McNabb and Eagles continue to struggle

The Eagles and Donovan McNabb continue to struggle and continue to deny that any is wrong.

Updated: October 13, 2003, 4:17 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

IRVING, Tex. -- His bruised right hand was still wrapped, his leg featured a red welt, and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb seemed, in general, to be a veteran in need of extensive medical attention.

Donovan McNabb
AP PhotoDonovan McNabb has just two TD passes in five games.
But the embattled fifth-year veteran, in the wake of Sunday's 23-21 loss here, insisted his physical state wasn't nearly as dire as it appeared. Then again, McNabb kept claiming too that the Philadelphia offense wasn't a problem in the 23-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, a contention that should have prompted the Eagles medical staff to check for a concussion.

"Our offense," said McNabb, "is not misfiring."

Uh, okay, if you say so. But that statement might be valid only if one considers it is meant to describe the unit's unerring marksmanship, through the first five contests of the season, demonstrated when the offense is aiming at its own feet. In that context, maybe, McNabb might be uncannily on target.

In everything else, it seems, McNabb and the Eagles continued to be scattershot.

The facts, in general, are difficult to dispute. Try as they might, and most of the Eagles players were in agreement with McNabb about the state of an offense that can't seem to get out of neutral, Philadelphia veterans weren't particularly convincing. And with pretty good reason.

For the day, the Eagles managed just 232 yards, 14 first downs and 3.9 yards per snap. The running game was hurt by the loss of Brian Westbrook to a hip injury and nudged out just 122 yards. Take away a 52-yard touchdown reception by Duce Staley, in which the ball traveled maybe eight yards vertically and the tailback did the rest, and the Philadelphia passing game accumulated 74 yards.

Just one wide receiver, James Thrash, posted more than two catches. And his three grabs totaled 15 yards. At no point in the game did McNabb complete more than two passes in a row. On just two of their 13 possessions did the Eagles string together more than two first downs and they netted more than 50 yards on only three series.

Little wonder that the Eagles limped out of Texas Stadium a loser, and with the season suddenly on the brink, trailing Dallas by a full two games. The wonder was that, nearly to a man, Philadelphia players adopted an Alfred E. Newman (what, we worry?) mindset.

"We're not missing our swagger," said Staley. "Swagger is attitude."

True enough. But attitude is supposed to be earned, not ersatz, and the Eagles appear to be trying to convince themselves that things aren't all that bad. Several players noted that there is much to build on and, since the passing game is now averaging 9.63 yards per completion and a microscopic 4.73 yards per attempt with just two touchdown passes, at least they seem to have located the basement.

If the matchup with the division rival Cowboys was supposed to serve as validation that the offense was back on track, it accomplished the opposite. There was little rhythm to their attack and the Eagles again didn't challenge the Cowboys with the deep ball.

Beyond the touchdown pass to Staley, and a 27-yard catch by wideout Freddie Mitchell to convert a third-and-five on the Eagles' first possession, Philadelphia had no other pass plays of more than nine yards. Of McNabb's 11 completions, seven netted six yards or fewer and three were good for four yards or less.

In defense of McNabb there were some catchable balls, like a deep pass to the end zone on which the pass was stripped away from wide receiver Todd Pinkston, that may have resulted in big plays. But in its current state, the Philadelphia offense is struggling just to make any plays, let alone game-breaking heroics.

What the unit is making, alas, is errors of omission and commission. And, on Sunday, a few errors of judgement as well.

Four times in the game McNabb was forced to burn timeouts. Near the end of the second quarter, with the Eagles backed up to their own two-yard line and 1:42 remaining in the half, Reid twice called for pass plays. Both attempts were incomplete, the Cowboys did not have to use a single timeout, and Philadelphia punted after taking only 23 seconds off the clock.

The Cowboys then went 18 yards on five plays, culminating the drive with a 51-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff, a kick that came with 12 seconds left before intermission.

To his credit, Reid accepted culpability for the botched time outs and for the calls at the end of the half. By standing up and being held accountable, the Philadelphia head coach became part of a small minority in an Eagles locker room where blame was being avoided like the uninvited cousin who shows up for a weekend visit.

Bad enough for the Eagles that they are in a collective funk. Being in denial, however, figures to only make escaping the current ennui that much more difficult.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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