- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 14, 2002

The Philadelphia Eagles were supposed to be done without Donovan.
Arguably no player in the league meant more to his team than strong-armed, fleet quarterback Donovan McNabb did to the otherwise offensively colorless Eagles. So when McNabb broke his right ankle four weeks ago while leading Philadelphia past Arizona, there was grief in the city of cheesesteaks and soft pretzels.
The 76ers had come up short in the 2000 NBA Finals, the Flyers are continual postseason failures and the Phillies haven't been serious contenders since Bill Clinton was a White House rookie. The Eagles were the shining hope for ever-passionate Philly fans to savor their first championship since Moses and the Doctor led the Sixers to an NBA title in 1983.
But now the marvelous McNabb was down and out for the final six games of the regular season and quite possibly the playoffs if any. Never-was Koy Detmer and raw A.J. Feeley were McNabb's possible replacements. The Eagles' path to their first Super Bowl berth in 22 years seemed impossibly blocked. Even defending the NFC East title appeared in jeopardy with the New York Giants just a game behind and the teams meeting in the season finale at the Meadowlands.
"The hearts of the fans and the media may have sank to their feet when Donovan was hurt, but we knew that Koy and A.J. were smart players," Eagles record-setting kick returner Brian Mitchell said. "Our offense didn't have a guy who could make something spectacular out of nothing, but our defense and special teams were intact. All those people who were writing us off have had to eat crow."
With Detmer performing splendidly before dislocating his left elbow late in the third quarter, Philadelphia crushed NFC West champion San Francisco. Feeley then led the Eagles past St. Louis and Seattle in his first two starts. Detmer is healing, but Feeley is expected to start again tomorrow against the Washington Redskins in the last regular-season game at Veterans Stadium as Philadelphia (10-3) looks to wrap up the NFC East and keep homefield advantage for the conference playoffs.
"Donovan's a great quarterback and we do miss him, but this is not a one-man show," Pro Bowl defensive end Hugh Douglas said. "The show must go on. Koy and A.J. came in and have done what they were supposed to do. They haven't missed a beat."
Indeed, Detmer compiled an astounding 121.8 passer rating against the 49ers, while Feeley is at 81.0 not far behind McNabb's season mark of 86.0.
"We had liked what we had seen up to the point that A.J. had to play, but you never know about a quarterback until he has to get into the action," coach Andy Reid said. "A.J.'s leadership has been great, his presence in the huddle, his composure."
And McNabb, who immediately began rehabilitation after having the cast removed from his ankle Monday, could return as soon as the playoff opener, especially if the Eagles earn one of the NFC's two first-round byes.
"I hope Donovan doesn't rush back," Mitchell said. "It will be a great plus to have him back, but we want him to come back healthy. Getting homefield advantage would be great, but if we just take care of business the rest of the way, that will take of itself."
With division lightweights Washington and Dallas ahead before the Giants, homefield advantage is there for the taking. That sure beats playing the NFC Championship game on Green Bay's frozen tundra or in Tampa, where the Buccaneers are 24-7 over the last four years.
"We still have a lot of football to play," Douglas said. "Don't get your tickets ready for the big dance yet. We're just trying to hold the fort until Donovan gets back."
The Eagles have done that largely because, as Mitchell pointed out, their defense led by Douglas (11 sacks) and the NFL's top secondary with cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor and safeties Brian Dawkins and Blaine Bishop remains ferocious and their kicking and return games sterling. Only the Buccaneers allow fewer points, and they're also the only NFC team giving up fewer yards. David Akers is the NFC's most accurate kicker and Mitchell is among the top seven in both kickoff and punt returns.
"The Eagles have so many veterans and they're well-coached, so I'm not surprised that they've kept winning," Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey said. "What has surprised me is that they've made it look so easy."

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