McNabb earns one of his sweetest wins

Donovan McNabb couldn’t keep the poker face forever.

Amid massive media hype, McNabb had masterfully downplayed the personal revenge factor entering Sunday’s game at Philadelphia. Even some of McNabb’s new Washington Redskins teammates didn’t know just how badly their quarterback wanted to prove the Eagles erred by trading him this offseason — especially to a division rival.

McNabb, though, did crack following a 17-12 victory. And he did so in an unfamiliar setting: the visiting locker room McNabb had never before frequented at Lincoln Financial Field.

After being presented the game ball by Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, McNabb expressed the emotion behind closed doors that he wouldn’t share publicly.

“Everybody makes mistakes in their lifetime,” he said. “(The Eagles) made one last (offseason).”

For at least one game, McNabb was right.

Not that he was going to disclose such sentiment with outsiders. McNabb refused to elaborate on his postgame speech during a meager four-minute news conference. However, McNabb did confess to a sense of relief after being squarely in the NFL spotlight for an entire week.

“You couldn’t watch any TV without people talking about (me) coming back to Philadelphia,” McNabb said. “One thing I didn’t want my teammates to see was the fact it became a distraction for me. I tried to go through the same regimen. Those guys saw me in the locker room laughing and joking. I thought today we were a truly focused bunch.”

That bunch is more responsible than McNabb for this victory.

He wouldn’t have bragging rights without a strong Redskins running game — Ryan Torain and Clinton Portis combined for 125 yards and one touchdown — and a solid defensive effort. McNabb’s second-half play was abysmal after a strong start. He completed only two of 11 passes for 10 yards as Washington couldn’t add to a 17-6 halftime lead.

The performance would have justified Philadelphia’s decision to cut ties with McNabb — provided the Eagles had won and gotten more productivity under center Sunday.

Michael Vick went down with a rib/chest injury at the end of the first quarter and didn’t return. That pushed Kevin Kolb into action for the first time since he was hurt in the season-opener.

The player originally projected as McNabb’s replacement justified Eagles coach Andy Reid’s decision to stick with Vick in the starting lineup even when Kolb was healthy. None of Kolb’s 22 completions gained more than 18 yards. On the rare occasions that wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin escaped tight coverage from Washington’s secondary, Kolb already had locked onto shorter passes to running backs and tight ends.

The tentative Kolb played like a quarterback with only three career starts. The Redskins also knew Kolb wasn’t the same caliber rushing threat as Vick, whose timetable for a return is currently unknown.

“When things broke down, Kolb ran but (Vick) would have gotten some first downs,” Redskins free safety Kareem Moore said.

Kolb and Vick both got little support from an Eagles squad that committed far too many mental mistakes and penalties (eight for 80 yards). Reid is among the goats. He got the offense flagged for delay-of-game on a fourth down from the Redskins 1-yard line by not getting a play into Kolb on time. The Eagles (2-2) were then forced to settle for a field goal right before halftime.

Wide receiver Jason Avant made an even bigger gaffe. He bobbled what would have been the game-winning touchdown pass on the final snap. DeAngelo Hall intercepted Kolb’s desperation throw to seal the victory.

McNabb raised his hands in the air to celebrate and then walked to midfield for a hug with Reid, his coach and mentor for 11 seasons. McNabb also received an embrace en route from smiling Redskins linebacker London Fletcher.

“We had a little extra motivation: To come in here and get a victory against a team that basically said, ‘You’re not good enough. This is what we think of you: We’ll trade you within the division,’" Fletcher said. “Today, he got the best of them.”

Fletcher tried to make McNabb comfortable before the game. Walking to the pregame coin toss, Fletcher told McNabb that he and the Redskins “were going to do this together.”

“He knew that,” Fletcher said, “but I just wanted to reiterate it to him, let him know we’ve got your back.”

By that time, McNabb’s head was spinning. He seemed to spend as much time before kickoff saying hello to friends and former Eagles teammates as warming up. After his name was read over the public address system in pregame introductions, McNabb received a standing ovation from the Eagles fans with whom he shared a love-hate relationship.

Eagles faithful loved the fact McNabb led the team to five NFC Championship games and set the franchise’s major passing records. They hated the fact he never won a Super Bowl.

At age 34, the championship window may have closed for McNabb. The Eagles thought so by shipping him to Washington for a second-round draft pick. McNabb’s best moments — a 31-yard touchdown strike to tight end Chris Cooley, a 57-yard bomb to Anthony Armstrong and an 18-yard scramble for a key fourth-quarter first down — were eclipsed by his ineffectiveness as the game unfolded. While saddled with largely mediocre offensive talent in Washington (2-2), McNabb has yet to show he can raise the play of those around him.

McNabb, though, deserves to enjoy this moment for coming through in such a high-pressure situation. This victory further cemented his leadership status on a new team. And while he will never admit this, it didn’t hurt for McNabb to show he’s human after all.

“It was the first time I had really heard him say that (the Eagles) made a mistake by letting him go,” Cooley said. “Just to let that out I’m sure felt good for him. It was cool that he could express how he felt.”