Crossing pattern for QBs

November 24, 2008|By RICK MAESE | RICK MAESE,rick.maese@baltsun.com

Trains pass each other in the dead of night, the darkness hiding their direction and the wind drowning their whistles.

Football teams, however, pass each other on Sundays, in broad daylight with television cameras capturing every detail. The moment at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday was poetic. After the Ravens' 36-7 triumph over the Eagles, the rookie quarterback crossed the field to seek out the veteran.

Joe Flacco was 13 years old when Donovan McNabb entered the NFL. He grew up outside Philadelphia and followed McNabb's career closely. There they were on the field, trains passing in front of thousands of witnesses.

Flacco greeted McNabb and asked him whether he was OK. McNabb, who had just been benched for the first time in his life, said he was fine. After a few pleasantries, they parted ways.

It's too simple to say they were headed for separate locker rooms. In truth, the two are headed for very different futures. And so are their head coaches and their teams.

With a swarming defense and a just-good-enough offense, the Ravens should be in playoff contention a month from now. The Eagles, meanwhile, will be mired in turmoil. They're just now hitting their bottom, finally forced to accept that change is necessary. It's a familiar position around here; the Ravens reluctantly confronted that difficult reality at this point a season ago.

But while the Eagles have a laundry list of decisions to make, the Ravens have turned their corner. They've made the necessary changes and in a relatively short period of time appear to have put their train back on postseason tracks.

McNabb, who has more wins and touchdowns than anyone else who has ever slipped on an Eagles jersey, was pulled from the game at halftime yesterday. At the time, Philadelphia's 10-year veteran was less effective than the Ravens' 10-game veteran, which is surprising considering that Flacco was 5-for-16 for just 59 yards after two quarters. McNabb, who had committed six turnovers in six quarters heading into yesterday's contest, threw two first-half interceptions and lost a fumble. His quarterback rating was 13.2.

Trying to salvage anything from a season suddenly in a free fall, head coach Andy Reid sent an assistant coach to inform McNabb he would be watching the second half from the sideline.

The quarterback's reaction mirrored that of fans at home, reporters in the press box and the Ravens on the opposing sideline. "Wow," McNabb thought.

His replacement, Kevin Kolb, who had thrown nine passes in his pro career before yesterday, was no more effective, throwing two more interceptions and completing 10 of 23 passes for 73 yards.

It was no doubt a difficult decision for Reid. He paced the sideline yesterday as if it were his personal green mile. Across the field, John Harbaugh, Reid's former assistant, was getting doused with a bucketful of colored sports drink. They, too, met at midfield later, when the stands were empty enough to hear even a train's faint whistle.

"There's no way to describe it," Harbaugh said about facing Reid. "It was meaningful looking across, seeing Andy Reid over there."

While Harbaugh's future in Baltimore couldn't look brighter, Reid probably realizes that McNabb might not be the answer, but Kolb is barely even a question mark.

In a post-game interview, Reid was his usual terse and gruff self. "It's about me," Reid said. "I'll be the first one to tell you it's about me."

Then he finally chatted with McNabb for a few minutes. The quarterback exited the meeting in a towel and then slowly dressed. Kolb whispered something in his ear. Quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur put an arm around him before leaving.

A locker room away, Flacco had only a handful of reporters to face. (Flacco's own game wasn't especially impressive, though he did finish with 183 yards and two touchdowns.) He was matter-of-fact and readily acknowledged it was a tough game.

"I have been watching [McNabb] for a long time now, growing up watching the Eagles," Flacco said. "It was pretty cool to be able to go up and play those guys - and of course, come out with a win."

Down a corridor, McNabb, fully dressed, was finally beckoned into the interview room.

Yes, he was surprised to be benched. No, he doesn't know if he'll start next week. And no, he's not worried about the future.

"When you play a game like this, you don't focus on the future," he said. "You just focus on trying to win the game."

Good or bad, win or lose, a head coach and his quarterback become symbols - for both failing franchises and a thriving ones.

In Philadelphia, Reid, McNabb and the Eagles - once the class of the league - wake up today in the midst of a free fall.

And in Baltimore, just an hour away by train, the circumstances couldn't be more different. Sure, the team can sympathize - birds of a feather, right? - but with Harbaugh and Flacco taking their lumps and still pulling out wins, they have to feel pretty good about their direction.

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