MINNEAPOLIS - Jeffrey Lurie was playing a little hide and seek in the visitor's locker room last night, not his usual modus operandi following an Eagles' victory.
"I don't want it to break out into a press conference," he told one television reporter who asked for some clarity to his words about Donovan McNabb in a Boston newspaper.
Moments later, as he observed the room's happiness from a far corner, I asked for the same thing.
Lurie smiled. "It's exactly as I said. He had it right."
In yesterday's Boston Globe, the Eagles owner told Mike Reiss that he had "every intention of having him back," for the 2009 season. Later in the interview, Lurie watered it down a bit with an assessment of McNabb's record-breaking season as "up and down," but who really would argue much with that?
Not McNabb, at least publicly. Asked about Lurie's comments following yesterday's 26-14 wild-card victory over the Vikings, McNabb said, "That's exciting. Because I don't have to answer questions from you guys about whether I'll be here. That's very nice."
Nice. Exciting. Don't look a gift owner in the mouth. Was it only 6 weeks ago that the franchise quarterback's departure seemed as imminent as an accelerating train? Was it only 6 weeks ago that McNabb looked so flustered out there, so unconfident, so devoid of soldiers who offered support?
Was it only 6 weeks ago that he seemed so alone?
Donovan McNabb can say 1 million times that his second-half benching in the 36-7 loss to Baltimore had no effect on what has occurred since. But it was interesting to see how different he looked and how differently he handled the latest package thrown at him by Andy Reid's protégés yesterday. Leslie Frazier, the Vikings defensive coordinator, once worked under Jim Johnson. Minnesota head coach Brad Childress was hired by Reid to tutor McNabb in his early years. These guys know McNabb better than anybody in the league, certainly better than Baltimore coach John Harbaugh - who was just a special teams coach with the Eagles.
With the Metrodome noise forcing him to continually change plays with his hands and his feet, McNabb completed 23 of 34 passes for 300 yards.
Frazier just kept the blitzes coming and coming and coming. McNabb was sacked three times, fumbled once, was picked off once too. He spent so much time getting hit as he threw that he probably only watched a handful of his completions reach their mark.
Each time, he bounced back into the huddle with an angry scowl, and often with a few choice words for somebody or somebodies.
Calm. Angry. Vocal.
What's gotten into him?
"I want him that way," said Jason Avant, who has been a target in every sense of the word during this playoff run. Yesterday Avant caught five passes for 47 yards, including a couple of tough balls over the middle in which he was subsequently annihilated. "A lot of the things and a lot of the ridicule and a lot of the criticism he receives is not just due to him," Avant added.
I know. It's the same old Charlie Brown story, the part that makes him so hard to love or appreciate. Yesterday, and throughout this run into the playoffs, McNabb has played patiently and accurately, his feet staying put even as the blitz bears down on him. After sailing his first pass high above DeSean Jackson yesterday, he stuck throws into the middle of the field all game long.
"He looked so calm," Reid said. "He hung in there a few times and made some huge throws. Particularly when we didn't have the field position and he was able to change it around on them."
Good segue, coach. Because twice in the second half, with the Birds holding a 16-14 advantage, McNabb engineered drives that escaped trouble and ate clock. Faced with long yardage inside the 5 both times, McNabb found Avant with tough throws over the middle.
Both drives stalled eventually, but not before, as Reid noted, time had elapsed and field advantage been flipped.
"Obviously when you're watching it you want to see touchdowns," said McNabb. "But what it does, it puts so much pressure on the opposing team because it backs them up and they have to go the long field.
"In a game like this, you have to be patient. That's what the playoffs are all about - patience. Take what the defense gives you and try not to turn the ball over and keep yourself in the game . . ."
Again . . . Who is this guy?
A lot of moves Andy Reid has made over the years have angered his quarterback. There have been times that the quarterback's play, his self-doubt, has done the same for the coach. Now we have this, an infamous benching that the quarterback is still peeved about, but a move that has looked better and better each time the quarterback moves behind the center these days.
Yesterday McNabb repeatedly got to the line with 10 seconds left on the play clock, enabling him to check off and not waste one single timeout. Yesterday he looked every bit the kind of game manager that we so often see in Super Bowls.
"Do you want to be back next year?" someone asked yesterday, reminding McNabb that he had asked for a sit-down with ownership when this season concludes.
"I'm here," he said with a smile. "Excited.
"Nice try." *
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