McNabb had right mental approach after benching

December 11, 2008 5:37:17 PM PST
Donovan McNabb may some day reveal the true emotions he felt after getting benched for the first time in his career. Now isn't the time. Not with the Philadelphia Eagles making a push for the playoffs and McNabb leading the way.

"The only thing I'm focused on at this particular point is playing the Cleveland Browns," McNabb said Thursday.

The Eagles (7-5-1) host the Browns (4-9) on Monday night in a game that has important playoff ramifications. No one could've imagined Philadelphia playing meaningful games 2½ weeks ago.

After McNabb got yanked at halftime of a 10-7 game at Baltimore on Nov. 23, the Eagles fell apart. A three-point deficit turned into a 36-7 rout. The Eagles were 5-5-1 and going nowhere. McNabb's future with the team after 10 seasons was clearly in doubt. His relationship with coach Andy Reid was being questioned.

Watching a healthy McNabb stand on the sideline in a hooded sweatshirt and jacket while Kevin Kolb ran the offense was strange. It seemed to signal the end of an era in Philadelphia.

McNabb never pouted, though. He didn't criticize coaches, blame his teammates or demand a trade. Instead, McNabb responded like a leader.

"He's always been positive," running back Brian Westbrook said. "He remained the leader of this team, a person that everybody on the team looks at as the leader and goes to for advice. That situation with being benched, I'm sure it was a situation that made him sad or depressed or whatever. But he came back to work, worked hard to be that leader and he helped us win those last two games."

Behind McNabb's arm and Westbrook's legs, the Eagles beat NFC West champion Arizona 48-20 on Thanksgiving and upset the conference-leading Giants 20-14 at New York last Sunday.

Philadelphia now sits a half-game behind Dallas and Atlanta, both 8-5, for the final wild-card spot. The Eagles will make the playoffs if they win the last three games and the Falcons lose once.

McNabb has completed 67 percent of his passes (46-for-69) for 451 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions since his benching. Reid said the five-time Pro Bowl quarterback just needed a break from the action.

"He's a great player," Reid said. "Sometimes you just need to take a step back and things kind of clear up for you. He's playing great football right now."

Did McNabb learn anything from watching?

"No," he said flatly.

Even if it didn't help McNabb, Reid's decision to yank his QB had an impact on the rest of the team.

"Guys started playing better," Westbrook said. "I don't know if it's because Donovan got benched. I know I had to take my game to another level. I wasn't able to help him enough. In order for him to be the effective quarterback we all know he can be, he needs a running back to help him out and I wasn't doing my job good enough."

Slowed by injuries most of the year, Westbrook has 241 yards rushing and 92 more receiving in the last two games. The running backs have carried 66 times during those games, taking pressure off McNabb.

"He's not throwing 50 passes a game. I think that's helped him out," Westbrook said.

McNabb hasn't started a playoff game since the Eagles lost the 2005 Super Bowl to New England. Jeff Garcia led Philly to the second round of the playoffs in 2006 after McNabb tore a knee ligament in mid-November.

"You play to make the playoffs and put yourself in position to make the Super Bowl," McNabb said. "I don't look at it as the last time I was there as a starter. I was part of the team that made it with Jeff Garcia. It was a different position for me."

It'll be a more familiar feeling if he's taking the snaps should the Eagles reach the playoffs again.


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