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.”