His reaction after losing in Oakland was as emotional and terse as we have seen: "I'm embarrassed," Donovan McNabb said, "and I'm not going to let this kind of game happen again." Here we are now, on the brink of the start of the NFC East schedule, and it is time for McNabb to back up his words. Monday night, in other words, is McNabb's game to win for the Eagles.
It is not all on the quarterback, of course, but McNabb owns a significant stake in this game. He is a leader on this team, the leader in many respects, and the way of the world in the NFL is that a team takes its cue from the quarterback. McNabb stood up after the Oakland game in which neither he nor his offensive mates played very well and expressed the kind of disgust that every player felt. It was an awful game all around.
In too many ways, it was reminiscint of the tie game in Cincinnati last season. The offense turned the ball over and failed to beat the Bengals and then the following week the entire season changed when McNabb was pulled at halftime of the loss to the Ravens and, well, it was a pretty exciting ride the rest of the way.
You wonder if this is a similar scenario. You sure hope that the week-after result is a lot different. McNabb was brilliant in the win over Tampa Bay, and then he couldn't get untracked as Oakland brought blitz after blitz and took away the timing of the Eagles offense. The blueprint is there for everyone to see, of course. Washington could very well come out and try the same thing on Monday night, leaving the Eagles the responsibility of making the right adjustments.
That means McNabb is on the spot. Hey, though, let's be honest: McNabb is always on the spot. He has his flaws, but the man has won an awful lot of games here, has led the Eagles from the NFL's darkness and remains one of the best quarterbacks in the league. After a game like last Sunday, the wolves are howling again.
The setting is perfect for a big showing. The national television lights are shining. The NFC East schedule begins. The Eagles aren't exactly in a must-win situation, but they certainly can't afford to open the division slate on the down side. Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski will be up in the ESPN booth analyzing each and every McNabb dropback, lending to the scrutiny.
And, of course, the Eagles aren't going to take the ball out of McNabb's hands. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg will put together an aggressive offensive game plan featuring the passing game. Washington's defense is stingy through and through and the Redskins won both games against the Eagles last season and are, no question, a desperate team at 2-4 and with head coach Jim Zorn's job security a headline issue all week.
McNabb is the one who must take the Eagles and lead them to victory, then. He stood up and accepted responsibility for last week's loss and said it would not happen again. He has to make sure his team practices the right way and prepares for this huge game.
We have all wondered about the leadership on the team after a roster shake-up in the off-season. A lot of veterans who were leaders are gone. A new generation of Eagles remains. So does Sheldon Brown and Brian Westbrook and a few of the others from the early days of this decade. But McNabb is the guy, the leader, the franchise quarterback.
This is his spot to deliver, to get the Eagles on the right track in the division and to wipe away the disgust of last week's defeat.