Donovan McNabb called it a “must win,” and just to be clear, he was only referring to his Philadelphia Eagles.
That the Chicago Bears are in a similar spot was merely a coincidence, yet after a rough few weeks, that’s where these teams stand heading into their game Sunday night.
The Eagles (5-4) are coming off two close losses. The Bears (4-5) have dropped four of five. And both teams desperately need a win at Soldier Field.
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“This is a must win for us and that’s the way that we have to approach it,” said McNabb, a Chicago product. “I wouldn’t care if it’s at Soldier Field, I wouldn’t care if it’s playing in Champaign, Ill., or we can play in Oklahoma, it doesn’t matter. This is a game that we need to win. That’s the way I’m approaching it and that’s the way the other guys are approaching it as well.”
So are the Bears.
They’ve allowed 41 or more points in two of the last five games and are fading fast from playoff contention. Their franchise quarterback, Jay Cutler, has been on the run all season, taking big hits behind a struggling offensive line. Now, he’s enduring the worst slump he can remember.
He has a league-high 17 interceptions and 12 in the last five games after being picked off five times in a 10-6 loss at San Francisco on Nov. 12. All came in 49ers territory and two stopped drives near the goal line, another rough night for a quarterback who has struggled this season under the lights.
Photos posted online suggest Cutler is perfectly comfortable being out past sundown, but things get a little spooky when he steps on the field. His 11 interceptions in three night games – all losses and all on the road – are jarring, but jittery fans can take comfort in the fact he has been picked off just twice at home.
“When things are going bad like that, you’ve got to stay positive,” Cutler said. “You’ve got to keep guys believing in the huddle, which I think they do. I think they know I’m going to bounce back.”
Which is what the Eagles are looking to do after falling 31-23 at San Diego last week despite McNabb’s 450 yards, another stinging loss after they fell the previous game by four points to Dallas. They’re now tied with the Giants in the NFC East, a game behind the division-leading Cowboys. And their remaining schedule isn’t easy, with trips to Atlanta, the Giants and Dallas along with a home game against AFC West leader Denver.
Adding to their difficulties is being without Brian Westbrook again. The star running back is out indefinitely after suffering two concussions in three weeks, the latest in a line of injuries. He underwent neurological tests in Pittsburgh on Wednesday and the results were promising, although it’s unknown if he’ll return this season.
His history is a big reason the Eagles drafted LeSean McCoy in the second round last spring after he broke several of Tony Dorsett’s rushing records in two seasons at Pittsburgh. He leads the Eagles with 353 yards rushing and two touchdowns while averaging 4.1 yards per carry, but he’ll have to mature quickly with Westbrook’s future uncertain.
McCoy’s backups are a third-year pro with four career carries (Eldra Buckley) and a rookie (P.J. Hill) who hasn’t played a down, leaving fullback Leonard Weaver with a bigger role in the running game
“I think (McCoy’s) maturation rate has been excelled due to what Brian has gone through and that started back up at camp,” coach Andy Reid said. “I think he’s handled it well. I think he feels good physically right now. He’s not banged-up or nicked-up. I think he’s OK there. I had a chance to meet with him on Monday and sit down and talk to him a little bit. I think he’s in a good place that way. He’s excited about the opportunity this week to jump in there and be the guy.”
As for Westbrook, McNabb expects to see him back at some point.
“He has a lot of drive and determination and he wants to be the best at everything that he does,” McNabb said. “In this situation you have to take a step back. You have to take a step back and look at your future and look at the possibilities of what it could be. You want everybody to walk away from this game on their own terms and be able to hold their kids and play with their kids in the future, travel and take trips with their families and not have to worry about anything.”