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Next Step For Season: McNabb On The Rise

Donovan McNabb could laugh it off, because that is the kind of guy he is. He sat in the cafeteria at the NovaCare Complex earlier this week and looked up to say hello and there it was: An eye as bloodshot as could be. Ugly. Nasty. "I think," said McNabb, "that I'm going to wear sunglasses for TV this week."

Yeah, good idea. McNabb took a poke to the eye from left tackle Tra Thomas during Sunday's win over Atlanta. It was an unfortunate poke, and it was scary for a moment as McNabb stayed on the grass at Lincoln Financial Field after the poke from Thomas that happened at the same time that Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking hit McNabb late after a pass.

No need to worry, because McNabb is fine. But he had to wear sunglasses for the taping of his television show and for the 45-second segment he had late on Monday as he announced the starting lineup for Game 5 of the Rays-Phillies World Series game.

Back from the bye week, with the rest of the season in front of him, McNabb was more interested in talking about the uneven offensive performance against the Falcons and what is ahead in Seattle than discussing his eye.

"I'm fine," he said. "It is not a problem."

Let's take a step back and consider McNabb, and his place on this team as the season, really and truly, gets into the thick of things now that November is upon us. For the Eagles to make a serious run -- pun intended -- at a Super Bowl, McNabb has to be an outstanding quarterback. He has to be an accurate quarterback. He has to make the right reads. He has to check to the right plays when he audibles. He has to be the leader here. He has to do a lot of things and well, be Donovan McNabb.

This is, I think you would agree, Donovan McNabb time.

Time for Donovan to be Donovan.

Time for the Eagles to get rolling.

Part of me, I admit, is stuck in the early part of this decade. I remember those teams and I look at this team and I think there is no comparison. This team is far superior -- on paper, which means nothing -- to the teams from the 2000-2003 seasons. I'm not yet certain about 2004, because that was such a dominating group, but I believe the Eagles can get to that level. The offensive has to be more efficient and the defense needs more three-and-out series, but I see it. I could be blind, but I see it. I see this team gelling at the right time.

For that to happen, McNabb has to take this team by the shoulder pads and go. Like the team this year, his performance on Sunday was too inconsistent for my liking. He made some gorgeous throws and some excellent decisions, but McNabb also missed open receivers and some big-play opportunities that would have made that late fourth-quarter drama unnecessary.

This is year No. 10 for McNabb. He is absolutely a different quarterback and a different man than he was in 1999. Heck, he is in a different place now than where he was a year ago. In 2007, McNabb was coming off a serious knee injury and was answering daily questions about his status on this team and it became a visible burden, an Albatross of sorts for McNabb.

A year later, as the Eagles reach the midway point of the season, McNabb is secure. Entrenched as the man on this team. The guy who has to be the best quarterback on the field every week from this point forward in order to give this team a chance to win the Super Bowl.

I say that not only because the Eagles throw the football a lot. I say that because a quarterback dictates everything when the offense is on the field, and McNabb is one of the best in the business and because I feel good and confident about saying that he has to be the leader every week.

He is an interesting guy, no doubt about it. No athlete that I have ever covered has endured the scrutiny he has accepted in his 10 seasons. It is truly remarkable that every move McNabb makes is met with some kind of response.

But 10 years into the game have given McNabb extraordinarily thick skin. Oh, he is aware of what people are saying and he references the topics from time to time when he talks to the media, but McNabb has stood tall through the decade. He is a proud man and, yes, a role model.

What we all care about in the immediate future is what McNabb can do to help the Eagles win it all. You know, I've thought long and hard about that. I want to see him run as he did on Sunday. I think, somewhere in McNabb's mind, he bristles at the label of being a "running quarterback," but I also think he needs to get past caring about any such label. He is an extraordinary talent who happens to have the gift to complete more than 60 percent of his passes from the pocket and escape pressure and make plays with his legs. Not many quarterbacks are in his league there.

Look, I think the Eagles are going to throw the ball in Seattle. I think they are going to throw the ball in any game. That puts the pressure on McNabb, and as we dissect the merits of this team as a Super Bowl contender, the onus rests on No. 5. By and large, yeah, he is the guy. When you place such an emphasis on the passing game, the quarterback is the one. The guy. The man who must be better than everyone else to lift the team to victory.

Look, I'm rambling. I'm considering this week for the Eagles, and what is ahead. This is a crucial road trip against a Seattle team that has not played very well this year, and the whole picture makes for some nervous times. The Eagles are 4-3 and in last place in the NFC East. They can't afford losses in this 2008 season. Every week is a must-win scenario. I see a team that is not where I want it to be, not where I expected it to be, but still capable of getting there. Of reaching the heights. Of winning it all.

To do so, McNabb is the key guy above everyone else. I love the guy, I really do. And maybe I hold him to a higher standard than any other player because he has the football in his hands on every snap offfensively, but that's the way it is.

I want him to be great. I need him to be great. You can talk all you want about the various ways the Eagles can vault up in the division and in the NFC and you are probably right to a degree, but to me it is very simple and very complex at the same time. It's all about McNabb and the things he does on and off the field.

He, more than anyone else, needs to rise above and lead the team. And even though he has a sore eye and a bloodshot view, McNabb knows it. He embraces the responsibility, the role, and, well, we'll see how the rest of the season plays out.

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