Patriots - Eagles: McNabb Shoulders the Loss

<p>Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb has plenty of time to think about the way he played in Superbowl XXXIX against the New England Patriots. Most likely, he'll not be too pleased with his performance. Whether it was slick gameballs, or a case of the nerves, or just McNabb pressing too hard to make plays, his performance left a little to be desired for Philly fans.</p><p>Michael Reardon takes a look at what happened to McNabb in the biggest moment of his young career.</p>

PHOTO: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb leaves the field after the Eagles lost 24-21 to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX at Alltel Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2005, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Mediocre McNabb Shoulders the Loss
By Michael Reardon, Site Contributor

On a night in which the defending Super Bowl Champions were not playing their best game, there were many opportunities for Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb to take a hold of the momentum of the biggest game of his career and lead his team to an improbable win. While McNabb did have some impressive moments on way to racking up 357 passing yards and 3 TDs, there were too many big play opportunities in which he seemed just as likely to make a great throw as to shoot himself in the foot. Ultimately, it was McNabb's 3 turnovers and inability to capitalize on the many New England mistakes that cost him his first Super Bowl win.

The first McNabb blunder about 8 minutes into the game. After half a quarter with neither offense getting so much as a first down, the Eagles picked up some momentum and moved the ball down the field on a series of McNabb passes. A 30 yard completion to Terrell Owens plus a New England penalty set up the Eagles with a first and goal on the Patriot 8 yard line with an excellent chance to get on the board in what was then a scoreless game.

Then, on first down, the Patriots blitzed and McNabb decided to move in the worst direction he possible - backwards. Mike Vrabel sacked McNabb for 16 yard loss that took the Eagles from a 1st and goal on the 8 to a 2nd and goal on the 24. On the following play, McNabb tried to force a throw to Terrell Owens and it was intercepted by Asante Samuel in the back of the end zone.

Lucky for McNabb, the New England defense spent the first quarter playing just as sloppy as he was.

The interception was negated by a defensive illegal contact penalty on Roman Phifer. Not only did this erase the turnover and give the Eagles the ball back in the red zone, it also moved the offense from a 2nd and goal from the 24 to a 1st and ten at the 19. Now, after the Patriots defense giving the Eagles new life, McNabb returns the favor by making a second consecutive poor decision and trying to force another pass in a bad situation. This time, it was Brian Westbrook McNabb was looking for and Rodney Harrison who came up with the interception. The interception stood this time.

The Philadelphia defense continued it's shutout of the New England offense, and when McNabb got the ball back in the second quarter with 14:31 left to play in the half, he orchestrated another drive that included a 40 yard completion to Todd Pinkston to bring the Eagles offense a first down on the New England 17 yard line. This time, McNabb finished the drive off well, exhibiting patience and good decision - making when he found L.J. Smith in the end zone for a 6 yard touchdown pass. The Eagles went up, 7 - 0.

The Patriots got the ball back with 9:55 left in the half and put on an 8 play, 73 yard drive and brought the ball down to the Philadelphia 13 yard line. This time it was Tom Brady who choked, as he fumbled the ball on a fake hand-off to Kevin Faulk. He appeared to recover his own fumble, but the Philadelphia defense swooped in and took the ball away from him.

McNabb came in with an opportunity to capitalize on a huge turnover. A scoring drive here would put his team up by two scores near half-time with the Philadelphia defense playing superbly.

Instead, McNabb threw two off - mark passes on 2nd and 3rd down and gave the ball back to the Patriots taking just 47 seconds off of the clock. The Patriots got the ball back with plenty of time and Brady lead his on a 7 play, 37 yard scoring drive that ended with a 4 yard touchdown pass to David Givens. The game was now tied at 7 - 7 going into half-time.

After half-time., the two quarterbacks each had long scoring drives. Brady led the Patriots on a 69 yard drive ending with a 2 yard touchdown reception by linebacker Mike Vrabel. McNabb was able to answer two possessions later, completing a 10 play, 62 yard drive and throwing a 10 yard touchdown pass to Brian Westbrook. The game was tied at 14 - 14 with just over 3 minutes to play in the 3rd quarter.

The Patriots answered right back on their next possession with a 69 yard drive ended with a 2 yard Corey Dillon touchdown run. Now, down 21 - 14, it was time for McNabb to answer again. Instead, the Eagles went three and out and gave the ball right back. The Patriots responded with another successful drive, this time ending with an Adam Vinatieri field goal to go up by two scores with 8:40 left to play in the game.

McNabb and the Eagles came onto the field down by 10 points in dire need of a score. They seemed in good position to do so after McNabb found Owens for a 36 yard reception that brought the offense to the New England 36 yard line with a great chance to get at least one of the scores they would eventually need to tie the game.

Then, on first down, McNabb threw another interception at another key moment in the game, this time to linebacker Tedy Bruschi at the New England 24. This turnover could have ended the game if New England was able to get a few first downs, but Philadelphia's defensive unit came up big again, denying the Patriots a first down and quickly getting the ball back to McNabb's hands.

Despite the costly turnovers and poor decisions that seemed to typify McNabb's performance no Sunday, the mismanagement of the drive that started with 5:40 on the clock on the Philadelphia 21 yard line may have been the most costly mistake of McNabb's performance.

While it's true that the drive ended in a 30 yard touchdown pass to put the Eagles within 3 points of the Patriots, the way the drive was handled ultimately took the Eagles out of the game.

Not including the final touchdown pass, the Eagles ran 12 plays; 11 passes and 1 run. McNabb completed 7 of the 11 attempts for 49 yards; an average of 7 yards per completion. While these numbers don't seem too bad, when you take a closer look at them, it's clear that they represent a gross mismanagement of the clock.

McNabb took 12 plays and 3:47 just to move his team from the PHIL 21 to the NE 30. Even when the clock dipped below 3 minutes left to play in the game, McNabb did not revert to a no huddle offense. They huddled after every play and took substantial time off the clock when they still needed two scores to get back into the game. Also, they were not getting enough yards on each play to warrant using all of the time that they did. McNabb's had 7 completions were good for a total of 49 yards; meaning an average of 7 yards per completion. In a game in which you are down by two scores with under 5 minutes to play, you simply must get more production with the time you have left.

The drive began with a 4 yard completion to L.J. Smith. Between the end of this play and the beginning of the next, 30 seconds expired. The next play was a 4 yard pass to Greg Lewis that took 18 seconds off the clock. Next, McNabb found Owens for another paltry 5 yards that cost Philadelphia another 33 seconds off of the clock. On the next play, with the clock still winding down, McNabb elected to throw to Josh Perry for a 2 yard completion that took another 34 seconds off of the clock.

After this play, Eagles center, Hank Fraley, ran back to the line because he assumed that the Eagles would be switching into a no huddle offense. McNabb gestured him back into the huddle to call the play as the clock continued to drain away.

On the next play, McNabb decided to tuck the ball and run with it, and while he didn't manage to gain even 1 yard, he did manage to take 35 seconds off of the clock, leaving the Eagles with 2:55 left to play.

When McNabb made an excellent throw to Greg Lewis for 30 yards and a touchdown, there was reason to celebrate, but only 1:55 left on the clock. They had taken 3:52 off of the clock and still needed another score to tie the game. They had acted without urgency, walking back to the line after each play. They had ignored the no - huddle option even when it seemed like an obvious choice. There was no discernible effort to complete passes towards the sidelines, which would allow a receiver to step out of bounds to stop the clock. Had they managed to save even ten more seconds of time, they could have saved the 2 minute warning and had an extra time out. Also, they had mandated an onside kick attempt, which might not have been absolutely necessary had they been able run this drive more efficiently.

Certainly, the number of short completions is a testament to the play of the New England defense taking away McNabb's first and second options, but there is still no excuse for the demeanor and lack of urgency that the Philadelphia displayed by walking up to the line and not switching to a no - huddle offense.

New England recovered the aniseeds kick and elected to play conservatively to ensure that Philadelphia burned their two time outs and to take as much time off the clock as possible. They ran Kevin Faulk on three consecutive plays and Philadelphia limited his efforts to just 5 yards.

Again, had there been just a little more time on the clock and the two minute warning, New England would have been more motivated to try for the first down and forced to attempt a pass or two instead of just being able to increase the odds against a Philadelphia comeback by taking more time off of the clock while trying for the first down with a few conservative running plays.

However, the Eagles defense stuffed New England and provided McNabb with one more opportunity. Because New England had such great field position from the onside kick they were able to pin McNabb and his offense at their own 4 yard line with 47 seconds left to play.

Instead of mounting a valiant final effort and at least giving his team a shot at a field goal, McNabb, here in the final seconds of the Super Bowl, continued to make poor decisions. On first down, hampered by a heavy New England pass rush, McNabb dumped the ball off to Brian Westbrook, who was standing in the middle of the field and was tackled almost immediately for a 1 yard gain that cost the Eagles 23 seconds of the 47 remaining to play. Two plays later, McNabb threw a third interception to end the game.

McNabb had a fantastic season and will more likely than not have another shot at a Super Bowl berth next year. However, if he hopes to win one, McNabb will have to make better decisions in key plays of the game and be more careful with the ball.

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