By BOB LABRIOLA
During his news conference at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex on Tuesday, Coach Mike Tomlin spoke of a quarterback who is playing very well right now, who is a key to his team's fortunes every week, who is exceptional at throwing the deep ball, who is special when plays break down.
Tomlin could have been talking about his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, but instead he was referring to Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb.
"We have to go on the road again into another hostile environment in Philadelphia, and everyone is aware the Eagles are a very good football team," said Tomlin. "If you watched a little bit of television last night, you see what the guy in the center is capable of. I think it starts with him when you talk about Philadelphia. Donovan McNabb is obviously very good and obviously very healthy. He's throwing the deep ball as well as I have ever seen him throw it. We have to contain this man. When plays break down, he is special."
Those who were watching television on Monday night likely saw McNabb complete 25-of-37 for 281 yards and a touchdown, while also running five times for 20 more yards, in a close loss to the Cowboys in Dallas. After two games, that means McNabb is 46-of-70 (65.7 percent) for 642 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
McNabb's passer rating of 114.1 is sixth in the NFL; Roethlisberger's 136.3 puts him first.
But while Tomlin has no worries about Roethlisberger this week – "I just met with him and he said he feels better this week than he did a week ago, which is good" – there is plenty for him to worry about when it comes to defending McNabb.
Two games into his 10th NFL season, McNabb should finish this season as the holder of every Eagles franchise passing record, and he already is No. 1 in wins with 74. His next touchdown pass will move him past Ron Jaworski into the top spot in that category with 176, and only injuries can prevent him from moving into first place in attempts, completions and yards by the end of 2008.
Injuries have ruined three of McNabb's seasons – a broken ankle cost him the final six games of 2002; a sports hernia landed him on injured reserve in 2005 and a torn ACL put him back on IR in 2006. But as Tomlin said, McNabb is very healthy right now, and he has been moving around very well for a man who will be 32 on Nov. 11 with 114 NFL starts on his resume.
McNabb never would be lumped into the group at his position who have been labeled "running quarterbacks," because that designation typically carries with it a disdain for the guy's skills as a passer. But with 2,962 career rushing yards, a 6.0 average and 24 touchdowns, McNabb also is a guy who can beat an opponent with his feet.
"He is the kind of quarterback that you attempt to keep in the pocket, but if he is committed to exiting the pocket, then he probably has a chance to do it," said Tomlin. "We have to deal with him because his talents are special. He can throw in the pocket, and he can throw on the move. As I mentioned earlier, he is throwing his deep ball extremely well and he has great touch; he is a great player."
Currently on the wrong side of 30, and with the Eagles having picked a quarterback on the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft, one might assume McNabb's prime has passed. Tomlin would disagree with that assumption, and the fact McNabb already has completed seven passes this season of 20-plus yards would serve to support his contention.
"I think that if you have it, you have it. I remember when I first came into the league as a position coach and watched Randall Cunningham warm up, and he would drop those 60-yard bombs into the back corner of the end zone during warm-ups. It was kind of intimidating," said Tomlin. "Randall was at the end (of his career), but this guy is not at the end. He is just a good veteran player who throws a good deep ball."