McNabb relishes playoff pressure


Published: Thursday, January 13, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 13, 2005 at 1:23 a.m.
PHILADELPHIA - Donovan McNabb peeked into the interview room as Brian Westbrook approached the podium, and shouted three questions.
''What are you going to do without T.O.? Are you going to get the ball more? What's the mood of the team?'' McNabb said in a squeaky, high-pitched tone, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Tired of hearing those questions himself, the Philadelphia Eagles' five-time Pro Bowl quarterback interjected some humor into a mundane Wednesday news conference. McNabb brings the same lighthearted spirit into the locker room and the huddle.
Pressure? What pressure?
McNabb certainly isn't feeling any as the heavily favored Eagles (13-3) prepare to play the Minnesota Vikings (9-8) in an NFC divisional playoff game on Sunday.
With star receiver Terrell Owens sidelined by an ankle injury, McNabb realizes the burden of carrying the offense falls on him. He welcomes the challenge.
''You guys said T.O. took the pressure off of me. Now I guess I have all the pressure again,'' McNabb said. ''I love pressure. I love to step out there and everybody is standing on their feet with their mouth wide open to find out what I'm going to do next. ... Buckle your seat belts and enjoy the ride.''
McNabb is coming off the best season of his six-year career. He set a team record with 3,875 yards passing, became the first NFL player to throw for more than 30 touchdowns (31) and less than 10 interceptions (eight), and his passer rating of 104.7 was second in the NFC.
Often criticized for being inaccurate, McNabb drastically improved his completion percentage - his 64.0 percent was almost six points higher than his career average - and broke an NFL record by completing 24 consecutive passes over two games.
None of the personal glory matters if the Eagles don't win the Super Bowl. After losing the last three NFC championship games, nothing else is considered a success in a city that hasn't celebrated a winner since the 76ers won the NBA title in 1983.
''In this world that we live in, you're not great unless you win a Super Bowl,'' McNabb said. ''It's sad that you have to be judged by that, but we just have to play our game and know what we're seeing and go out and execute.''
With Owens joining McNabb and Westbrook this season, the offense nearly was unstoppable in the first 12 games. The Eagles won nine of the first dozen games by double-digit margins, including five wins by at least 21 points.
Owens' injury was a devastating blow for Philadelphia, which lost both of its games without the Pro Bowl wideout, mainly because many of the starters were rested with nothing on the line.
But the Eagles didn't have Owens, who has an outside chance of playing in the Super Bowl if Philly gets there, when they went to the last three conference title games. McNabb and Westbrook are playing their best, and the defense has been outstanding this season.
''We have more weapons than just T.O,'' McNabb said, referring to wideouts Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell and tight ends Chad Lewis and L.J. Smith.
''I know you guys have questions about the receiving corps since T.O. is hurt. Our receiving corps is fine, we'll make plays and we'll win the game.''
Westbrook, so valuable that coach Andy Reid sat him out the last two games, figures to draw most of the attention from Minnesota's defense.
''They still have to respect the other guys on this team,'' Westbrook said.
Throughout his career, McNabb has earned respect for his leadership skills and the way he has handled adversity, beginning with being booed loudly by Eagles fans when his name was announced as the No. 2 pick of the 1999 NFL draft.
In 2002, McNabb threw four TD passes on a broken ankle against Arizona, then sat out the last six regular-season games.
He overcame the worst start of his career last season, playing with a sprained right thumb that affected his grip, and an ankle injury limiting his mobility. He was booed by fans, and also dealt with the racially charged critique of then-ESPN commentator Rush Limbaugh, who said McNabb was overrated because the media wants to see a black quarterback succeed.
McNabb uses the criticism and adversity as motivation.
''There are a lot of outside pressures and guys like Donovan are able to put that aside and concentrate on the thing that means the most and that is individual play and performance,'' Reid said.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top