Donovan McNabb understands how the margin of error narrows in the playoffs, how the tempo increases and how a big play here or there is enough to win a game and stay alive. As the Eagles near their Wild Card playoff game against Dallas, McNabb is in the spotlight, of course. He is the quarterback of the team, front and center with Tony Romo, and along with that comes the pressure of delivering -- or else -- in this post-season.
So what does McNabb need to do to win this game? It isn't about numbers, for sure. It is about finding a way to beat a Dallas defense that has thrown -- pardon the pun -- two strong efforts at the Eagles offense this season. The Eagles have to be more efficient, more explosive and more opportunistic to defeat the Cowboys, and McNabb is the catalyst in all of it.
McNabb has been through it all before. He knows about the Dallas defense and he knows about the playoff hype. The Eagles have to right the wrongs that plagued them on Sunday when they were blanked for the first time since the 2005 season. On Saturday night, McNabb starts a new season.
The McNabb discussion has raged for 11 seasons now, and it has been a stimulating back and forth. On one hand, McNabb has won more games and more big games than any quarterback in Eagles history. On the other hand, he has not delivered a Lombardi Trophy, and that is the goal this year.
With that, McNabb goes back into playoff mode on Saturday night. Dallas isn't going to do anything particularly tricky. The Cowboys run an excellent scheme out of the 3-4 look. They mix their coverages. They play fast, physical football. They make a quarterback operate more quickly than he likes because of their ability to create pressure off of the edges and between the guards. Of the four sacks Dallas registered on Sunday, the Cowboys showed McNabb pressure from just about every angle.
Now, it's a new ball game. And McNabb's responsibilities are, of course, to move the offense, to find holes in the coverage, to put the ball in the end zone. But he also has to do all the little things well. He has to manage the clock, get in and out of the huddle quickly and make the right checks when he has the opportunity.
A run here or there to break down the Dallas up-field pass rush would also be nice for McNabb, who has to keep his eyes open to any and all opportunities.
The Eagles had their chances on Sunday. McNabb missed DeSean Jackson on a go route. Receivers were open on crossing routes and there were drops and poorly-thrown passes. The offense just never found its rhythm on Sunday, a stunning 60 minutes for a group that had so many great moments in the previous 60 games.
McNabb needs to come out smoking on Saturday. We know how well he responds to early success, when he drops back and gets set and looks so relaxed in the pocket. You watch McNabb's feet early and you get a very good sense of how much of a groove he has.
I know the Eagles want to run the football and establish the line of scrimmage in this game, but to score big points and put the Cowboys on their heels, McNabb has to be on his game and the passing attack has to be crisp. Mentally, physically, technically, McNabb has to play post-season football.
He has been very, very good in playoff games. McNabb knows what it takes to win these games. Going into Dallas, following Sunday's lopsided loss, the win-or-go-home reality here, McNabb has the game on his shoulders. Romo, too. It is the nature of the position. As the pressure rises, the quarterbacks must play great football. McNabb, with all of his playoff wins on his resume, knows that as well as any quarterback in the league.