ASHBURN, Va. | Donovan McNabb spent months downplaying his inevitable return to Philadelphia in a Washington Redskins uniform. But he knows it’s a pretty big deal, a game that won’t feel like any other.
He said he’s not changing his approach this week, that it’s more important from the Redskins‘ perspective to bounce back after an embarrassing loss to St. Louis.
But the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback dropped a hint or two about the special nature of his first trip back to his old stomping grounds.
“Every player has a chip on their shoulder about something,” McNabb said. “Is this something that I use? Maybe just an added chip, I guess. But I’ve got a whole season ahead of me, and that’s what I focus on.”
Fair enough, but his teammates and coach know the feelings are bound to be much stronger Sunday when the Redskins visit the Philadelphia Eagles, especially for a player facing a team that traded him after an 11-year run that turned a franchise into a perennial contender.
“I think it’s always a tough situation for anybody,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “I think it’s one that you kind of look forward to. Even though there’s a lot of pressure, you pretend like there’s not and it doesn’t matter, but it always does. You’d like to play your best.”
Players return to play their former teams all the time, but this one is unique. McNabb had a love-hate relationship with the notorious Eagles fans from the day he was drafted — when he was booed by a group that wanted Ricky Williams instead — even though the ensuing years produced the Pro Bowl seasons and a trip to the Super Bowl.
While he was a good guy on and off the field, some grew tired of McNabb’s quirky personality and perceived oversensitivity by the time he was traded to — of all things — a division rival.
Will McNabb hear cheers or boos on Sunday?
“Hopefully cheers. It’s been 11 great years. I mean, you wouldn’t expect me to say I’m going to get booed, would you? But 11 years have been great, and that’s one you just can’t forget,” he said. “There were a lot of people who were accepting of the things I was able to do, and respected me as a person and as a player, so I do feel like I was appreciated there.”
But would he be surprised if they booed?
“No,” he said. “Anything’s possible.”
McNabb called the upcoming game a “must-win,” an unusual proclamation to hear from the leader of a team with a 1-2 record. A victory would move the Redskins into a first-place tie with the Eagles and give Washington a 2-0 record in the NFC East, while a loss would create a demoralizing three-game losing streak with more tough opponents to come in each of the next three weeks.
“This game has a lot more meaning to us than just ‘Win one for the Gipper,’ if you want to throw Donovan’s name in there,” center Casey Rabach said. “But it’s a big game for us any way you look at it.”
McNabb doesn’t mind if his teammates rally around him, as long as it helps motivate them to win.
“If it’s an added bonus for them to try to win this game for me, that’s great. But there’s more motivation into this game than everything we’ve been talking about,” he said.
McNabb is off to a decent start with the Redskins as he tries to master a new offense. He had a superb first half in a loss to Houston, but his overall stats are comparable to Jason Campbell’s numbers from 2009. McNabb has a 60.8 completion percentage with two touchdowns, one interception and an 89.2 rating.
“Listen, I’m a huge Donovan McNabb fan,” Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said. “I told him that I’m still pulling for him — but for two games.”
McNabb said he’s never been inside the visiting locker room at Lincoln Financial Field. That’ll be just part of the strangeness he’ll experience on Sunday in a game that was circled on the calendar by NFL fans across the country the day the schedule came out.
“I’m sure I’ll probably I’ll have some type of feelings,” he added. “Who doesn’t have feelings getting ready for a game? But I just hope I walk out the right tunnel.”
Notes: P Josh Bidwell’s ailing right hip was examined by a doctor in Tennessee on Wednesday. The Redskins have worked out other punters and will probably make a roster move on Friday unless Bidwell makes a dramatic improvement. … LT Trent Williams (knee, toe) is “still a little bit sore,” according to Shanahan. Williams missed the game against St. Louis and was limited in practice Wednesday. … CB DeAngelo Hall came down with a sore back Wednesday and was limited. “I don’t think it’s too serious,” Shanahan said. … DL Anthony Bryant (concussion) and G Kory Lichtensteiger (knee) were also limited. … DL Albert Haynesworth is on the injury list yet again, this time with an unspecified thumb injury. Haynesworth has already had knee and ankle setbacks this season, but he was able to take part in the full practice Wednesday.
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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