PHILADELPHIA -- Next time you find yourself trying to identify the best team in the NFC East, look for something else to do. We tried to close the books on the Washington Redskins after their embarrassing loss in St. Louis last weekend, but they walked into Donovan McNabb's old stadium Sunday and physically punished the Eagles in a 17-12 win that put them in a tie for first place with the Eagles and Giants at 2-2.
Eagles fans charted a new course in giving McNabb a standing ovation as he was introduced before the game. Then they quickly remembered how to boo him as he led the Redskins to scores on each of their first three possessions. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan gave McNabb something he rarely had during his 11 years with the Eagles: a power running game that produced 169 yards on 35 carries. With Mike Anderson unavailable, Shanahan turned to someone named Ryan Torain.
Washington stunned the Eagles' defense early in the first quarter when Torain made road kill out of safety Quintin Mikell on his way to a 12-yard touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, Redskins outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander caused a collective gasp at the Linc when he decked Jorrick Calvin after his ill-advised decision to bring the ball out of the end zone. The Redskins were by far the most physical team on the field and they took the crowd out of the game from the start.
When Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was knocked out of the game with rib and chest injuries after a brilliant 23-yard scramble late in the first quarter, the Redskins were able to change their approach. He'd never admit it publicly, but Shanahan basically shut down his passing game in the second half and put the game in his defense's hands.
"I think you have to game plan so different for when Vick is in the game plan because he can throw it any time or flick it to someone," said Alexander, who replaced Andre Carter as the starter at outside linebacker Sunday. "When [Kevin] Kolb is in the game, he is more of a pocket kind of quarterback and does not get out there and run around as much."
It's hard to imagine a better homecoming for McNabb. He pounded his chest and raised his right hand to show his appreciation to the crowd as it gave him a standing ovation during the pregame introduction. And after the Redskins held on for the win, Shanahan flipped him the game ball in the locker room. The FOX cameras captured his postgame speech, which came at the prompting of his new teammates.
"But I just want to say, definitely, this right here defines team," said McNabb. "And this is something we can feed off of going into the rest of the season. We are No. 1 in the NFC East, and we are gonna stay up there. Everybody makes mistakes in [their] lifetime, and they made one last year! So ... thank you."
McNabb would later tell reporters it was important for him to show his teammates in practice last week that he wouldn't allow his homecoming to become a distraction. He expressed his appreciation for the way fans embraced him Sunday and said he understands they needed to boo him the rest of the game.
"I think all of the quarterbacks got booed today," McNabb quipped.
Everyone talked about Vick's speed coming into this game, but it was McNabb who turned back the clock with an 18-yard scramble on third-and-4 that allowed the Eagles to milk the clock late in the fourth quarter. McNabb had five carries for 39 yards.
McNabb's friend and former head coach Andy Reid has long been criticized for his game management, but he stooped to new levels late in the first half. Trailing 17-3, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy carried the ball to the Skins' 1-yard line. After a lengthy booth review to see whether McCoy had crossed the plane, the ball was marked at the 1-yard line. Reid called a timeout to discuss what to do on fourth down. After the timeout, the Eagles had trouble getting a play in and had to take a delay-of-game penalty. A short field goal by David Akers made it 17-6, but Redskins players raced off the field pumping their fists. Even after hearing the following explanation from Reid, I'm still somewhat baffled by what occurred.
"I had all of the time [during the review] to go over exactly what we wanted done, and then the position of the ball wasn't good," said Reid after the game. "I can't question the officials or anybody else, and I'm not going to do that. I just know that where [the ball] originally was and where it ended up being were two different spots. Again, that's my responsibility. I'm not here to complain about the officials or anybody else. I goofed."
And something tells me "I goofed" could eventually end up in a local headline. I'm always amazed that a man who's so revered by his peers in the profession can appear so clueless at critical moments. A touchdown would've given the Eagles a huge lift heading into the locker room.
Two Eagles starters who were on the field at the time told me the official moved the ball from the "1-foot line" to the 1-yard line, thus foiling a quarterback sneak call. And the play clock started before most of the players realized what had happened.
I'm sure some folks will insist that Vick would've pulled this game out in the second half, but I'm not convinced. The arrival of Kolb isn't what caused left guard Todd Herremans to get called for holding as Albert Haynesworth raced past him. Same goes for Eagles left tackle Jason Peters against Redskins Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo.
"We were very confident this week," Orakpo told me after the game. "We heard all that stuff about us being last in the league in D, but this is a brand new defense. We'll be fine."