You remember it is the preseason and you see Donovan McNabb on the sidelines early in the third quarter wearing a million-dollar smile and you put into perspective what his 11-of-24 passing performance really means in the big picture. Not much, honestly. The Eagles were not very good for three quarters and great for one quarter in Thursday night's 24-13 win over Carolina, and you can be sure Andy Reid will look very hard at what happened.
On a night when the game was delayed for 58 minutes by a driving rain storm complete with thunder and lightning, the Eagles fizzled until a superb fourth-quarter surge. McNabb missed a handful of receivers, and he had another half-dozen drops. The offense killed itself with penalties -- a Kevin Curtis blocking in the back penalty cost the Eagles a 14-yard gain and a first down on the offense's initial drive and the group committed six penalties in the first half -- and generally had no rhythm, no consistency, no punch.
But before delving into the whys and hows of the offense, the unit that stood out the most in a not-very-positive way was the special teams. It's the preseason, and you -- once again -- have to put things in perspective. But the special teams followed up its so-so performance in Pittsburgh with a poor performance against Carolina. Here are some points of emphasis that coordinator Rory Segrest must address ...
- Penalties cost the Eagles twice on returns -- first moving the Eagles from the 50-yard line after a DeSean Jackson 6-yard return to the Eagles 40-yard line and then costing another 10 yards on a punt return in the third quarter. Penalties are an absolute no-no in the return game.
- The kickoff return team failed to make a positive impact, and it is fair to question how long the Eagles continue to use Lorenzo Booker back there. In two preseason games, Booker has mishandled three kickoffs. He is struggling to catch the ball cleanly and start his way up the field. Even when Booker has caught the ball well, he hasn't hit the crease hard and threatened with a big return. Is it time to look more at Quintin Demps? Demps returned his lone kickoff 28 yards midway through the fourth quarter.
- The Eagles tried some razzle dazzle on an apparent field goal opportunity, but it backfired badly. Instead of allowing David Akers to try a 34-yard field goal, holder Sav Rocca tried a shovel pass to tight end Brent Celek on a fourth-and-3 snap. The Panthers had pressure off the edge, and Richard Marshall intercepted the pass and returned it 78 yards for a touchdowns. Akers later hooked a 45-yard field goal.
- Jackson danced too much on his first two punt returns, gaining five and six yards, respectively, but then he ripped off a 27-yard return and showed some of his explosive ability. Jackson fumbled on that play, though, and needs to remember to tuck the ball away every time he has it on the field. I'd like to see Jackson go a little more north-south, but that's nit-picking. Once he gets some experience, he will be dynamite.
- On the plus side for special teams, the kick coverage was terrific.
As for other observations, many of them much more positive than the review of the special teams ...
- Jed Collins started at fullback and did a good job. He made the tackle on the opening kickoff, gained three yards on a third-and-1 play, blocked well and established himself as the right-now starting fullback.
- Max Jean-Gilles had a couple of hands-to-the-face penalties and needs to be better on a consistent basis at tackle.
- Jackson looks like he could be a weapon in this ofense as a receiver. He is quick, fast, and creates separation.
- While Booker struggled on kickoff returns, he was outstanding running the football. He gained 24 yards on five carries in the third quarter.
- The defense was simply outstanding. Asante Samuel flashed right away, breaking up a first-drive pass intended for Muhsin Muhammad. The front four was very aggressive. Juqua Parker played well against rookie Jeff Otah. The linebackers flowed to the ball and the the safeties played well at the line of scrimmage. There are no complaints at all about the defense. Lito Sheppard picked off a pass, the team's first takeaway of the preseason.
- Who won a job in this game? It's very hard to tell. Nearly everybody dropped a pass. Only Jackson was a consistent threat in the passing game, with seven catches for 71 yards. He has 12 catches in two games. What a blah performance from the offense. Tony Hunt had a great second half, carrying five times for 79 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown run. Hunt was also outstanding on special teams. Will the Eagles keep four halfbacks?
- I think Kyle Arrington is coming on strong in his bid to earn the fifth cornerback job. He has size, he plays physical football and he moves well closing on the ball.
- Great play to ice the game. Quintin Demps tipped a Matt Moore pass and Justin Roland intercepted it and raced 74 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. The several hundred people still in the stands a few minutes after midnight went wild.
- Jerome McDougle had a sack -- working against former Eagle Jeremy Bridges -- and continues his improbable bid to earn a roster spot. McDougle is definitely playing his best football right now.
- Here is hoping Reggie Brown's hamstring injury isn't too serious. In the big picture, what matters most is that the Eagles have gone through two preseason games without a serious injury. Missing the game: defensive end Chris Clemons (calf), defensive tackle Montae Reagor (knee), offensive tackle Tra Thomas (back), wide receiver Jason Avant (hamstring), wide receiver Jamal Jones (ribs) and defensive end Victor Abiamiri (wrist).
- Hunt also had a terrific catch and 9-yard gain on a screen pass in the fourth quarter.
- Great throw from Kevin Kolb on the fourth-quarter touchdown pass to wide receiver Greg Lewis. Very nice. Reid certainly wants Kolb to get his throws in during the preseason, huh? Kolb threw 21 passes in Pittsburgh and then had another 27 passing attempts against Carolina.
- Richmond McGee booted a 40-yard field goal with Avant holding late in the fourth quarter. That's called a valuable rep for Avant as the backup holder. He also held on extra points late in the game.