The surging Eagles look to win their fourth straight game and hand the stumbling Washington Redskins a fourth consecutive loss when the NFC East rivals meet Sunday at FedEx Field.
Philadelphia (8-5-1) is 25-11 in regular season games played in December and January since the start of the 2001 season, including two wins this year. The Eagles were stumbling at the .500 mark before their latest surge, but McNabb’s strong play has helped revitalize the team.
Since being benched at halftime of a 36-7 loss at Baltimore on Nov. 23, McNabb has responded by throwing for seven touchdowns and 741 yards in the next three games. He threw for 290 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in Monday’s 30-10 win over Cleveland.
McNabb, in his 10th season with Philadelphia, continues to insist that the benching was unwarranted while at the same saying his relationship with coach Andy Reid is fine. In any case, the Eagles have been a different team since the benching.
“For me to be used as the guy to motivate other guys, I really don’t think that was needed, but I guess we’ve all seen what happened and have learned from it and moved on,” McNabb said. “It’s a different situation when it’s really not you that’s being the guy to motivate everyone else. I think, in light of it, I guess we’re all playing well together.”
The Redskins (7-7) have been a different team since going 6-2 in the first half of the season, including an impressive 23-17 win at Philadelphia on Oct. 5. Washington has scored 13 points or fewer in each of its last five losses since the second half of the year began.
Last weekend’s 20-13 loss to lowly Cincinnati prompted coach Jim Zorn to say he felt like “the worst coach in America” in the wake of a week in which he also had a verbal clash with Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis.
Zorn dismissed the idea that he’s worn out by his first year as a head coach.
“I’ve got a lot of energy left,” Zorn said. “I didn’t just gear up to coach two final games. I’m gearing up hopefully every year to coach in the playoffs as well.”
If Zorn has energy left, perhaps it’s Portis who isn’t operating at the same gear. Portis had an NFL-high 944 yards rushing through eight games, but he’s topped 100 yards just once since, averaging 50 in the last five losses.
Portis ran for 145 yards and one touchdown as Washington rallied from an early 14-0 deficit against Philadelphia in October. But the Redskins are clearly a different team now.
“They got on a roll,” said McNabb about how well Washington played earlier in the season. “Offensively, they were doing some great things and, defensively, they were creating turnovers. That’s something that you just don’t see as much.”
Unlike Portis, Philadelphia’s Brian Westbrook isn’t on the Pro Bowl roster, but he’s playing at that level currently. Westbrook has rushed for a total of 294 yards and three scores in his last three games, and also has 106 yards receiving and three TD catches in that span.
In addition, Philadelphia’s NFC-best defense has yielded an average of 222.3 yards in its last three games.
“The guys are the ones doing the job,” Reid said. “They are the ones that are stepping up and handling this thing and my hat is off to them. I mean, that’s not an easy thing to do where they were at a few weeks ago.”
Washington’s defense actually is second in the conference behind Philadelphia, but its struggling offense has given it little margin for error.
“Coach Zorn, his first year as head coach, offensive coordinator, that’s a lot of responsibilities for anybody, especially your first year, so there’s going to be bumps in the road,” Washington quarterback Jason Campbell said. “Maybe one day we’ll be able to look back at this and say it made us a stronger team because of the struggles we went through together.”
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