Eagles Ready to Go With McNabb or Feeley

In each of the last two seasons, Andy Reid's Philadelphia Eagles have stood with identical 5-6 records after 11 games. Playoff odds aren't great with such a record, but the 2006 Eagles won the rest of their regular-season games and took the NFC East.

In 2007, the resurgent Cowboys have blocked another end run to the division crown, but a wild card berth isn't out of the question.

One of the most unexpected aspects of that late '06 run was that it was done with quarterback Donovan McNabb on the sidelines due to injury. Veteran Jeff Garcia played very well down the stretch and parlayed his performance into a starting job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This year, it's A.J. Feeley who has taken the reins whole McNabb recovers from ankle and thumb injuries. Feeley led the Eagles to a win over the moribund Dolphins two weeks ago and a near-victory over the New England Patriots last Sunday night.

McNabb has always had a difficult relationship with the city of Philadelphia. Fans booed his draft selection in 1999, and even when he led his team to the NFC Championship at the end of the 2004 season, what's remembered is his fractious relationship with Terrell Owens and his late-game meltdown in Super Bowl XXXIX. Fans were in favor of Garcia last year and Feeley this year. Rumors have grown stronger that McNabb won't be in Philadelphia next year -- his current contract, which runs through 2013, would pay him a base salary of $6.3 million in 2008.

When asked on Wednesday about the "what have you done for me lately" aspect of his time in Philly, McNabb seemed nonplussed -- he's been through it all before. "One thing that you have to understand is that people have short-term memories," he said. "We've had a lot of success here. People are going to address their own opinions; they're going to say whatever they feel needs to be expressed. I can't get caught up in that.

"The whole [idea that] people don't remember what I've done here or what I've been able to accomplish here, why would I waste my time on trying to bring that up? In this situation, it's a no-win situation for me. If I play, I play. If I don't, I don't. I'll be out there to compete and help my team win and give everything that I have when I'm out there. That's all that my teammates ask and that's all that I try to display."

Reid has expressed faith in his starter, and if McNabb can practice this week (as he did not on Wednesday), he could go against the Seahawks when they hit Lincoln Financial Field this Sunday. "In any situation that you're a part of, sometimes all you need is some people to step up and tell you what the real deal is. As you can see, he's let you guys know on so many occasions that I'm the starting quarterback. I've said that, he's said that. Everybody is going to have their own opinion of things.

"You can't get caught up in what's been said on the outside, how somebody may feel about you or what they feel is the best decision. The only thing that really matters is what happens here inside this building. If it's for me to go out and play, then that's what it will be. [If it's] for me to rehab, then that's what it will be. He makes the decisions, and we go along with it. While we're out there on that field, we want to make sure we execute and make as many plays as possible."

McNabb had nothing but good to say about Feeley, who's won for the Eagles in McNabb's place before. In 2002, his second NFL campaign, Feeley went 4-1 as a starter in the final five games of the season. If the Eagles need late-season heroics from their backup, they couldn't do much better.

For Reid, it's all about who can play and who can win.

"I think it's a heck of a situation to have when you have two quarterbacks that can win football games for us," Reid said. "So, that's a great situation and a strong position. Donovan's the starter, he's been the starter. He's been the most successful quarterback in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles and one of the most successful in the NFL over the last nine years. He's the starting quarterback, that's what it is. There's no controversy involved. And, that's not taking anything away from A.J. because he's a heck of a quarterback and we know that he can start also. That's just the way it is."

Armchair GMs, however, point to the "better offensive rhythm" with Feeley behind center. To McNabb, the Eagles' offense has a snap and a spark with him in there, as well. "We've had tempo while I was in. We had execution while I was in there. It really doesn't matter who is in there, you just need to be able to execute the plays. We've had games in which we've driven the ball down the field consistently and scored points. It just so happened that on Sunday night, the team was making plays, guys were having a good time. They played that way. They played that way while I was in there. There's no change.

"I think sometimes people dig deeper than it really is. It's easy to sit and say, ‘When Donovan's there, things are crisp and things happen better.' We've had a lot of success in my years here. I guess things were really crisp while I was playing there too. I can't really concern myself with that."

Running back Brian Westbrook, who leads the NFL in combined rushing and receiving yards and sat out Wednesday's practice with a knee contusion, says that he aims to play no matter who's throwing the ball. "It doesn't really change my approach to the game. I feel like I still have to go out there and play my game no matter who's back there at quarterback; whether it's Donovan or A.J."

But was there a slightly different tempo with Feeley? "We did have a little rhythm there on Sunday. We've had rhythm during the season.  When we're on top of things, everybody brings their best game and we can play against the best. [The Patriots] are the best team in the NFL and we brought our A-game. We had a rhythm and it really showed in the game. We've had rhythm other times, but I think, more so in that game than in other games, we sustained it throughout the whole game."

Westbrook stopped short of the "quarterback controversy" notion when the media brought it up. "A.J. came in and played well. He's not the starting quarterback, and anytime a new quarterback comes in and plays well, you're going to have a little bit of a controversy. Because A.J. came in and played well people want to back A.J. because he's the second-string quarterback. Everybody seems to feel that the grass is always going to be greener on the other side. I still have confidence in Donovan, and I have confidence in A.J. that he'll do a good job if he's in there.

"For us as a team, we have to support whoever's in there, and we still have to go to war with whoever's in there."


Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, a contributing author to Pro Football Prospectus 2007, and he writes NFL previews for the New York Sun. Feel free to e-mail him here.


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