McNabb Gives Eagles a Big Gain

Times Staff Writer

Philadelphia Eagle quarterback Donovan McNabb has been recovering from a broken right ankle for nearly two months, but his ears are just fine. He has heard the comments of Atlanta cornerback Ray Buchanan, who said the Falcons will be better off Saturday if a "less mobile" McNabb is in the starting lineup instead of fill-in A.J. Feeley.

"According to everybody else, I'm not mobile or I'm not able to move anymore," a smiling McNabb said Tuesday, after the Eagles announced he would return to the starting lineup for a divisional playoff game at Veterans Stadium. "I just let people continue to think that, and when the time comes I'll make sure I showcase that a little bit. You run faster when you don't want to get hit."

McNabb was a leading MVP candidate when he suffered the injury Nov. 17 in the first series against Arizona. Because neither he nor his coaches realized the severity of the injury, he stayed in the game, throwing four touchdown passes and -- for the first time in his career -- finishing without a rushing attempt. The Eagles were 7-3 when he stepped aside.

Instead of imploding, they went 5-1 behind the play of backup quarterback Koy Detmer, injured during his only start, and third-stringer Feeley. Now, McNabb is back and says he's ready to pick up where he left off.

"I'd be foolish to say we didn't miss Donovan," Coach Andy Reid said. "You're talking about a guy who was right there as the top player in the National Football League. To say you don't miss a guy like that is silly."

The game pits McNabb and Atlanta's Michael Vick, who are not only close friends but are two of the most elusive quarterbacks in the league. McNabb was Vick's host on a recruiting visit to Syracuse and almost talked him into accepting a scholarship, but Vick eventually chose to stay closer to home.

"I think I convinced him as well as his high school coach," McNabb said. "But his mom played a major part of it and wanted him to stay back in Virginia."

As a freshman at Virginia Tech, Vick played Temple at Veterans Stadium and put on an incredible performance, rushing for 134 yards in 12 carries, with touchdowns of 53 and 75 yards. Things haven't changed much. He set an NFL record for quarterbacks this season by rushing for 173 yards in a game against Minnesota, a feat so staggering his Air Jordans were shipped to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Vick led quarterbacks in rushing this season with 777 yards, and became the first in NFL history to gain at least 90 yards on the ground in consecutive games.

The Eagles say they are ready to greet Vick with open arms.

"We're going to attack him," linebacker Shawn Barber said. "We're going to go play Eagles' football, play our style of defense and not change it. When you change things to prepare for one player, you end up getting beat another way."

Still, Philadelphia is susceptible to being burned by the run. The Eagles are coming off a 10-7 overtime loss to the New York Giants in which they surrendered 203 yards rushing to Tiki Barber.

"We missed a lot of tackles in that game," safety Brian Dawkins said. "Some of the times we ran more passing coverages than run-stopping coverages. But you have to give those guys a lot of credit."

The Falcons are equally wary of McNabb, even though cornerback Buchanan essentially issued a challenge when he said, "I think if we play McNabb we have a better chance."

Coach Dan Reeves was quick to counter that assertion, snapping: "Ray has his own opinions. I don't agree with them. I think our football team understands what's at stake. That's Ray's opinion. That isn't my opinion. That isn't our football team's opinion."

McNabb returned to practice for the first time last week and took all the snaps Thursday and Friday. He said he could have played had the Eagles not earned a first-round bye. He said he's looking forward to playing against Vick, even though they won't be on the field at the same time, yet he shied away from the inevitable comparisons.

"I don't get involved in that," he said. "Obviously, you want to make a name for yourself. I want to be Donovan, and I'm sure Michael wants to be Michael."

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