SAN FRANCISCO -- While it was his words that made the headlines early last week, it was Donovan McNabb's actions on the football field that helped make the difference in Sunday's 40-26 season-saving win over the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park.
Sure, McNabb was 23-of-36 for 280 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, but after the Eagles fell behind 26-17 in the third quarter, it was McNabb's ability to rally the offense that helped turn the game around.
An offense that had struggled to score second-half points in recent weeks came to life in the fourth quarter with four scoring drives that helped the team even its record at 3-3 entering the bye week.
After last week's "embarrassing" loss to the Redskins, McNabb called a team meeting to voice his displeasure over the team's inability to capitalize on its wealth of potential. This week, another difficult, disappointing loss would have put the Eagles in a very precarious position -- three straight losses in the ultra-competitive NFC East division and then two weeks to stew with the bye on the horizon.
Sure, McNabb set two more franchise records Sunday -- most pass attempts in a career and most passing yards in a career, surpassing Ron Jaworski's total of 26,693. But the only record that mattered on this day was the one that marked the wins and losses, and another tally in the loss column could have been too much for this veteran team to overcome.
McNabb continued to emphasize the message throughout the week and throughout the game.
"You obviously try to do that on the sideline, just kind of motivating the guys, we're not losing this game. We're going to win this game and we're going to do that together," McNabb said.
Early on, his words seem to resonate with the team. After a three-and-out on the opening drive, McNabb threw up a perfect pass that only Hank Baskett could come down with to covert a third-and-two for a 16-yard gain. Four plays later, Correll Buckhalter punched the ball in to put the Eagles up 7-3.
McNabb connected with Baskett again for a big play, this time in the second quarter, for a 2-yard touchdown. Baskett lined up on the left side and McNabb tossed the ball up on a fade route and Baskett beat Walt Harris for the score. Just like that it was 14-6.
After a David Akers field goal, the Eagles were up 17-6 and it looked like the six-hour plane ride back to Philadelphia would be a victorious one. But just like the week before against the Redskins, the 49ers chipped away at the lead and suddenly rattled off 20 straight points. The Eagles were staring at a 26-17 deficit as three straight possessions resulted in a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, a punt and an interception in the red zone by former Eagle Takeo Spikes.
The Eagles could have wilted as they did the week before, but McNabb imposed his leadership on the team and made sure there would not be a repeat. McNabb said he was confident of a turnaround after the opening drive of the third quarter. Even though the Eagles did not score -- it ended with a Sav Rocca punt -- they were able to get a first down and move the ball enough to make McNabb believe that they could beat the 49ers defense.
"Things happen in this league," McNabb said. "The first quarter may not be as good as your second or third. It just so happens, which was good for us, that the third quarter wasn't a fourth quarter."
The bye week is upon the Eagles and they sit at 3-3. The Cowboys lost in overtime to the Cardinals for their second loss. The Redskins lost to the winless Rams. Things are looking up for the Eagles and McNabb will tell you that it's not by accident. It's something that the team planned for all week. They just needed a little pep talk to keep the focus in the right direction.
"It all starts with the winning attitude," McNabb said. "Having the confidence knowing you've come out here with a job to do and know that you are going to come out successful. We've had it the past couple of days, I've seen it at the (team) hotel." PHI vs. SF 10-12-08