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Plenty of weapons for McNabb, Eagles
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PHILADELPHIADonovan McNabb happily talked about his young wide receivers, but the Eagles quarterback didn't stop there after Sunday's 30-27 victory over Denver.
Once done singing the praises of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, McNabb started gushing about Jason Avant, Brent Celek, Reggie Brown and Kevin Curtis. McNabb could have easily included three running backs in the ample mix of skill players at his disposal.
"We have so many weapons," Eagles right tackle Winston Justice said. "As long as we give him time, Donovan can pick (defenses) apart."
The Broncos were the latest team to get shredded. And thanks to such offensive talent, McNabb has his best chance of winning a championship since leading Philadelphia to Super Bowl XXXIX five seasons ago. A showdown in Dallas next Sunday will determine whether the Eagles enter the playoffs as NFC East champions or a wild card.
The Eagles (11-4) have their share of flaws, some of which were exposed Sunday in the second half of a game they were en route to winning handily. But every other NFC title contender does, too. With six consecutive victories, no playoff team in the conference is any hotter or possesses greater overall firepower than the Eagles.
Such ammo is what kept Philadelphia from being upended by a gritty Broncos squad that overcame a 17-point deficit to tie the score at 27-27 with 6:05 remaining. When the Eagles needed a big play to move into field-goal range, Maclin provided it. After an instant replay review, he was awarded a 27-yard sideline catch that put Philadelphia in position for David Akers' 28-yard kick with seven seconds left.
"All of a sudden, things backfired and it went downhill," Maclin said. "We needed one play to spark us."
Maclin finished with a team-high six catches for 92 yards, which is a fabulous contribution from a rookie forced into the starting lineup prematurely when Curtis was hurt. Maclin, though, isn't Philadelphia's only offensive surprise in 2009.
The thought of Philadelphia thriving without do-it-all running back Brian Westbrook would once be considered preposterous. But another rookie (LeSean McCoy) and veteran big-bodied rusher Leonard Weaver have picked up the slack. Westbrook's return Sunday following a five-game absence because of concussions should pay dividends as his sea legs return.
"These guys have been doing so many good things," said Westbrook, who enjoyed a modest nine-carry, 32-yard outing. "At this point, they don't need me to be that Brian Westbrook (of old) because we have so many guys performing right now."
The list goes on. Celek has blossomed into the impact tight end that injury-prone predecessor L.J. Smith never became. Celek had 121 yards Sunday on just four catches, including a 47-yard score when he slipped deep into the secondary without a Broncos defender in sight.
Avant — McNabb's most reliable wideout — gave Philadelphia a 27-10 third-quarter lead with a 15-yard touchdown catch. Jackson drew a 41-yard pass interference penalty on that series, reinforcing his status as the NFL's most dangerous big-play threat. He finished the game with four grabs for 33 yards and one score.
And then there's McNabb himself. He was nearly flawless in the first half, completing 15 of 19 throws for 242 yards and two touchdowns. McNabb cooled in the second half because of accuracy issues, shaky protection and some questionable pass-heavy play calling by head coach Andy Reid with the Eagles leading. McNabb still came through when it mattered. Before connecting with Maclin, McNabb had a critical play on the previous series, scrambling 27 yards for a first down on 3rd and 25. The Eagles didn't score on that possession, but the improved field position helped Philadelphia pin Denver deep inside its own territory on a Sav Rocca punt.
"We've continue to progress together," McNabb said. "All of these guys had a great game and in some part of the game, had a big play to really help us out. That's the way the season has been going."
The Eagles needed such team-wide contributions while trying to find an offensive groove. The unit has come a long way since a 48-22 loss to New Orleans in Week 2. The first key was getting healthy. The Eagles had struggled to build cohesion during the preseason and throughout September because of injuries that sidelined such starters as McNabb, Westbrook, Curtis and left guard Todd Herremans. Attempts to infuse backup quarterback Michael Vick into the offense with a "Spread Eagle" Wildcat-style package didn't yield immediate dividends and hurt continuity.
But like throughout almost all of Reid's 11-year coaching tenure, Philadelphia has gotten stronger as the season unfolded despite defensive deficiencies compared to recent years. Even the Wildcat is working when Vick, who didn't play Sunday because of a quadriceps injury, enters the game.
One year ago in Week 16, the Eagles could only muster a field goal in a 10-3 loss at Washington. Philadelphia then caught fire and advanced to the NFC Championship Game before falling to Arizona. This Eagles squad hasn't needed as much time to get its act together.
"We're starting to gel now," Justice said. "We might take two steps back sometimes, but I think we then take four steps forward."
Coincidentally, four weeks of games remain until the Super Bowl teams are determined. Don't be surprised if the Eagles are one of them.
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