Though the surging Eagles proved victorious, the Philadelphia quarterback threw two costly interceptions and was charged with intentional grounding on a toss from his own end zone that resulted in a safety and two points for New York.
McNabb's miscues, however, were minimized by the stellar play of Philadelphia's defense, as well as a terrific tackle by Eagles wide receiver Kevin Curtis. McNabb's errors could have resulted in a possibly game-altering sixteen points for the Giants, but defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's stout unit kept the tally to a manageable eight points (two field goals allowed, to go with the two-point safety).
With the Eagles leading 10-8, Curtis prevented what looked to be a sure touchdown by Giants defensive lineman Fred Robbins. The wide out dove and seized Robbins' foot as the defender lumbered down the sidelines following his pilfer of a deflected McNabb pass.
The Eagles defense took over from there, keeping the Giants from a potential momentum-swinging seven points while likewise containing the damage created by their own quarterback.
McNabb statistics for the game were 22 completions out of 40 passes attempted for 217 yards. He had one touchdown and two interceptions to go with the intentional grounding penalty that resulted in the Eagles safety. McNabb completed just 55 percent of his tosses, and he finished the contest with a paltry quarterback rating of 58.2.
To help put that number into perspective, Cleveland Browns' signal caller Derek Anderson finished the season with a 66.5 quarterback rating. Anderson's figure represented the worst among all 32 regular 2008 NFL starters.
In fairness to McNabb, he did produce some clutch third down conversions for the Eagles and he also ran and passed for two short touchdowns (one passing, one rushing).
Credit, too, has to be given to Philadelphia offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and head coach Andy Reid. Late in the first half, with the Eagles offense sputtering, Philly began to run short, crossing routes that proved effective against the Giants' prevent defense.
This play calling allowed McNabb and his offensive teammates both to enjoy some success, and to start to settle into a groove that would carry over into the second half.
McNabb, however, threatened to give back that hard-earned momentum when he threw his second interception of the game just three plays into the third quarter. This was the pick that resulted in Kevin Curtis' terrific tackle of Fred Robbins.
It has been a long year for the Philadelphia veteran, despite his team's return to the NFC Championship game for the first time in four seasons. McNabb was benched for the first time in his career following a horrific stretch during November that saw the Eagles go 0-2-1 and fall to 5-5-1 for the season. That string of contests included McNabb's infamously admitting that he did not understand the NFL's rules concerning tie games following a draw against the lowly Cincinnati Bengals.
Fans and media alike were saying that the end of the McNabb Era in Philly was imminent. That the Eagles had drafted McNabb's assumed heir apparent, Kevin Kolb, with their first pick in the 2007 NFL Draft only increased the perception that the quarterback's time in The City of Brotherly Love was nearing an end. Things got so bad for McNabb that he was even booed during a blowout home win against pending NFC Championship opponent Arizona on Thanksgiving.
The worst may be over for the recently-beleaguered Eagles quarterback, however. Following last week's road playoff victory against the Minnesota Vikings—a game in which McNabb threw just one touchdown, was intercepted once and was stripped of the ball (Minnesota recovered) during one of the three times he was sacked—Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie publicly proclaimed that he wanted McNabb to return to the team for the 2009 season. This year also represented the first time in five seasons that the signal-caller did not miss any regular season games due to injury.
One somewhat surprising development for the Philadelphia quarterback and his many fans has been McNabb's proclivity of late towards calling attention to himself. The quarterback has long been regarded as something of an anti-Terrell Owens.
That is, the general perception of McNabb is that he is a humble, team-first player not given to public boasts or showboating antics.
The past several weeks, however, McNabb has done his best to dismiss that characterization. During the Eagles' game against Owens' Dallas Cowboys, the quarterback both demonstrably pointed to the name on the back of his jersey following a touchdown as well as appeared to mock Owens by flexing his muscles along the sidelines.
These displays followed a similar self-reverential moment that McNabb engaged in mere days after the Eagles' then-crushing defeat by the Washington Redskins late in the season. After being asked by a reporter how he would assess his 2008 performance, McNabb responded "I think I've played great."
Needless to say, that remark played extremely poorly amongst both the local Philly media and an Eagles fan base which had just experienced what they felt would be a playoff chance-ending loss.
The latest appearance of this McNabb 2.0 came today against the Giants. Late in the contest, with the Eagles firmly in control, McNabb was forced out of bounds along the Giants' sideline.
Instead of simply returning to the huddle immediately, the quarterback proceeded to pick up the receiver of a telephone intended for Giants players and coaches, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his efforts. No word yet on whether or not McNabb will be seeking to plant end zone celebration props such as pom-poms ahead of the game next week in Arizona.
The 'old' McNabb, conversely, seemed to reemerge during his post-game interview with FOX's Chris Myers. The quarterback implied that he should not have engaged in the telephone stunt.
The quandary for McNabb's backers is that it appears as though the quarterback may be becoming the kind of diva and showboat that he, and they, has often proclaimed they dislike.
To put it another way, how can you root for the anti-Owens if that individual is taking steps to mimic actions and statements you would expect to hear and see from Owens himself? McNabb's defenders have, so far, seemed to take the signal-caller's new-found bravado in stride.
The risk for the quarterback, though, is that his apparently revised personality may alienate those who have most strongly been in his corner up to this point.
For today, McNabb, his media supporters, and Eagles fans get the last laugh. Although the quarterback struggled against the Giants, the Eagles' coaching staff and defense picked up their player and teammate.
For McNabb's detractors, however, today's demonstration only feeds their longstanding argument which tends to run along these lines: The Eagles succeed despite McNabb, not because of him.
Which side is correct in their beliefs? That is open to interpretation, an example of beauty, or lack of same, being in the eye of the beholder.
McNabb now will have gone to five NFC Championship games, but he is still often recalled for what some believe to be a wanting performance in Super Bowl XXXIX. That loss, and the apparently literal throwing-up which the quarterback did late in the game, is still the lead sentence of McNabb's professional career.
There are those, including McNabb, who still say the Eagles quarterback was not ill late in the contest against the Patriots. Unfortunately for that contingent, McNabb's own playing history suggests that his reported Super Bowl affliction was hardly the first such time the leader of the Eagles offense had experienced this kind of episode on a football field.
Such instances provide further credence to the claims made by Owens, Hank Fraley, Freddie Mitchell and others about McNabb's constitution during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXIX.
In the same way that McNabb has been able to put this season's low points behind him, though, the quarterback now is presented with an opportunity to rewrite his NFL legacy. Should the Eagles win but two more games this postseason, Donovan McNabb becomes a permanent member of the Super Bowl ring fraternity.
Achieve that distinction and forever silence the doubters.
In order for McNabb to accomplish that goal, however, he is likely to have to significantly step-up his own performance relative to his outing against the Giants earlier today.
The defenses of AFC finalists Pittsburgh and Baltimore—ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in yards allowed during the regular season—need no elaboration. The Arizona Cardinals' rapidly improving defensive unit, similarly, possesses a top-five takeaway statistic.
The Cardinals are ball hawks, something which could spell disaster for the recently turnover-prone McNabb and his Eagles.
The upshot to all of this is that very few teams become Super Bowl champions featuring a Trent Dilfer clone at quarterback. There is only one 2000 Baltimore Ravens squad, much as there is but one 2007 New York Giants team. A quarterback rating of 58.2 is unlikely to be associated with a victorious team from this point forward in the postseason.
Winning is a great deodorant for any individual and his possibly-inferior performance. The Eagles have repeatedly shown during their current hot streak that they have a top-flight defense and coaches who are able to scheme their units to success. Though Philadelphia was not able to establish the run today, and despite McNabb's lacking production, the Eagles still prevailed by twelve points, on the road, against the Super Bowl champions.
That is not an accident.
Now is Donovan McNabb's time; this is his chance to show he is capable of leading a team to the Super Bowl without Number 81. It is McNabb's opportunity to forever end the notion that he is a choker who cannot win the big game.
The Eagles were victorious today despite three McNabb miscues and his overall sub-par play. Philadelphia is likely to need better output from its quarterback if it is to advance to, and win, Super Bowl XLIII.
Will Donovan McNabb be able to rise up and meet that challenge?
Can he, once and for all, quiet the critics who have disparaged everything from his leadership to his accuracy?
Stay tuned. And get your popcorn ready.
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