- Stephen A. Smith, ESPNNewYork.com columnist
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PHILADELPHIA -- Periodically, the critics have questioned his talent.
Repeatedly, they've questioned his leadership ability. Endlessly, they've questioned his ability to win the big game, to elevate the Philadelphia Eagles franchise to championship status, to speak up, speak out and ward off the palpable, alarming momentum that was calling for his ouster.
And all along, all Donovan McNabb kept saying was "I'll let my play do the talking."
Then he'd display his patented smile, of course, and invite his critics to kiss his you-know-what.
On Sunday afternoon, McNabb's play did his talking -- again -- in emphatic fashion in a 44-6 stomping the Eagles laid on the Dallas Cowboys in the regular-season finale. The Eagles, who seemed out of contention after McNabb was benched in a Week 12 loss at Baltimore that left them at 5-5-1, are going to the playoffs after all.
McNabb, presumably, will remain in Philadelphia after all. And all this whining about whether or not he should still be wearing Eagles' green once the 2009 season rolls around should evaporate just as quickly as any credibility Tony Romo supposedly had as a big-time quarterback.
Let the record show that McNabb is still a stud, something former Eagles' wideout-turned-McNabb's nemesis, Terrell Owens, wouldn't even try to deny at this point. McNabb certainly displayed the difference between a viable QB and a wannabe (Romo), despite Sunday's passing statistics (12-for-21,
175 yards and 2 TDs) that can be described as marginal, at best.
"It's not always about the numbers you put up," Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard said after the game. "Especially with a lopsided game like this one. It's about the leadership a guy provides. Knowing he's the one you'll be able to turn to in the toughest of times. That somehow, some way, he'll come through in the end. When you talk about what motivates a locker room, especially after the way we almost ruined our playoff hopes by losing the Washington game last week, that's what you're looking for. It's what No. 5 gave us [Sunday]. It's what he's always given us."
I've been around McNabb for years, and when he alludes to how critics continuously motivate him, he isn't lying. He means it when he says, "I've been kind of revived, I guess. They've thrown me out. Ran over me. Spit on me. But I just continue to prevail. I continue to keep my chin high. Stay positive."
I've rarely been one to believe the last part from him. I fail to comprehend how even someone so strong-willed, so spiritual, can't be ultimately broken by the shrapnel of criticism McNabb faces -- especially when it seems so undeserved.
There is no doubt that McNabb has made his share of errors over the past 10 years. Indeed, he should have a career pass completion percentage better than 58.9 percent. His 60.4 percent accuracy this season is a little better, but still ranks just 18th-best in the league.
At 32 years of age, he is still one of the best in the game and has more than enough mileage left in the tank. So the fact that folks have called for the Eagles to trade him is beyond ridiculous -- particularly with the limited options swirling around the NFL.
I mean, give me a break.
McNabb overcame the shock of being benched after the first half of the loss to the Baltimore Ravens to lead the Eagles to four victories in their final five games. Now 9-6-1, the Eagles head to Minnesota to play the Vikings in a wild-card playoff game Sunday.
That said, McNabb still is working without the threat of a reliable running game, something that coach/general manager Andy Reid has not provided, even with a star halfback in Brian Westbrook. And with the exception of Owens, McNabb's targets have not been star-quality. He's had
Todd Pinkston one minute, Freddie Mitchell the next, followed by Greg Lewis and Reggie Brown and rookie DeSean Jackson, with a James Thrash thrown in in-between.
Essentially, nobody worth mentioning.
Yet over 10 seasons as an Eagle, McNabb has 29,320 career yards along with 194 touchdowns on his résumé. He's been to four NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl. After Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, McNabb is on par with any of his quarterbacking peers.
The naysayers keep coming, holding McNabb accountable,
acting like he's being coached by Bill Belichick. It's as if McNabb's presence was keeping the Eagles from developing one of The Matts (Matt Cassel or Matt Ryan instead of Kevin Kolb.
"I think it's easier [to deal with] now because I've been through these types of experiences for years," said McNabb, acknowledging how hard-core Philadelphians help him develop his alligator skin.
"When you go through [the criticism] for the first time, you don't know how to handle it. But with me being a part of something like that, with it happening over and over and over again, the way I continue to show that it never affects me is just going out and doing my job and having fun."
They know when something is on my mind. If it's something on your mind you're going to share it with the people who need to hear it. And there has been a lot on my mind. And it will be shared when the time comes.
--Donovan McNabb, on sharing his thoughts with his teammates and coaches
Perhaps that's the problem. Even while helping the Eagles smack around the Cowboys and getting them back to the playoffs, McNabb keeps smiling and acting like nothing's wrong.
Perhaps, if McNabb spoke up, he would shut someone up for a change.
"You don't win battles by trying to defend yourself against people on air, people who write and have the power of the pen," McNabb explained. "Because no matter what I may say, they'll take little bits of what they want and put that in there."
Yeah! But what about guys in your own locker room? Or the Eagles'
front office, for that matter?
"I'm absolutely vocal [with teammates and the organization]," McNabb said. "They know when something is on my mind. If it's something on your mind you're going to share it with the people who need to hear it. And there has been a lot on my mind. And it will be shared when the time comes."
He shared a little something Sunday with the Cowboys. Now here's a suggestion: In the offseason, McNabb should ask for a notable wideout and a bulldozing fullback to complement Westbrook. McNabb should ask Reid to use them. If the Eagles have a problem with those requests, then McNabb should ask them to trade him to his hometown Chicago.
After McNabb's showing in the past month, the Eagles might balk. But McNabb has leverage and he should use it -- you know, for that new contract he's seeking.
Stephen A. Smith is a columnist for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.
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