Like any Eagles fan, a feeling of satisfaction swam over me as I watched the Iggles knock off the Cowboys - in Dallas - 23-7, on Monday night. It was extra comforting that the game was never really in doubt. Looking at a week 17 match up that is far from a gimme, it's still pretty amazing that a playoff berth has been clinched and a win will give make the Eagles the winners of the NFC East - a turn of events that didn't seem possible when Philly lost Donovan McNabb for the season, and badly to the Tennessee Titans, to fall to 5-5 for the season.
Maybe I'm a pessimist or the historical failings of my favorite franchises - Eagles and Red Sox - kicked in, but when McNabb went down, I started thinking about next year. The loss the following week to a then-powerful Colts teams only cemented my feelings. And then a funny thing happened . . .
Missing its franchise and the primary participant of 65 percent of its plays, the Eagles' offense diversified. After throwing nearly 2 of every 3 snaps in games 1-9, the pass-rush ration settled in much closer to 1-to-1. Obviously, Jeff Garcia has been fantastic, averaging over 200 yards per game and throwing 10 touchdowns against just two interceptions. And he's been helped because with McNabb out, Brian Westbrook immediately became the most dangerous person on offense and the player opposing defenses keyed on. In a classic symbiotic relationship, Garcia has feasted on teams trying to stop Westbrook, forcing them to pay attention to him, which in turn, frees up Westbrook. I won't say the offense looks unstoppable, but they have done their job - get ahead so Jim Johnson's D can blitz, blitz, blitz.
Despite my breathless praise of this team above, what I've really been thinking about is the other two times McNabb has missed significant time due to injury. Along with 2002 and last year, 2005, this marks the third time in five seasons that McNabb has missed significant time. I'm going to leave the "is he injury prone?" conversation alone for now and focus on this: What happened after McNabb got hurt.
2002 and 2006 are reminiscent of one another. In 2002, McNabb injured his ankle toward the end of a 38-14 route of the Cardinals which, incidentally may have been his best passing performance at that point in his career. Like Garcia, who has won four straight games (after finishing a losing effort against the Titans and losing to the Colts the following week) to lead the Eagles to the playoffs, A.J. Feeley (currently Garcia's backup) stepped in in 2002 and did the same. The Eagles went on to appear in their second consecutive NFC Championship game (losing to Tampa Bay, 27-10) and would appear there again in 2003 and 2004, advancing to the Super Bowl only to lose to the Patriots in 2004.
As has been well-documented, 2005 was a completely different story. For starters, the injury was different. In 2002 and 2006, they were specific, acute injuries that were a result of a specific violent act. The 2005 edition was a sports hernia, an injury that could have happened at any time, and that allowed McNabb to play through the pain, albeit badly. Secondly, the backup quarterback play, from Mike McMahon and Mr. Neckbeard, Koy Detmer, was atrocious. And finally, a certain hall-of-fame wide receiver was tearing apart the team from the inside out over a couple million bucks.
Now let me state my position on Terrell Owens clearly. I am pissed about the way he acted in 2005. I think it was childish, greedy, stupid, and, ultimately, orchestrated by his agent. I also think he is an amazing talent. It was great watching him and McNabb, especially when they were on the same page, but even when they were "fueding" - they put up great numbers. All the chatter about Owens' drops this season are a red herring. He may be dropping more balls this year but the guy is playing with a wrecked finger and, more importantly, Owens has made his name by catching a ton of balls and what he does afterwards, not catching every single one. I think he was absolutely robbed when he was passed over for the Pro Bowl. Dude has missed two plus games and he still has nearly 80 catches, 1100 yards and, most importantly in the bottom line world of the NFL, 12 TDs. But most of all, I feel sorry for Owens. I feel sorry for him that he is so insecure, so eager for approval, wants so much to be liked, that he rejects and repels the people who can (and have tried) to give him the very thing he wants.
Say what you want about McNabb, but I look at him in stark contrast to Owens - not in on-field performance, but in his status as a leader and a team player. I'm not ready to give up my agent-orchestrated theory but Owens claimed that the source of his friction with the Eagles and specifically McNabb, was the quarterback's comments that the team didn't need Owens (after he broke his leg in 2004) to win. When I heard this, it smelled like revisionist history and was the served as the seed for my agent theory. Anyone who watches sports can spot a cliche or see through what an athelte has to say. Was McNabb supposed to say, "Shit, we're screwed" or "I give up, there's no way we can win without TO?" Of course not. He is the leader of a T-E-A-M. And as such, he had to pump up the guys who had to fill in for their injured star. Would he and every other Eagle rather have TO lining up? Hell yes, but that wasn't an option.
Meanwhile, McNabb has been hurt three times. And each time, the tea - as any team in that situation must do - tried to figure out how to overcome losing its best player. Do you think McNabb was upset to see Feeley and Garcia succeed? Do you think he felt threatened? To be fair, I have no idea. But I don't see McNabb stepping out and telling the media how the Eagles need him. I don't see his feelings being hurt when his teammates talk about moving on without him. And I don't see him demanding a new contract as proof that the team loves him best.
Whether he feels those things or not, he's not saying them. At least not publicly. And isn't that the point?
TO Needs a TO [55 Problems]