Eagles try to pull away from McNabb, Redskins

It would be all too easy to say Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb
simply want to finish the game.

But it’s not just whether you finish, it’s how you finish, and
Monday night’s game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington
Redskins has all the appearances of a midseason turning-point
moment.

Should the Eagles win, the NFC East changes from a three-horse
race to a two-horse dash. The Eagles (5-3) and New York Giants (6-2
entering Sunday’s game vs. Dallas) would separate themselves from
the Redskins (4-4), who would drop below .500 and have the focus
shift even more to coach Mike Shanahan’s long-term retooling and
McNabb’s uncertain future.

If the Redskins win, they would not only move into a tie with
the Eagles, but they would also be 3-0 within the division with two
games still to play against the Giants. The playoffs would be very
much in play.

”For us to be where we need to be, we need this game,”
Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. ”There’s no secrets about
it.”

The best-case for the Redskins would be a win with a stellar
performance from McNabb, punctuated by a game-winning, no-huddle
drive in the fourth quarter. This is one time where it probably
works better to come from behind and win by a little instead of
running away in a rout, because it would temper the uproar created
by Shanahan’s decision to replace McNabb with Rex Grossman in the
final two minutes of a loss to the Detroit Lions.

The benching stunned everyone, especially McNabb, but Shanahan
made things worse by his clumsy and varying attempts to explain it.
Everyone has had two weeks to stew over it – the Redskins had a bye
last week – and McNabb hashed things out with coaches while resting
the sore hamstrings that Shanahan belatedly claimed played a part
in the decision. The ongoing story has made the break feel like one
of the longest ever, and everyone is anxious just to get on with
the next game.

”Nobody likes to get pulled, especially a competitor like
him,” Shanahan said. ”I understand his frustration. It’s
something that we talk about, we deal with, and we move on.”

Vick didn’t even make it through the first quarter the first
time the Eagles and Redskins played last month. His ribs were
squished when Kareem Moore and Hall sandwich-tackled him at the end
of a long run, changing the complexion of a game that the Redskins
went on to win, 17-12.

Vick missed three games, but he has come back strong, leading a
victory over the Indianapolis Colts last week and topping the NFL
with a passer rating of 105.3. He hasn’t thrown an interception or
lost a fumble all season, and the Redskins game is the only one
he’s started that the Eagles didn’t win.

”It was an unfortunate hit,” Philadelphia tight end Brent
Celek said. ”I don’t anybody’s super-mad about it, but he would
love to play the Redskins, for sure.”

The best-case scenario for the Eagles, therefore, is a big win
in which Vick remains a dual threat but wisely runs out of bounds
when he should to minimize the chances of getting hurt again. In
addition, although no one on the team will say it outright, every
win by Vick and the Eagles and every loss by the Redskins helps
justify the decision to trade McNabb to a division rival after 11
years in Philadelphia.

”Mike’s playing the quarterback position at a high level,”
Philadelphia offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. ”Mike’s
a calm, cool, collected customer now. There’s no question about
that. Most of that’s learned, and then you got some of it natural,
but he’s pretty good that way.”