It could be that Andy Reid was right, that yanking Donovan McNabb on Sunday jarred the quarterback out of whatever funk he'd been in.

It could be that Reid created that illusion by doing what his loudest critics have begged for all along: running the ball often enough to take pressure off McNabb and keep defenses off balance.

Or it could be that the janitor at the NovaCare Complex, the one McNabb said told him he would start this week, really is calling the shots now. If so, he's a better custodian of McNabb's confidence than the coaching staff has been.

Whatever it was, you didn't know whether to cheer or grit your teeth while watching McNabb and a revitalized Brian Westbrook carve up the Arizona Cardinals, 48-20, on a brisk Thanksgiving evening.

You cheered the plays. You gritted your teeth wondering, if this was so easy, where was it in winnable games against Chicago, the Giants, Washington, Cincinnati and Baltimore? Why did it take humiliations in Cincinnati and Baltimore to make Reid do the obvious?

"Sometimes," rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson said, "it takes games like we went through to get where we are right now."

The fans said it best last night without uttering a word. When Kyle Eckel banged off right tackle for 2 yards on third and 1 - a situation that had the Eagles throwing unsuccessfully in past weeks - the crowd at the surprisingly packed Linc rose as one and cheered as if the Eagles had just won a playoff game.

The fans were right, too. In the resuscitation of McNabb and the passing attack, the running game provided the oxygen and the breathing room.

"When you come out and get into a flow," McNabb said, "it seems like the offense . . . you just kind of pick plays and get into a rhythm, and today we were able to start out from the very beginning."

The Eagles' first drive: six run calls, six pass calls. McNabb completed 5 of 5 attempts (he scrambled for 2 yards on one pass call) for 38 yards and a touchdown.

The Eagles' second drive: Westbrook ran four times for 39 yards and a touchdown. Four runs, zero passes.

The Eagles' third drive: three passes, punt.

The Eagles' fourth drive: six runs for 23 yards; four passes, all complete, for 38 yards and a touchdown.

Three run-first series led to three touchdowns. One pass-happy series led to a punt. At that point, the Eagles had called 16 runs and 13 passes and they had a 21-0 lead.

Coincidence?

After the third touchdown, on a pretty screen pass to Westbrook, McNabb turned and sprinted all the way to midfield before rounding off and returning to the sideline. The now 32-year-old QB looked like a rookie, just thrilled to be out there and moving the offense down the field. He even took off on a few vintage, tackler-shaking runs.

"Everybody wants to get mad at him," Jackson said, "and not think about the great things he's done. It doesn't matter. He has to play good. Tonight he played good."

"Adversity always happens in our position," McNabb said. "It's how you pull yourself out of it. I knew coming into this game, if I just continue to be myself and know what I'm seeing out there and react, good things would happen."

The commitment to the run helped. The remarkable difference in Westbrook - did he get to Lourdes despite the short practice week? - helped more. The emphasis on Jackson, Kevin Curtis and Hank Baskett - with Reggie Brown relegated to the sideline - made a difference. So did the use of short drops and quick throws, especially early, which helped McNabb find a rhythm before the pass rush could find him.

The sum of those parts was a game plan the players appeared excited about. That is something that has not been apparent in their recent play. The players' talk about executing whatever play is called is nice. You can sense when they're really buying in, and they were really buying in last night.

That was the X factor a few years ago when McNabb was hurt and Jeff Garcia quarterbacked the team to a five-game win streak and the playoffs. Garcia was very good, but he benefited from a more balanced offensive approach than McNabb tended to see.

With a five-game streak necessary to have a shot at the playoffs, the Eagles' best chance is for Reid to give McNabb that same support.

One down, four to go. The Cardinals are not the Giants, the team the Eagles will play at the Meadowlands on Dec. 7. While it's tempting to grade on a curve based on opponent, the suspicion persists that the Eagles' messes are mostly of their own making.

Turns out the janitor knew how to clean it up. He even let Kevin Kolb play.

On mop-up duty.

Phil Sheridan: No Bench Warrant Last Night

Donovan McNabb got benched for Kevin Kolb again last night, but this time it was with a 48-20 lead in the fourth quarter. McNabb outdueled Arizona's Kurt Warner, who threw interceptions to Joselio Hanson and Quintin Mikell on his first two drives of the game and never fully recovered. McNabb also rushed for 24 yards on four carries.

Comp.   Att.   Yds.   TD   INT   Rating   

Donovan McNabb 27   39   260   4   0    121.7

Kurt Warner 21   39   235   3   2   65.7

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Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.