- Associated Press - Sunday, November 14, 2010

WASHINGTON | It would be all too easy to say Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb simply want to finish the game.

But it’s not just whether you finish, it’s how you finish, and Monday night’s game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins has all the appearances of a midseason turning-point moment.

Should the Eagles win, the NFC East changes from a three-horse race to a two-horse dash. The Eagles (5-3) and New York Giants (6-2 entering Sunday’s game vs. Dallas) would separate themselves from the Redskins (4-4), who would drop below .500 and have the focus shift even more to coach Mike Shanahan’s long-term retooling and McNabb’s uncertain future.

If the Redskins win, they would not only move into a tie with the Eagles, but they would also be 3-0 within the division with two games still to play against the Giants. The playoffs would be very much in play.

“For us to be where we need to be, we need this game,” Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “There’s no secrets about it.”

The best-case for the Redskins would be a win with a stellar performance from McNabb, punctuated by a game-winning, no-huddle drive in the fourth quarter. This is one time where it probably works better to come from behind and win by a little instead of running away in a rout, because it would temper the uproar created by Shanahan’s decision to replace McNabb with Rex Grossman in the final two minutes of a loss to the Detroit Lions.

The benching stunned everyone, especially McNabb, but Shanahan made things worse by his clumsy and varying attempts to explain it. Everyone has had two weeks to stew over it — the Redskins had a bye last week — and McNabb hashed things out with coaches while resting the sore hamstrings that Shanahan belatedly claimed played a part in the decision. The ongoing story has made the break feel like one of the longest ever, and everyone is anxious just to get on with the next game.

“Nobody likes to get pulled, especially a competitor like him,” Shanahan said. “I understand his frustration. It’s something that we talk about, we deal with, and we move on.”

Vick didn’t even make it through the first quarter the first time the Eagles and Redskins played last month. His ribs were squished when Kareem Moore and Hall sandwich-tackled him at the end of a long run, changing the complexion of a game that the Redskins went on to win, 17-12.

Vick missed three games, but he has come back strong, leading a victory over the Indianapolis Colts last week and topping the NFL with a passer rating of 105.3. He hasn’t thrown an interception or lost a fumble all season, and the Redskins game is the only one he’s started that the Eagles didn’t win.

“It was an unfortunate hit,” Philadelphia tight end Brent Celek said. “I don’t anybody’s super-mad about it, but he would love to play the Redskins, for sure.”

The best-case scenario for the Eagles, therefore, is a big win in which Vick remains a dual threat but wisely runs out of bounds when he should to minimize the chances of getting hurt again. In addition, although no one on the team will say it outright, every win by Vick and the Eagles and every loss by the Redskins helps justify the decision to trade McNabb to a division rival after 11 years in Philadelphia.

“Mike’s playing the quarterback position at a high level,” Philadelphia offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “Mike’s a calm, cool, collected customer now. There’s no question about that. Most of that’s learned, and then you got some of it natural, but he’s pretty good that way.”


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