Motivation may carry McNabb over Eagles

Donovan McNabb said he expects a positive reaction when he leads Washington into Sunday’s game at Philadelphia.

To borrow a line from Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers: Really?!?

McNabb hasn’t been removed from the farcically-named City of Brotherly Love for that long. This is Philadelphia. Eagles fans boo Santa Claus. They booed McNabb on the day he was drafted. They booed on-and-off as he led the club to seven playoff appearances, one Super Bowl and set all its major passing records. And they’re eager to boo again now that McNabb is with a hated divisional rival.

Take McNabb’s radio-show statement Monday for what it truly is — a combination of wishful thinking and a futile attempt to minimize the hype surrounding one of the NFL’s most-anticipated early-season games. This tactic is understandable. McNabb is trying his best to deal with a surreal situation. He’s starting for the division rival that he faced twice a year for 11 seasons in Philadelphia.

McNabb’s spot with the Eagles was considered tenuous the past few seasons, but it remains stunning that he was traded within the NFC East during the offseason. Besides having faith in Kevin Kolb as his projected replacement — and we’ve seen how well that’s worked out so far — Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid wasn’t overly concerned about having to face the 33-year-old McNabb on a regular basis.

Maybe the Eagles will be proven right. The Redskins (1-2) are coming off an embarrassing 30-16 loss to St. Louis, which had won only one of its previous 28 contests. McNabb has little support in the running game, a spotty offensive line and no game-breaking wide receiver like he had with DeSean Jackson in Philadelphia. The Eagles (2-1) also have caught fire under Kolb replacement Michael Vick.

But sometimes, hell hath no fury like a scorned veteran.

Having a chance to extract revenge can bring out the best in some players. There is no better example that Brett Favre.

In a spectacular 2009 comeback campaign, Favre’s best two games came against the franchise where his Hall of Fame career was built over 16 seasons. Favre faced even greater pressure to produce against Green Bay than McNabb has playing the Eagles. Favre responded with seven touchdowns, 515 passing yards and no interceptions in two Minnesota victories. Favre did have a better supporting cast than McNabb does, but Green Bay’s defense was far superior to Philadelphia’s current unit.

So far, McNabb has wisely copied Favre’s handling of intense pregame media scrutiny. Favre, too, said all the right things. He praised the support of Packers faithful. He tried to emphasize the team aspect of the game ahead of any individual agenda.

And then kickoff came. Favre let his play speak louder than anything he could have said beforehand.

“Just the determination in his eyes, you could tell this was a little extra,” Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said afterward. “It wasn’t just another game. We can admit that now.”

These types of payback storylines have become increasingly common in today’s NFL. Loyalty usually means nothing when a franchise can find a younger, less-expensive replacement even if a veteran still has some tread on the tires. In the past two years, LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Dawkins, Keith Brooking and Tony Gonzalez have joined the list of team icons like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Junior Seau who were jettisoned in a previous generation.

The latest example came last Sunday night when New York Jets outside linebacker Jason Taylor played against Miami for the first time. Taylor spent his first 11 seasons with the Dolphins. He never wanted to leave. Taylor wasn’t just one of the franchise’s most storied players. He also had become a community pillar through his charitable foundation.

That meant nothing to Bill Parcells, who took the reins as Miami’s top football executive in late 2007. Parcells was unhappy with all the time Taylor had spent away from the team’s offseason program pursuing post-football career opportunities and participating on Dancing with the Stars. Taylor was subsequently shuffled to the Washington Redskins in the 2008 preseason.

Parcells and Taylor eventually mended fences, which led to the latter’s return in 2009. Taylor outplayed his one-year contract with 15 starts and seven sacks. But not even that solid productivity was enough for Miami to re-sign the 36-year-old. The Jets — the franchise that Taylor had long despised — showed far more interest this offseason and inked him to a one-year deal.

This isn’t to say Miami made the wrong decision from purely a football standpoint. Younger replacement Cameron Wake has emerged as a pass-rushing force with greater upside. Taylor, though, did make Miami pay for its snub. He registered a sack and was a major contributor to New York’s overall defensive performance in a 31-23 win. Taylor was even given a Gatorade shower from Ryan afterward for his efforts.

Taylor said emotional control and support from Jets teammates helped him approach the Dolphins game with as much normalcy as can be expected under the circumstances.

“If you don’t make four sacks against your former teammates, that’s ok,” Taylor said Tuesday. “At the end of the day, I’m not that important. It wasn’t about me. It was about the New York Jets needing to go into Miami and get a win. That was my focus the entire week and the entire game.”

Taylor believes McNabb would be well-suited to follow the same philosophy.

“Treat it like a normal week,” Taylor said. “The emotions will be there when you get to the stadium and have to go through all that pregame stuff. But you have to focus in. Don’t change your routine. Just do what you’ve done every week for the 12 years you’ve been in the league. Let the game come to you. The rest of it will pass pretty quickly.”

And maybe, just maybe, McNabb will pass Washington to victory over the Eagles.


Alex Marvez and co-host Damien Woody interviewed Jason Taylor on Sirius NFL Radio.