McNabb must move on, make problems with Bucs stop here

ON THE NFL

Monday Morning Qb

October 23, 2006|By KEN MURRAY

Donovan McNabb has been here before, throwing interceptions to Ronde Barber, throwing up between plays, throwing points away at the end of a half with bad clock management.

But if the Philadelphia Eagles are going to return to the playoffs this season, their five-time Pro Bowl quarterback has to leave his personal baggage in Tampa Bay.

For the second straight week, the Eagles suffered an agonizing last-play loss after a valiant comeback erased a horrid start. The 23-21 loss to the Buccaneers yesterday brought back memories of some of McNabb's worst career moments.

Like the NFC championship game in the 2002 season when Barber's 92-yard interception return for a touchdown sent the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl. Barber returned two interceptions for touchdowns of 37 and 66 yards yesterday.

Like the Super Bowl two seasons ago, when McNabb was retching on the field when he needed to move into a hurry-up mode in a loss to the New England Patriots. In yesterday's extreme heat - the temperature on the field was over 100 degrees - he once again hit the wall.

And as he has done in the past, McNabb squandered a scoring opportunity at the end of the first half when the Bucs' defense baited him into throwing underneath coverage and tight end L.J. Smith was tackled at the 2 as the half ended. In a two-point loss, that was huge. McNabb had to throw into the end zone to at least preserve the chance for a field goal.

The result is that the Eagles, with 506 yards of offense, lost to the Bucs, with 196 yards, on a 62-yard field goal by Matt Bryant on the final play.

McNabb has been spectacular this season, throwing for 16 touchdowns, three in Tampa. But after back-to-back road losses, the Eagles' margin of error is greatly reduced. Their soft early-season schedule generated a 4-3 record, and they play four of their last six games on the road, three against NFC East opponents.

Anxious QB moments

Week 7 produced two frightening reminders of why the NFL tries mightily to protect its quarterbacks from dangerous blows in the pocket.

Case 1: Midway through the third quarter of a shootout in Atlanta, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down in a heap when sandwiched by Falcons pass rushers Chauncey Davis and Patrick Kerney.

Davis appeared to deliver a helmet-to-helmet hit to the quarterback's face while Kerney hit him from behind. Roethlisberger was down on the field for an extended time and had to be helped off. At that point, the Steelers led 24-21. Even though his replacement, Charlie Batch, performed admirably, the Steelers lost to the Falcons, 41-38, in overtime.

It's a strange kind of season in Pittsburgh, where it's later than the 2-4 Steelers think.

Case 2: Matt Hasselbeck of the Seattle Seahawks went down early in the second half when Minnesota Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson rolled up on his right leg after an incompletion. Hasselbeck suffered a knee sprain but walked into the locker room. In his place, Seneca Wallace threw two interceptions and fumbled twice. Not surprisingly, the Seahawks lost, 31-13, in a game that dropped them into a first-place tie in the NFC West with the idle St. Louis Rams.

It was not known how serious either injury was, but neither team can afford to lose its quarterback and remain in the playoff hunt.

Vick debate rages on

The Steelers' loss to the Falcons was easily the most entertaining game of Week 7. Roethlisberger (three) and Batch (two) combined for five touchdown passes, but Atlanta's Michael Vick prevailed with his career-high four touchdown throws.

The debate about whether Vick can play in the pocket has resurfaced. After complaining last week about the Falcons' run-oriented scheme, Vick threw 30 times for 232 yards and ran sparingly. Vick used his legs and his arm on the big play of overtime, a 26-yard pass to Alge Crumpler. On third-and-nine, Vick eluded Troy Polamalu on a sprintout and found Crumpler to set up Morten Andersen's game-winning field goal.

The question is whether Vick throwing the ball 30 times is a detriment to the Falcons' chance of winning. It wasn't yesterday, but for the Falcons to be a viable passing team, coach Jim Mora will have to commit to the pass in a big way.

Journeyman Huard shines

Quarterback Damon Huard, a 10-year journeyman who before this season hadn't started a game since 2000, has come up big for the Kansas City Chiefs. He is 3-2 since replacing injured starter Trent Green in Week 2, but yesterday's 30-27 victory over the San Diego Chargers was his proudest moment. Coming off a 45-7 loss in Pittsburgh, Huard threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns. He completed three passes for 52 yards to set up Lawrence Tynes' game-winning 53-yard field goal.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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