It Isn’t About McNabb

Number five makes his return this week. But be wary, Eagles — you're not good enough to get distracted by the hype

After all of the drama, analysis and flat-out hysteria of the last week, Stewart Bradley was ready for more. In the locker room following the Eagles’ 28-3 wipeout of fetid Jacksonville Sunday, the starting linebacker was reported to have asked, “How did Washington do?”

Bradley wasn’t concerned about the Birds ascension to the top of the NFC East standings, courtesy of the Redskins’ loss to St. Louis. His focus was narrower. He, like most fans and media, was interested in tracking the ‘Skins’ quarterback. Donovan McNabb comes to town Sunday for the Blood Bowl, and the crazy machine is already cranked up and spinning out insanity at a high rate. [SIGNUP]

For the next six days, expect a non-stop flood of McNabb-related content. Bile will spew. Camps will mobilize to support or attack. There will be hate and discord. Expect choreographed displays of hate and self-aggrandizement. You won’t be able to go anywhere around here without finding someone interested in discussing the pending grudge match. Come Sunday, the real craziness starts when a fan base whipped into a froth directs its wrath at a human lightning rod who bore a decade’s worth of frustrations and displaced anger from a city unable to get what it “deserved” — a Super Bowl title.

The funny thing about it all will be — aside from the fact that fans were so quick to dismiss the man (Kevin Kolb) whom they insisted would play better than McNabb — is that the noise surrounding the game has nothing to do with the Eagles and their current situation. The 2010 season is not about McNabb, especially not at this point. Now that Michael Vick has been anointed as the Eagles’ QB, the team is so far removed from the days when Number Five lined up under center that we might as well be talking about Adrian Burk or Mike Boryla. If the Eagles get caught up in the silliness surrounding McNabb’s return, they will be doing themselves a great disservice. That’s why Bradley’s question, although innocuous on the surface, could be extremely dangerous.

This is not a proven, experienced team, rather a young squad that has beaten a pair of tomato cans the past couple weeks. If it loses sight of its mission to keep improving and becomes distracted by McNabb’s return to town, it will suffer. Frankly, this team isn’t good enough to let down. Although the defense finally seemed interested in playing physical football against the Jags Sunday, it did so against a rotten team with a QB that had lost confidence following a four-interception performance the week before. And though Vick and the receiving corps made big plays, the ground game wasn’t overwhelming. The Eagles committed too many penalties and surrendered too much return yardage. The O-line was inconsistent. It’s always great to get a win in the NFL, as Andy Reid says each week, but the Eagles can’t view beating Jacksonville and taking over the top spot in a weak division as a crowning achievement.

It is, however, something upon which the team can build. And Vick’s strong performance will quiet the discussion about last weekend’s celebrated flip-flop by Reid. The QB position is secure for now, so the offense can work on improving. The D appeared to find some of the nastiness needed to thrive in the NFL. The indicators are all pointing skyward, so why risk the fragile progress earned by getting distracted by a former player’s return?

One would expect the fans to care more about McNabb than the Eagles, especially since they were conditioned by many media members to blame him for anything bad that happened on the field. Since they had no chance to respond directly to the QB following the Easter Sunday trade, this is their chance to say “Good-bye” or some other choice farewell. It promises to be a wild scene at the stadium Sunday, one which good teams can look past and concentrate on their work.

The Eagles appear to have settled on a method of doing business in 2010 that includes neither McNabb nor Kolb, for that matter. Their new personality is so little about the former QB and the commotion that surrounded him that devoting any attention to him — other than how to keep him under control — is highly counterproductive. The Eagles have six days to prepare for the Redskins and McNabb. Let’s hope very little of it has to do with emotion, drama or hysteria. The team can’t afford that right now, because it isn’t good enough. Fortunately, the Redskins are even worse.

Focus on beating them, not McNabb. Leave that to the people who have little or no effect on Sunday’s outcome.

• Here’s hoping the Phillies win tonight in D.C., so they can clinch the NL East in style, rather than waiting for the heartless Braves to do it for them.
• Carmelo Anthony in Philadelphia? Chris Paul to follow? Sign me up! Just don’t expect it to happen. Kudos the Sixers for trying, but this one is really between the Nets and Denver.
• Temple’s near miss at Penn State Saturday represented a valiant effort and shows the Owls are clearly the MAC’s cream. But don’t expect coach Al Golden to revel in a moral victory. TU had the Lions down for three quarters and wanted to finish the job, not just come close.