McNabb, Eagles Have Got Nest

Times Staff Writer

- When Michael Vick was a high-school senior being recruited by Syracuse, his host was Donovan McNabb.

That convinced Vick to run the other way, headed instead for Virginia Tech. “I didn’t want to walk in the same footsteps as him,” Vick said.

Saturday at Veterans Stadium, Vick again found McNabb in his path. And this time, there was nowhere to run.


McNabb, returning after sitting out eight weeks because of a broken right ankle, did enough to win, leading his Philadelphia Eagles to a 20-6 victory over Vick’s Atlanta Falcons in an NFC divisional playoff game.

Vick, on the other hand, found those footsteps too large to fill. A week ago, the 22-year-old Vick was being hailed as the NFL’s next superstar, Michael Jordan in cleats, as he went in to snowbound Lambeau Field in Green Bay, moved around as if he were on skates and handed the Packers their first playoff loss in that historic stadium.

But Saturday night in Philadelphia, on a night when the temperature dropped to 20 degrees with the wind-chill factor, in front of a towel-waving crowd of 66,452, Vick moved around as he if were in cement boots.

It’s not that Vick’s passing numbers were poor.

He actually outgained McNabb, completing 22 of 38 for 274 yards while McNabb was 20 for 30 for 247.

But two other statistics were far more telling. Vick threw two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, and he ran for only 30 yards in six carries.

Take his vaunted legs away and it figures to be a long night for the Atlanta quarterback.

That became obvious on the Falcons’ second possession. On second and eight from his own 32-yard-line, Vick floated a pass out into the left flat in the general direction of Shawn Jefferson. Jefferson appeared to stumble and that was the only opening Eagle defensive back Bobby Taylor needed. He cut in front of Jefferson, grabbed the ball and cut back inside. The only one standing in his way was Vick at the goal line and the Atlanta quarterback did little more than escort him in.


“I threw off my back foot,” Vick said. “It’s a throw I shouldn’t have thrown. I learned a lot from this game tonight.”

What he learned, mostly, was that he probably made the right move in not following McNabb to Syracuse.

When the Eagles culminated their next possession with a 34-yard field goal by David Akers, it appeared that the game might be slipping away early from the Falcons (10-7-1), who had won a wild-card playoff berth with a 9-6-1 regular season.

But then the game settled into a defensive stalemate.

The best the two offenses could manage was to exchange field goals. Akers hit another one from 39 yards and Atlanta’s Jay Feely responded with field goals from 34 and 52 yards.

That left the Falcons behind only 13-6 at the half, not in bad position considering how futile their offense had been.

But things turned even bleaker in the second half, neither side able to score until it came down to fourth and one at the Atlanta 35-yard line with just over 6 1/2 minutes to play.


Philadelphia called a timeout.

“That was just to give us some more time to think about it,” said Eagle Coach Andy Reid. “We wanted to make sure we got the whole thing [right]. The clock was running fast and we wanted to be safe.”

On the sideline, Reid talked to McNabb about a Falcon blitz.

“They were going to bring everybody and we had a good protection called,” Reid said.

Perfect, as it turned out.

McNabb faded back and hit receiver James Thrash. One man, cornerback Ray Buchanan, had a shot at Thrash, but the Eagle receiver spun away, leaving Buchanan on the turf and a wide-open path to the end zone for Thrash.

He scored easily, the only offensive touchdown of the night, but enough to clinch the Eagles’ 13th victory in their 17th game.

Buchanan had been talking trash earlier in the week, questioning whether McNabb would return with the mobility that had made him arguably the best running quarterback in the league, Vick notwithstanding.

But it was Buchanan, who didn’t start the game because of a nagging abdominal strain, who lacked the mobility to keep up with Thrash.

And it was Vick, not McNabb, who struggled.

One play in particular illustrated his night.

With second and 10 at the Eagle 20 in the third quarter, Vick took off for the end zone, seemingly beyond reach of an Eagle defender.


At the three-yard line, however, Philadelphia defender Brian Dawkins, who’d come streaking across the field, smashed into the side of the Atlanta quarterback and sent him sprawling.

Vick lay on the ground, unable to get up, the wind knocked out of him. But at least he was in the end zone. At least he had scored.


He was in the end zone, all right, but the play was called back because left guard Travis Claridge had been called for holding.

Hey, it took Michael Jordan seven years to win a title.