philadelphia on Sunday. In McNabb's fifth pro season, this is his fourth playoff team and third conference championship game.

The previous two title games ended with brutal interceptions and bitter defeats.

Somehow, McNabb has to find a way to get the Eagles past the Carolina Panthers, over the championship game hump and all the way to the Super Bowl. His ultimate place in football history depends on it.

And yet, in a season when the hometown fans called for his benching, when a media personality insisted he was overrated, McNabb might have his best opportunity to make it happen.

That's because circumstances have taken him back to doing what he does best - running with the ball.

McNabb has spent the better part of the past two regular seasons trying to prove he can be a pocket passer. Defensive coordinators around the league were thankful - not because McNabb can't pass, but because he didn't run.

Against Green Bay, McNabb passed for 248 yards and ran for 107. The latter figure was a playoff record for quarterbacks, breaking the mark set 53 years ago by Hall of Famer Otto Graham.

McNabb had runs of 41, 22 and 24 yards against a blitzing defense that didn't count on him running.

"You can [talk about] all that spy stuff," Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. "That's all well and good. But he's usually going to out-athlete most people that spy on him anyway."

After losing all-purpose back Brian Westbrook to a torn triceps tendon late in the regular season, the Eagles needed a playmaker to step up. McNabb filled the void brilliantly.

For all of his big runs and the remarkable fourth-and-26 pass he made to Freddie Mitchell in the fourth quarter, it was a play McNabb made to start the final period that exemplified his unique ability.

On that play, he twisted and turned to elude two would-back tacklers in the backfield, then got to the perimeter, where he unloaded a perfect pass to Todd Pinkston in the corner of the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown to tie the game.

"It's instinct," McNabb said. "I try to do whatever my body tells me to do. If a guy is reaching his arms out, I'll try to knock them down and continue to move and keep momentum."

It is McNabb's locker room presence, though, that perhaps most endears him to his teammates.

"He is a special player because he's not a big-timer," tight end Chad Lewis said.

"You don't have to be a Pro Bowl player to get his attention. You just have to be here. And that's one reason why people gravitate to him, because he treats everyone with so much respect."

McNabb still had that respect after he started the season in a woeful slump. In his first seven games, his passer rating was just 54.8. In the last nine regular-season games, it was 99.6.

Coach Andy Reid never wavered in his support of McNabb.

"I trust him a lot," Reid said. "I trust him to run our offense and be the leader of the offense. His parents did a great job ... and he's got great instinct to do that with. Great character."

McNabb's experience in the past two NFC championship games is spotty. A year ago, he came back from a broken leg to play in the postseason and had a rough championship game (26-for-49) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Two years ago, he threw for a modest 171 yards in a loss to the St. Louis Rams.

"Obviously, not coming out on top of those games really does a lot for us mentally," he said. "For the leaders on this team, we've reached out to the rest of the guys just to let them know the importance of this game and the way of going out ... [and] making sure we're relaxed and confident."

NFL injury report

Sunday's games

Indianapolis at New England

COLTS: Out: TE Dallas Clark (ankle). Questionable: S Idrees Bashir (shoulder). Probable: S Cory Bird (leg/shoulder); S Mike Doss (ankle); CB Nicholas Harper (low back); CB Walt Harris (knee); WR Marvin Harrison (chest); DE Robert Mathis (groin); G Tupe Peko (shoulder); TE Marcus Pollard (ankle); CB Donald Strickland (knee/shoulder).

PATRIOTS: Doubtful: C Damien Woody (knee).

Carolina at Philadelphia

PANTHERS: Questionable: RB Stephen Davis (quadriceps).

EAGLES: Probable: RB Correll Buckhalter (knee); DE Jerome McDougle (arm); CB Troy Vincent (hip); DE Brandon Whiting (knee).

NFL playoffs

Conference championships

Sunday

AFC: Indianapolis (14-4) at New England (15-2) 3 p.m., chs. 13, 9. Line: N.E. by 3. NFC: Carolina (13-5) at Philadelphia (13-4), 6:45 p.m., chs. 45, 5. Line: Phi. by 4 1/2 .

Super Bowl

Feb. 1

At Houston, 6:25 p.m., chs. 13, 9

NFL playoffs

Sunday's conference finals

Indianapolis at New England (-3), 3 p.m., chs. 13, 9

Carolina at Philadelphia (-4 1/2 ) 6:45 p.m., chs. 45, 5

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.