- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003


Yesterday was not the day for Donovan McNabb to have a Rush Limbaugh-type game. By Rush Limbaugh-type game, I mean a game in which he looked like an overrated quarterback on a team carried by its defense. That’s how Limbaugh described McNabb last Sunday on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” — in between his blatherings about the liberal media being biased in favor of black QBs — and that’s pretty much how the Eagles’ 27-25 victory over the Redskins went.

McNabb, in other words, provided little highlight film material; and the Philly ‘D’ did most of the heavy lifting by scoring one touchdown, setting up another and essentially limiting the Redskins to four field goals (aside from a gimmie 1-yard scoring drive after an interception) until the closing seconds.

So it will go for McNabb … until he starts playing like the McNabb of old, which he has yet to do this year. Every game he has will be measured against Limbaugh’s misguided comments. When he goes 16 of 30 for 157 yards with two INTs and a single touchdown pass — as was the case yesterday — and the Eagles defense dominates the action for much of the afternoon, a segment of the population will hold it up as evidence that “Rush was right.” And if Donovan ever has an entire season like that, well, God help the guy.

The reason I call Limbaugh’s comments “misguided” have nothing to do with his media imaginings and everything to do with his assessment of McNabb’s football abilities — an assessment that stems, quite obviously, from a limited understanding of Donovan’s situation in Philadelphia. That “situation,” as the game against the Redskins again showed, may be the worst of any star quarterback in the league.

Brett Favre has Ahman Green. Jeff Garcia has Terrell Owens. Daunte Culpepper has Randy Moss. Peyton Manning has Marvin Harrison. Drew Bledsoe has Eric Moulds and Travis Henry. Rich Gannon has Jerry Rice and Charlie Garner. (And Kurt Warner was surrounded by an embarrassment of riches, a veritable all-star team, when he started for the Rams.)

Who exactly does Donovan McNabb have? Chad Lewis is the only skill position player on the roster who would be considered above average, and he’s a tight end, not a game-breaker. James Thrash? Are you kiddin’ me? Duce Staley? Brian Westbrook? Name one quarterback who would put up big numbers playing amid that kind of talent.

The club’s philosophy in recent years has been clear: Load up on defense, and let Donovan figure out something on offense. And the thing is, he usually does. But his stats are never going to be as stunning as other QBs’. He’s never going to complete 69 percent of his passes, like Troy Aikman did one season. He’s ever going to throw for 48 TDs, like Dan Marino once did (or even 30, maybe). He’s not a pure passer; he’s a quarterback — q-u-a-r-t-e-r-b-a-c-k — a throwback to an earlier time, the kind of player who, as owner Jeffrey Lurie put it yesterday, “does whatever it takes to win — a run, a pass. Statistics don’t mean anything to him. It’s all about winning. That’s why his winning percentage is so high.”

“I wish everyone could see him out of my eyeballs,” Lewis said, “what it’s like to be with him on an everyday basis. Donovan’s made to be a football player. What a leader! We’re so lucky to have him.”

Fullback Jon Ritchie, who caught a 4-yard pass for the first Philly score, talked of the “whirlwind” of attention that whipped around McNabb all week and how “he was such a professional about it all. You’ve gotta admire the guy. He was able to handle the swirling adversity that came his way and took it for what it was — which was very little. He’s such a fantastic person.”

The best and worst of McNabb were on display yesterday — in the space of two second-quarter snaps. On the first, he threw a horrible interception to Jeremiah Trotter that got the Redskins back in the game after they had fallen behind 10-0. On the Eagles’ very next play, though, he bought some time with his feet and drilled a pass to Freddie Mitchell that turned into a 39-yard gain and led to a field goal.

Later on, when Philadelphia drove for what turned out to be the winning touchdown, McNabb converted a key third down by hurdling Redskins cornerback Rashad Bauman and stretching out for the last few necessary inches. Now there’s a play, a huge one, that won’t show up anywhere in his passer rating, but without it the Eagles might well be 1-3 this morning.

There was weariness in his face afterward as he discussed the week’s events. The days leading up to the game were “hard,” he said, “because [Limbaughs remarks were] sort of the thing that everybody wanted to talk about. But you’ve gotta be a strong man.”

So Donovan McNabb went out and did what he does most Sundays — he helped his club win the game. He doesn’t always do this prettily, but his teammates don’t seem to mind.

“There’s statistics,” said Lewis, “and there’s football.”

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