— Story by Bob Wankel @
With the Eagles starting a young promising quarterback in a crucial road game at Washington this weekend, we flash back to the last time the Eagles were in the same situation. November 26, 2000.
The Background: There may not be a more divisive athlete in this city’s history than Donovan McNabb. You likely either view McNabb as one of the best players in franchise history, or as a sensitive crybaby that never understood this fan base and never fully realized his full potential by failing to win a Super Bowl during his 11 years as an Eagle. It wasn’t always like this with McNabb. Once upon a time, he was an ascending 24-year-old superstar in his second season leading the Eagles out of the gutter as he dazzled even his eventual haters with both his arm and legs.
The Set-Up: The NFC East was an extraordinarily competitive division during the 2000 season (Except for Dallas. Remember Dave Campo? Man, that guy SUCKED. Arizona was pretty bad, too. I actually forgot for they were even in the division when I first began writing this.) The Eagles entered Thanksgiving weekend that year tied with the New York Giants for the NFC East lead with matching 8-4 records. A critical showdown loomed with the Washington Redskins, who themselves were just a half-game behind in the division race with a 7-4 record. The Eagles under second-year head coach Andy Reid were in playoff contention for the first time since the 1996 season and entered the game riding a three-game win streak fueled by thrilling overtime victories over the Steelers and Cowboys.
How It Went Down: The Redskins were strong 7-point favorites in this game and early on they showed why. The Philadelphia defense had Washington in a fourth and one on its own 34-yard line, but safety Damon Moore was flagged for a delay of game penalty, extending the drive. Redskins quarterback Jeff George (who compiled a career 46-78 career record as a starter) found the explosive James Thrash (rolls eyes) for a touchdown. (Hard to believe a secondary featuring Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent, and Brian Dawkins could allow this.)
The Eagles were forced to punt on their opening drive, but got new life when Thrash muffed the punt (I guess they were really impressed with him at receiver) and they recovered on the Washington 11-yard line. The Eagles capitalized on the turnover when McNabb found tight end Jeff Thomason for a 3-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
Both offenses stalled on its ensuing possessions before the Eagles put together a 15-play field goal drive to go ahead 10-7. The march lasted 7:32 and the highlight was a 26-yard run by McNabb around right end. This wouldn’t be the last time McNabb would burn defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes’ (RAY RHODES!) unit with his legs.
The score would remain the same until late in the second half with the Eagles facing a first and ten on their own one-yard line. McNabb heaved a pass deep downfield for Charles Johnson, but it was picked off by second-year rising superstar Champ Bailey. The Redskins quickly cashed in when George found tight end Stephen Alexander for a 19-yard touchdown reception that put them back in front 14-10.
One of McNabb’s career signature moments came on Philadelphia’s second drive of the third quarter. After safety Brian Dawkins recovered a George fumble at the Washington 21-yard line, McNabb delivered an open field juke that safety Mark Carrier will likely never forget.
McNabb faked an inside run to fullback Stanley Pritchett and kept it around left end. Wide receiver Torrance Small delivered an outstanding block eliminating the corner which allowed McNabb to fake Carrier out of his shoes at the 15-yard line before dashing into the end zone to put the Eagles back in front. The play was vintage McNabb.
Washington would counter with a drive lasting nearly seven minutes that ended with a 26-yard field goal by kicker Eddie Murray that tied the game at 17-17.
After a David Akers field goal put the Eagles back ahead 20-17, the Redskins marched 80 yards, chewing up over six minutes of clock in the final quarter. The Eagles defense faced a first and goal for the Redskins offense with the ball resting just outside the goal line. That’s when the Eagles defense stepped up.
Washington running back Skip Hicks was stuffed on two consecutive plays, first by Damon Moore, then by Jeremiah Trotter. On third down, George fluttered a pass for Alexander that fell incomplete. Rather than go for it on fourth down, Norv Turner opted for a 20-yard field goal that tied the game once again. It was a move that would prove costly.
McNabb, facing a third and ten from his own 39-yard line dropped back to pass, but then tucked the ball and darted 54 yards before being taken down by Carrier inside the Washington 10-yard line. It was yet another signature run by McNabb. The Redskins held, however, forcing the Eagles to kick their third field goal of the day, but the Eagles were ahead 23-20 with just over three minutes left to play.
The defense would have to make one final stand. Facing a third and twenty-one on its own 16-yard line, George found Thrash for a 50 yard-completion to move the Redskins into field goal range. The defense would hold, however, and Eddie Murray missed a would be game-tying 44-yard field goal allowing the Eagles to escape Washington with their ninth win of the season and inch closer to the postseason.
Highlights: McNabb was only 19 of 30 for 137 yards, but haunted Washington on the ground with 11 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown. The game was typical of the Eagles offense early in the Reid era, relying on the athleticism of McNabb and short passing game to put points on the board. The 21-yard juke on Carrier and touchdown run is in any McNabb career highlight package. He had played well in his second season, but a clutch performance in a back and forth nail biter further solidified the former Syracuse star as one of the game’s most dynamic players.
Something to consider: James Thrash was originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Missouri Southern by the Eagles prior to the 1997 season, but was released during training camp that year. You have to wonder if his five catches, 121 yards, and touchdown led the Eagles to signing Thrash as a free agent following the 2000 season. In fact, 10 of Thrash’s 50 catches that season came against the Eagles, as did 166 of his 653 receiving yards. If he doesn’t have this breakout game (or 86 total yards in the teams’ first meeting), would we have missed out on him pointing to the sky after a three-yard catch or the unforgettable 2003 NFC Championship Game where he was dominated by Panthers cornerback Ricky Manning Jr.? Who knows.