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News » Phil Sheridan: Bench Strength

Phil Sheridan: Bench Strength

Phil Sheridan: Bench Strength
A week later, it's easy enough to see the benching of Donovan McNabb as a miscalculation on Andy Reid's part. The head coach thought Kevin Kolb could pull a Detmer or Feeley, stepping in and winning a tight game against the Baltimore Ravens. Instead, the Eagles fell apart.

Lesson learned.

The less obvious miscalculation was made on a much wider scale. It seemed clear to a lot of observers, both in the media and in the stands, that the benching would destroy McNabb's credence with his teammates. That turned out to be just as wrong as Reid was to bench him in the first place.

For a guy who many believe is not a great leader, McNabb sure did inspire an outpouring of loyalty and empathy from his teammates. He's not a Brian Dawkins-like motivational speaker, but McNabb is respected, player to player, for his toughness, his tenacity, and his team-first mind-set.

The offensive linemen know that they did not play well in recent weeks and that McNabb took the fall for them.

The receivers know that they have not been good enough for stretches and that McNabb took the fall for them.

The world knows that Brian Westbrook has not been healthy enough to play his best and that McNabb bears the brunt when the offense suffers.

Reid and his staff should know that they have not provided McNabb with the pass protection, the weapons or the balance that NFL quarterbacks require to survive and that McNabb took the fall for them, too.

Sometimes players and coaches cheerfully allow the QB to be the fall guy when a team struggles. It's easier than admitting their own culpability and much easier than doing what it takes to turn things around.

The Eagles avoided that trap. They looked completely lost in the second half in Baltimore, after McNabb's halftime benching. The tight game Reid handed over to Kolb turned into a 36-7 rout as the offense and defense rolled over.

"They were told that they weren't fighters and that they quit and all these things, and they didn't listen to that," Reid said Friday of his players. "They just went about their business and came out and played with a lot of energy."

If they were told those things, it's because those things were true last week. The Eagles' second-half collapse was a profound statement. Just as profound were the reactions of such Ravens defensive stalwarts as safety Ed Reed and linebacker Terrell Suggs.

"That's like taking Tom Brady out without having knee surgery," Reed said on the Monty Show on Sporting News Radio (as transcribed by profootballtalk.com). "He's been to the Super Bowl; he's been to NFC championships. . . . [He's] throwing the ball 50, almost 60 times a game. You're asking him to produce - now come on, you've got to have a running game in this league. You have to have some sort of running game to help your passing game, and vice versa. So, you know, he might be going through a little slump, but that's no reason, after all the years he's put in, to just give up on a guy."

Reed, who intercepted both McNabb and Kolb in that game, is not an expert on the inner workings of the Eagles' locker room. But he is an established NFL Pro Bowler who has had some dodgy quarterbacks on his team. His perspective is close to what veteran Eagles players might say if injected with truth serum.

After the 48-20 blowout of the Cardinals, several Eagles said McNabb had gotten their attention on the practice field during the short week. He threw with renewed confidence and energy. Players watching to see how McNabb would react to his first-ever benching came away feeling that the team was in good hands.

"He bounced back," left tackle Tra Thomas said. "He takes that type of criticism to heart, and he wants to prove everybody wrong. He had a great game for us. He didn't let everything bother him. He just came out and played his game."

"He was just on right away," rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson said. "He felt everybody was coming down on him. We all know the reasons. There was just something about him. It's been all week."

The argument to stick with Kolb for the rest of the season was based on the belief that McNabb's teammates would not respond to their veteran QB after his demotion. That turned out to be a profoundly mistaken assumption.

Reid gambled that Kolb could win the Baltimore game and lost. His secondary hope was that the benching would fire McNabb up. The surprise was that it fired the whole team up.

If that unintended consequence gets the Eagles to the playoffs - and really, they have to win the rest of their games to have a shot - that will be the biggest surprise of all.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: November 30, 2008

Rocky Boiman Name: Rocky Boiman
Position: LB
Age: 28
Experience: 7 years
College: Notre Dame
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