- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Donovan McNabb is back, as promised. And both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons at least ever-mouthy cornerback Ray Buchanan are happy.

The NFC East champion Eagles are thrilled they will have the Pro Bowl quarterback, who missed eight weeks with a broken right ankle, as they pursue their first Super Bowl trip in 22 years.

"[Backups Koy Detmer and A.J. Feely] came in and did a great job, but to have Donovan back is a positive," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "You're talking about a guy who was right there as the top player in the National Football League. To say you don't miss a guy like that is silly. That's not slighting the other guys and the job they did. You always want your starters back in there."

Buchanan, whose Falcons face the Eagles in an NFC divisional playoff game Saturday night in Philadelphia, is glad to get a rusty McNabb rather than third-stringer A.J. Feeley, who went 4-1 in relief of McNabb and the injured Detmer.

"We'd probably rather see McNabb because he's not as mobile right now," Buchanan said. "I think if we play McNabb, we have a better chance."

McNabb didn't just dismiss the naysayers; he welcomed them.

"If they feel that way, that's great," McNabb said. "I hope [the Falcons] do target my injury.

"According to everyone else, I'm not mobile anymore. I'll just let people continue to think that. When the time comes, we'll make sure that I showcase that a little bit."

Writers who cover the Eagles regularly said whatever trace of the limp McNabb had last week was gone yesterday and that he looked like his old self. Reid said McNabb will be even more mobile than when he last played because the ankle is healed.

"You can tell exactly where Donovan's at when he hits the game speed and the adrenaline starts flowing," Reid said. "I want him to execute the offense just like he's been doing over the years and probably be a little more mobile than he was in the Arizona game and just be Donovan. That's all I need."

The Eagles didn't need McNabb down the stretch. Detmer started strongly against the San Francisco 49ers in the first game after McNabb was hurt. He led the Eagles to a big lead and produced a 115.8 passer rating but dislocated an elbow in the second half and was replaced by Feeley. In his first significant NFL action, Feeley finished off the 49ers and led the Eagles in solid but not spectacular fashion to victories over the St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. However, he struggled in a season-ending loss to the New York Giants with the division title already secured.

Reid never hesitated putting McNabb back in the lineup, though history gave him examples on both sides.

Last season, the New England Patriots stayed with the previously unknown Tom Brady after longtime starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe was healthy again and won the Super Bowl. On the other hand, the only perfect team in NFL history, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, went back to starter Bob Griese for the playoffs after backup Earl Morrall had preserved the undefeated regular season, and they, too, won the Lombardi Trophy.

"Donovan will be the starter," said Reid, whose 12-4 Eagles returned to practice yesterday after last weekend's first-round bye. "He has worked very hard at getting himself back into shape in both his legs and his arm. He feels very comfortable right now, he's pain free and has looked sharp. It was just a matter of him continuing to push through and getting himself ready to play in a game.

"I'm comfortable with him right now. He'll continue to practice this week and sharpen everything up, and I'm not worried about him."

McNabb isn't worried, either naturally.

"I'm just excited about the opportunity of getting back out there and playing," McNabb said. "I feel good. I'm able to do a lot of things I've been doing from before I got hurt."

McNabb was having a career year when he was injured against the Arizona Cardinals on Nov.17, posting 17 touchdowns against only six interceptions, an 86.0 passer rating and six rushing touchdowns.

McNabb broke his ankle on the third play of the Eagles' 38-14 victory over the Cardinals but refused to come out and tied a career high with four touchdown passes.

The Eagles have the NFL's No.4 defense, No.7 rushing offense and one of the best special teams, but few in Philadelphia could envision the team going all the way without its biggest star.

"When I was with Washington we used to have nightmares about Donovan," Eagles linebacker Shawn Barber said. "I still remember that one play when he ran out of my arm [tackle] and scrambled for another 60 yards and they won the game. So I had nightmares.

"But now they're dreams. I have good dreams about Donovan. I dream about him doing that to the opposing teams now. It's a good feeling having that kind of weapon on your team."


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