Commentary

McNabb bounces back in a big way

Donovan McNabb bounced back with a vintage performance against the Cardinals after being pulled from last week's game, James Walker writes.

Originally Published: November 27, 2008
By James Walker | ESPN.com

Donovan McNabbEric Hartline/US PresswireDonovan McNabb completed 27 of 39 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns.
PHILADELPHIA -- On Thanksgiving, Donovan McNabb had the choice of becoming the toast of Lincoln Financial Field or the holiday turkey.

Philadelphia is known as the city of brotherly love, but too often, that love is conditional.

Ask Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley or even Santa Claus, who hasn't returned to these parts since he was booed and pelted with snowballs 40 years ago.

WK 13: Donovan McNabb highlights

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Donovan McNabb throws for 260 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions on Thanksgiving.

This season, McNabb officially has joined Iverson, Barkley and Mr. Claus as iconic figures who received short leashes in Philadelphia. But on Thursday, McNabb held off one of the toughest sports cities in America with a sterling performance in the Eagles' 48-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

After being benched in the second half of Sunday's 36-7 loss at Baltimore, McNabb responded by throwing for 260 yards, four touchdowns and no turnovers. The last stat was important because he had seven turnovers in the previous two games, leading to his current plight.

But there was something special about McNabb on this Thanksgiving night. Two days after his 32nd birthday, the quarterback methodically led Philadelphia's once-struggling offense to 437 total yards and 32 first downs.

"He was under some scrutiny, and he was able to block everything out and he went about his business," said Eagles coach Andy Reid, who had benched McNabb just four days prior. "That's a credit to him and the kind of person he is."

After feasting at home all afternoon, Philadelphia fans were anticipating McNabb would be the main course. But the five-time Pro Bowler didn't allow it to happen.

He scored a touchdown on the opening drive and completed his first six passes. His seventh throw was an incompletion and drew loud jeers. But that was the last negative vibe in the stadium for the rest of the game.

The darts kept coming from McNabb, and so did the points.

He was accurate, completing 69.2 percent of his passes. He took care of the football and improvised when necessary, running for 24 yards on broken plays.

The same player who had been sullen with a blank stare on the sidelines just four days earlier was once again boisterous and playful with teammates.

In many ways, it was vintage McNabb.

"You know what, I kind of went back to the basics," McNabb said. "I was watching the film and understanding if the opportunity was there to go down the field, take it. If not, hit the check down and buy time with your legs if you have to. I think that was important."

In typical NFL week-to-week fashion, Reid went from goat to prophet. He had predicted a "step back" for McNabb would help him move a "mile" forward. The coach was spot on.

And Reid did everything he could to orchestrate a successful night for his franchise quarterback, starting with allowing the defense -- not the offense and the embattled McNabb -- to be introduced before the game.

Reid's play calling also improved dramatically. The Eagles were terrific on third downs (10-for-15) and pounded Arizona in short-yardage situations.

Philadelphia's coaching staff got tailback Brian Westbrook going early in the running and passing game, and before you knew it, the Eagles led 21-0 early in the second quarter. Westbrook finished with 110 yards rushing and a career-high four total touchdowns. He became the first player since Lydell Mitchell in 1975 to run for 100 yards and score two touchdowns on the ground and two touchdowns through the air.

"We need this game to be our springboard," Westbrook said. "We can't lose anymore. We are at that point where we have to man up. We have the team that can do it."

With the win, which put them at 6-5-1, the Eagles still have a heartbeat while approaching another must-win game, Dec. 7 at the New York Giants (10-1).

But leave next week for next week. This night was all about McNabb, whose strongest asset always has been his resiliency.

The 10-year veteran overcame being booed the day he was drafted to lead the Eagles to four NFC title games and a Super Bowl appearance. McNabb also survived the Terrell Owens saga and now this season's latest incident.

But regardless of what happens the rest of the season, this still could mark the end of the road for McNabb in Philadelphia. He is owed $10.36 million in 2009, none of which is guaranteed, and the Eagles could save $9.2 million in cap space by cutting him.

So if these turn out to be McNabb's final weeks in Philadelphia, at least he has left the fans with a lot to cheer for with another signature performance.

"I don't focus on what people may say on the outside or how one may feel about me," McNabb said. "When it's all said and done and I decide to hang the shoes up, how do you want to be remembered? This is all important to working on your legacy."

James Walker covers the NFL for ESPN.com

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter