After last week's loss, the Eagles find themselves in a precarious situation. The team's record has dropped to 5-4 with a more challenging schedule over the balance of the season. A loss in San Diego to the AFC West co-leaders was certainly understandable considering that the Eagles were playing at far less than full strength, but they find themselves in this predicament because they let a couple other games get away.
Over the past couple days, Donovan McNabb has called Sunday night's game in Chicago a "must win." Some have questioned this logic and others have wondered whether placing so much emphasis on this game will ultimately back fire? McNabb has also highlighted the overall youth of this particular team and expressed his opinion that the team is lacking in veteran leadership.
It is good to see that McNabb recognizes this void and can see what outsiders looking in can observe about the 2009 edition of the Eagles. Some of the key veteran leaders such as Brian Dawkins, Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas are no longer with the team, and injuries to Brian Westbrook, Kevin Curtis and Stewart Bradley have taken a few leader-by-example type players off the field.
McNabb has long been a de facto leader by virtue of his position, contract and tenure, but he has never been a fiery, vocal presence like some other high profile, veteran quarterbacks. His personality is easy going and fun loving, rather than demanding and intense. He is prone to be supportive, offering positive reinforcement with a pat on the back rather than get into someone's face for blowing an assignment or not executing.
The merits of each style can be debated, and might work better or worse depending on the personalities and the psyches of those around him. Some players are motivated by a demanding leader, while others become paralyzed or resentful. In general, the mentality of the Philadelphia fan base would definitely skew towards favoring a forceful, spirited leader.
Although its not his make-up, lets give McNabb credit for recognizing that he needs to break from past protocol and move towards being more outspoken, more overt. By declaring this a "must game", he has clearly challenged his teammates and ramped up the urgency. The latter has seemed to be absent throughout much of the season, painfully so in the Raiders game, but also against the Cowboys, Chiefs and Saints.
Part of this traces to youth and the loss of the aforementioned leaders. Some of it also comes from previous history whereby the Eagles have been able to overcome early season inconsistency by turning up the intensity in November and December to land in the playoffs. Coming off that exact scenario last season, and then coming within a play or two of making it to the Super Bowl, human nature can lead players to think that the same thing is repeatable.
McNabb knows, though, that this team is very different than past editions of the team that have been able to pull that off. He realizes that this team does not have the same veteran presence to rally teammates and maintain its poise when the stakes get higher. So, it makes great sense that he recognizes that the time is now for him to step up and be a different type of leader if the team wants to realize its promise.
The Eagles clearly have talent and the athletic capabilities to be a contender. But, they also clearly lack the guidance and motivation that needs to be ignited from within by players who have been around the block. It is a great move forward for McNabb to express the importance of the occasion and verbally challenge the team. It will be equally important for him to massage his demeanor and raise the bar of expectations of those around him.
This is not to suggest that McNabb should be something or someone that he is not by suddenly trying to be a Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Dan Marino or Jeff Garcia type of personality. But, he can surely bring a more serious, demanding approach while remaining authentic. His teammates need to know that he expects them to execute and anything less than full focus and intense effort does not pass muster.
Lets give McNabb a great deal of credit for stepping out of his comfort zone and stepping up as a vocal leader. This is obviously a thoughtful action on his behalf and one that is critically important to the direction the team heads over the balance of the year. A 5-4 record is not where the Eagles hoped to be at this point, and there is still hope, but it is quickly approaching the eleventh hour to light the fire and set the team on a path to success.