MINNEAPOLIS - The Donovan McNabb stream of consciousness tour continues, as we all try to take the temperature of a moving target on a weekly basis.
And so, yesterday against the Minnesota Vikings, McNabb ran better and looked more comfortable than he has since offseason knee surgery but he still missed L.J. Smith in the end zone that one time and kind of threw behind Greg Lewis another time, but he did have the one called running play that the coaches threw in there at his insistence and he did look pretty nimble in traffic, but he still wasn't happy with the red-zone offense overall and it wasn't as if they were playing the '85 Bears or anything, but . . .
You get the point. This temperature-taking is a lot more art than it is science. It is a lot more about impressions, and perceptions. More than anything, it is about hurdles - some physical, more mental; some of which are cleared cleanly, others that clatter noisily to the ground.
Yesterday, McNabb cleared the trust hurdle.
He finally let somebody else try to make a play.
McNabb threw the ball 36 times in the Eagles' 23-16 win over the Vikings. But this is not about that, or about the game in general. This is about two particular throws, one up the right sideline to Reggie Brown in the second quarter and one up the left sideline to Kevin Curtis in the fourth quarter.
Both were delivered under pressure. Neither was guaranteed to get there. Brown was not wide open and Curtis was not wide open. They were hopeful throws more than anything else, not exactly jump balls but not far from it, either.
They were invitations for Brown and Curtis to make a play and both of them did, spectacularly - Brown somehow getting his feet down inbounds on his 30-yarder, Curtis somehow tumbling and catching the ball on his 31-yarder, both of them wrestling with a Vikings defensive back all the while.
With all due respect to the people who measure this man by his legs - and even McNabb himself said yesterday, "I've just been feeling a change since the bye week . . . I definitely feel like the burst is coming back . . . " - the biggest development yesterday was the quarterback's ability to trust his receivers, really for the first time this season. Because that is how this offense has to function.
Listen to Brown:
"They were in the Cover-2," he said, speaking of the zone defense that discourages a team from taking shots down the field. "I saw [McNabb] scrambling. He just put it up . . . At first, I thought the DB was about to knock it out. I was in between jumping and not jumping. I just kind of drifted and I was able to keep my feet in. Those kinds of plays, they help your confidence for the rest of the day. You're on a high when you make those type of plays."
Listen to Curtis:
"You want to go and get the ball at its highest point - not that I got up that high," he said. "I just got lucky . . . [McNabb is] doing a good job moving around and keeping the play alive. That helps us . . . I was just trying to make sure [Vikings cornereback Cedric Griffin] didn't pick it. I wanted to try and go up and make a play on it. It kind of just landed there in my lap. I had some luck. I don't know how it ended in my hands, to tell you the truth."
Curtis said he was anxious to see a replay of the catch, to see how the acrobatics really played out. Brown was plainly thrilled. "He just put it up . . . Those kinds of plays, they help your confidence for the rest of the day . . . "
This is what McNabb has the ability to give his teammates, if he can trust them. This is the kind of explosiveness this offense can potentially show, if he can just throw it up there every once in a while, confident that the receiver will either make a play on the ball or at least prevent the defensive back from intercepting it.
McNabb plainly hates interceptions, a very good thing. He has thrown fewer of them than any NFL quarterback in history on a percentage basis. But when the big plays are not coming, and when the offense is not scoring enough points . . .
Risk, reward, trust - one following from the other following from the other. McNabb had not made two throws like that all season, ones that were so decidedly 50-50 when they left his hand.
"I think Don was looking for me today," Brown said. "When you know your quarterback is going into the game and he's going to be looking at you as far as a target, you have to get open. There's no time to waste."
Brown's season has been decidedly up and down. Curtis had put up decent numbers, but all of them pretty much clustered into two of the team's first six games. It has been painful watching the Eagles try to throw the ball down the field. It was all too hard.
But then, yesterday, McNabb threw those two passes. He threw the ball up for grabs and his teammates delivered for him.
"We love that," Reggie Brown said, when asked about the whole throw-it-up mentality. " . . . We love being able to make plays. That's what we do. Once, he, they, give us an opportunity to, we excel at it. That's one thing we're good at, coming down with the ball."
The passes weren't for touchdowns and they didn't win the game or anything, but they were memorable because they revealed a new mind-set. Whether it is McNabb deciding to share the burden or share the opportunity is unclear. But it is different and it comes down to that one word: trust. *
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