Sunday, October 11, 2009
McNabb's strong return makes Wildcat moot
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
Howard Smith/US Presswire
Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb came back strong from a rib injury Sunday, leading the Eagles to a 33-14 win over Tampa Bay.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
PHILADELPHIA -- Lost in Andy Reid's pursuit of Wildcat lore is the fact that he has one of the best quarterbacks in the league on his roster. On Sunday at the Linc, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb reminded everyone how nice it is to have a primary quarterback who can dominate a game in a 33-14 victory over the winless Bucs.
Playing with a protective vest for his injured rib, McNabb completed 16-of-21 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns. It was hard for Reid to revel in his Wildcat genius -- the Eagles call it the Spread Eagle -- because rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin kept getting open on deep balls from McNabb.
It was 21-7 at halftime -- and the Eagles had the ball for only 8 minutes, 53 seconds. (It was one of those rare times when winning the time-of-possession battle meant absolutely nothing.) Vick is supposed to strike fear into the hearts of defenses because of his dual-threat abilities. But he was nothing more than a sideshow Sunday.
On the Eagles' first play from scrimmage, McNabb scrambled for 13 yards. He turned the corner and then won a race to the sideline. It was an immediate sign that he was planning to use all of his tools -- and that forced Reid to keep his toys off the field.
"I saw him run the football, and I wasn't sure that would be quite as much of his game today as it was early," Reid said in his typical deadpan. "He did a nice job with it and was smart getting out of bounds."
When the Bucs briefly made it a game late in the first half, McNabb responded with a 17-yard scramble and a 40-yard touchdown pass to Maclin. Every time a Bucs defender made contact with McNabb, which wasn't often, the crowd held its breath. But the quarterback popped up quickly every time.
"I felt pretty good," McNabb said in response to a question about his fractured rib. "In this whole process, it's going to take time. I was able to move around and be very effective in a lot of different things we were doing, pick up some first downs with my legs, so it's always good to do different things like that."
Reid called six plays out of the Wildcat formation -- and they yielded 16 yards. Vick continues to deliver some of the cleanest handoffs in the league, but we're still waiting to see him throw the ball downfield from the formation. Vick had X-rays taken on his ribs after the game. He said they came back negative, but it was obvious he was in some pain.
Vick didn't seem overly concerned about his limited role in the offense.
"There's no need to come in and interrupt the offense when it's going like that," Vick said. "I felt like Donovan was going strong in the first half, so I understand not wanting to force anything."
Vick saw time as a conventional quarterback in the final five minutes and it's obvious that's the role he wants in the future, although I doubt it will be with the Eagles. Vick completed a short pass to DeSean Jackson and followed it up with a wild throw to the sideline. On third-and-9, he scrambled for 11 yards and finished with a headfirst slide that probably caused Reid to cringe.
But this game belonged to McNabb. On the 31 plays he participated in, the Eagles had 295 yards. On the 17 other plays, the Eagles managed 30 yards. Of course, the Eagles will continue to say they haven't shown us all their wrinkles. Their three wins have come against teams that have combined for a 1-13 record. It's pretty much impossible to draw any meaningful conclusions about this team -- other than the fact that their conventional offense seems to be in pretty good shape. Even Reid would admit that his sacred Wildcat left a little to be desired Sunday.
Some more postgame nuggets:
Eagles tight end Brent Celek may have had the most memorable play of the game: Midway through the second quarter, McNabb found Celek racing down the left sideline for a 38-yard completion. Celek, who finished with four catches for 58 yards, hurdled an unsuspecting Ronde Barber and kept running. It was an incredibly athletic play for the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Celek, but he's not sure at this point whether it will become his signature move.
"I know that most defensive backs are going to go low when they tackle you," Celek told me. "So I just decided to go over him. He came up to me after the game and complimented me."
Celek also wanted to know how many catches Cowboys tight end Jason Witten had. He's watched a lot of film of Witten and he loves measuring himself against the Pro Bowl tight end.
I'm afraid that Kevin Curtis has lost his starting job: Rookie Jeremy Maclin had six catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns. He told me after the game that he forgot to keep the football after his first NFL touchdown, but he didn't seem too concerned. He was filling in for starter Kevin Curtis (knee), but there's no way Reid can take him out of the lineup at this point.
"You just have to make the best of your opportunity," Maclin said. "It's unfortunate that Kevin got hurt, but it was fortunate for me to be there and step into that role. When he does get back healthy, he is going to be a guy who is going to help us. We are just going to let the coaches decide what is going to go on."