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Earlier this month, it was believed this game could potentially be Donovan McNabb’s last in a Philadelphia Eagles uniform. That belief could be further squashed if McNabb continues to show he’s still capable of being their franchise quarterback.
Philadelphia closes a regular season with McNabb under center for the first time in four years when it meets the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in a matchup of teams trying to finish at .500.
Injuries have prevented McNabb from playing for Philadelphia (7-8) in the last three regular-season finales, including a torn ACL that forced him to miss the final six games in 2006 and two playoff games.
The combination of Jeff Garcia’s impressive work running the offense in McNabb’s absence, along with the Eagles using their first draft pick on quarterback Kevin Kolb, introduced the notion that McNabb’s tenure in Philadelphia could be ending. A poor first half of the season, even though it’s unlikely he was fully recovered from the knee injury, led many fickle Philadelphia fans to call for a change at quarterback.
More injuries did not help McNabb’s cause. Thumb and ankle problems caused him to miss two games and most of another, then backup A.J. Feeley played reasonably well in his place and almost helped the Eagles hand New England its first loss.
More recently, McNabb has fielded questions about a sideline reporter saying the Eagles star believed his days in Philadelphia were numbered and that he saw the organization distancing itself from him.
“I know Donovan has gone through some ups and downs and been under the microscope, to say the least. It’s a microscope with a large lens,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “He’s handled himself very well and you should be very proud of what he’s done this year.”
McNabb has regained his mobility and passing touch in three games since getting back on the field. He has not thrown an interception since returning, completing 63.2 percent of his passes for 650 yards with five touchdowns, and has rushed for 101 yards on 19 carries.
“I’m getting my mobility back,” McNabb said. “I’m definitely feeling better and being able to get opportunities for guys by holding the ball a little bit longer.”
McNabb has led Philadelphia to impressive road victories in the past two weeks. Following a 10-6 win at Dallas - the top seed for the NFC playoffs - the Eagles hurt the Saints’ playoff hopes with a 38-23 win last Sunday as McNabb went 24-of-35 for 263 yards and three TDs.
“It’s good now that we are clicking out there,” McNabb said. “I hope we can use this winning feeling into next year.”
That feeling will be even better with a win over the Bills (7-8), who like the Eagles had high hopes entering the season but also endured quarterback problems.
Former first-round pick J.P. Losman was benched earlier in the season for rookie Trent Edwards, who will start a fifth straight game. Edwards missed all four games last month with a sprained throwing hand, and has returned as the starter in December because Losman was unimpressive.
Edwards won his first two games back in action, but the Bills have lost the last two as he’s gone 22-of-59 for 285 yards. He threw for two touchdowns but had three interceptions last Sunday in a 38-21 home loss to the New York Giants.
That defeat is one of six Buffalo has suffered to teams that will make the postseason. This is the seventh straight season the Bills have failed to qualify for the playoffs.
“It gets disappointing as the year goes on,” Buffalo defensive end Chris Kelsay said. “It’s another year we’re not going to the postseason. I’m getting frustrated.”
Kelsay is part of a Buffalo defense which ranks third-to-last in the league in yards allowed, giving up 361.2 per game.
The Bills have given up more than 120 rushing yards in nine games, including 291 last week as the Giants posted their highest rushing total since 1959. Buffalo is second-worst in the AFC in sacks (22) and passing yards allowed (232.8 per game).
Philadelphia’s defense, meanwhile, has been solid against the run, giving up 92.7 yards per game to rank fifth. The Eagles have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in six straight games.
Marshawn Lynch will try to end that trend as he wraps up a solid rookie year. He’s rushed for 1,010 yards and seven touchdowns - both good for second in the league among rookies behind Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson - despite missing three games due to injury. Since that absence, he’s run for 259 yards in three games.
Lynch, though, won’t have left tackle Jason Peters to run behind. The Pro Bowler will miss this game with a groin injury suffered in last week’s loss.
Lynch’s counterpart, Pro Bowler Brian Westbrook, is looking to finish as the NFL leader in yards from scrimmage. Westbrook already has set a career high with 2,005 total yards, 119 ahead of San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson for the league lead.
“It’s hard to fine a negative run play in the offense,” Reid said. “Brian’s knowledge and feel for what his offensive linemen are doing, then the offensive linemen being consistent of what they’re doing, I just think have really shown up this year.”