Eagles turn tide with 31 straight points
Donovan McNabb is in a great deal of pain, but it was the Chiefs who felt sick after Philly's stunning comeback on Sunday.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Eagles, like most teams locked in cliché talk, mouth words like, "The game is 60 minutes, so don't panic." What's great about the Eagles is that they practice what they preach.
The Chiefs came out Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City smokin' like barbecue, scoring 17 points in the first 17 minutes. The Eagles appeared to be cooked. Donovan McNabb was less mobile because of a sports hernia. Their special teams weren't so special, botching an extra point and a field goal and fumbling a punt return that cost them another seven points. To make matters worse, the scoreboard and sideline clocks malfunctioned.
|“||Despite everything going wrong for us in the first half, we were only down by 11 points. Our offense hadn't even gotten warmed up yet. That's the character of our team. We fight together and we fight for four quarters. ”|
|—Eagles LB Jeremiah Trotter|
How are you supposed to discuss 60-minute football when no one can gauge the time? Well, the Eagles did. Sunday's amazing 37-31 victory is a testament to a championship team believing in itself. Credit veteran leadership. Credit the playmakers on offense and defense. But, more than anything else, credit McNabb, who gutted out the greatest Eagles comeback since 1993 even though his insides are in turmoil.
"This is how it should be," Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown said. "This is a championship-caliber team, and we are defending a championship. We always have to play at a high level because we are always going to get a team's best effort. If we can pull them out like this, there is no reason why we can't accomplish great things here."
Defensive end Jevon Kearse said after the game, "In adversity, things like this define you." Sunday the defining moments were endless. Championship teams don't panic, no matter the circumstances. The Eagles have been to four NFC title games, advancing last year to go to the Super Bowl. At some point, they know their window of opportunity will close. The clock is ticking, but the team is still young enough to make this run and worry about other years later.
Instead of panicking, the Eagles focused and adjusted after falling behind 17-0 early in the second quarter. Philly's defenders knew they had to score points if the Eagles were to compete and a member of the unit made a play that turned the momentum. With less than five minutes remaining in the second quarter, Brown gave Chiefs quarterback Trent Green a read as if he was in "Cover 2," in which defenders covered deep passes in halves of the field. Actually, Brown was in "Cover 3" and sensed Green would look for wide receiver Eddie Kennison coming off a slant pattern.
Green followed instinctively, throwing the slant while Brown broke into a full run and intercepted the pass, returning it 40 yards for an easy touchdown. Befitting the crazy first half, though, the extra point snap was botched and the Eagles kickoff team surrendered a 96-yard kickoff return to Dante Hall. Brown briefly changed the momentum, but the Eagles suddenly trailed 24-6.
However, the Eagles spirits didn't waiver. McNabb drove the Eagles 50 yards in five plays and hit an open Terrell Owens for a 7-yard touchdown to cut the margin to 24-13. At that point, leadership went to work.
Safety Brian Dawkins told teammates in the locker room that the Chiefs won the first half and applauded. He vowed the Eagles would win the second half, which they did. Players responded.
"The Chiefs came out early and they shot their load," middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. "Despite everything going wrong for us in the first half, we were only down by 11 points. Our offense hadn't even gotten warmed up yet. That's the character of our team. We fight together and we fight for four quarters."
The Chiefs showed signs of unraveling despite the lead. Green shouted at coaches after the Brown interception. Eagles players sensed confidence along the Kansas City sidelines was diminishing. So, in the second half, they went for the jugular and scored 31 unanswered points, turning a potential Chiefs blowout into a certain Eagles victory, an unbelievable turn of events.
But the show was McNabb, and it was fitting that Owens and Brown served as co-stars, two teammates who know the sport hernia problems facing their quarterback. At times, McNabb looked a little uncomfortable throwing, particularly on some long balls. He wasn't consistently stepping into his throws. Part of the reason was Chiefs defenders were near his feet and giving him little room. The other reason was the pain.
"I came out and felt pretty loose, maybe that was because of the anticipation of just getting out here and having a great week of practice," McNabb said. "The body began to wear down a little bit. My legs got a little tired, but I just tried to do whatever I could. I felt I tweaked it again, but it was something minor. It's just something I will just have to keep getting used to. My body reacts a little bit different."
Don't discount his pain. He tried not to show his grimaces to his teammates. The wrong move here or there and he could be set for a surgery that will sideline him eight-to-12 weeks. That's not an option now. He's going to play until doctors are forced to operate. Instead, he dissected the Chiefs defense by completing 33 of 48 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns.
"It is very impressive to me because I know what kind of pain it is having that type of injury," said Brown, who played the 2003 season with a sports hernia. "But the guy played with a broken leg during my rookie year, so he can handle anything. The pain is like it seems at any point it's like someone is stabbing you. You really can't describe it unless you have it."
One thing is sure: McNabb and coach Andy Reid aren't going to change the game plan because of the injury. McNabb might be in great physical pain, but he's going to inflict emotional pain on opposing defenses. On Sunday in Arrowhead, he gave the Chiefs zone pass defense a coverage hernia.
Once a series, McNabb tried a long pass to test the Chiefs defense. Some worked. Some didn't. Clearly, the mission was to make sure the Eagles didn't show limitations because of the injury. Because of McNabb's long throws, Chiefs safeties stayed deeper, and McNabb worked the shorter end of the field during the comeback.
"A couple times in a row, we were able to check the balls down to a back, get backs involved, get the tight ends involved and now they have to respect us," McNabb said. "We'd get them in a 'Cover 4' look where they are dropping everyone. They realized if they did that, we were going to check the ball down to a tight end or a back."
The Chiefs were totally confused. Pretty soon, Owens was going against linebackers underneath and would be wide open. McNabb pretty soon could spread the ball to everyone. Owens caught 11 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown. Tight end L.J. Smith caught nine for 67 yards and a touchdown. Brian Westbrook caught six passes for 33 yards.
"Our plan was to go after it and go after McNabb and that's what we did in the first half," Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen said. "He was all over the place. We were hitting him and forcing fumbles and he couldn't step up and throw. In the second half, he got a rhythm going and he and T.O. got on the same page a couple of times and came up with big plays."
Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil couldn't believe how well McNabb bought time for himself with his feet when he was under such pain.
"They have a lot of people who can catch the ball downfield and at least three or four times in the second half, we hit McNabb and had him sacked," Vermeil said. "He's just not a normal guy standing back there. You've got to get your shoulder pads and hat on him or you don't get him down. Disappointing."
No, it's amazing. McNabb came out after the half and drove the Eagles 52 yards for a field goal to cut the lead to 24-16. He tied the game with a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mike Bartrum in the third quarter. He helped the team score 10 more points on the first two possessions of the fourth quarter.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help this team win games, knowing when to get the ball out in time and being able to put the guys in great positions to be successful," McNabb said.
The Eagles are 3-1. One misstep could lead to surgery, but the situation is weird. McNabb has had the best three-game stretch of his career. He's completing 63.2 percent of his passes and is averaging 333 yards a game. He has 11 touchdown passes in four games despite the injury. It defies belief.
"Probably just one word [describes his recent stretch] -- pain," McNabb said. "You go through an entire offseason preparing to have a great year. You get in the best shape of your life, stronger, quicker, being able to get the ball out faster. You take a shot in the first game. That bothers you in the second game. Something else happens in the second game. You are battling through that. The third game you feel like you are running in quicksand, but you battle and you bounce back in this one."
McNabb joked that maybe by midseason he will be better. If he is, he said he might try to moonwalk in the end zone. Ouch.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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