Ineffective McNabb can't lead EaglesPosted: Sunday January 19, 2003 6:44 PM
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Donovan McNabb had no room to run and nowhere to pass.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers completely shut down McNabb and Philadelphia's offense Sunday, beating the Eagles 27-10 to advance to the Super Bowl.
McNabb, playing his second game since returning from a broken right ankle that sidelined him for two months, had his worst game of the season at the most inopportune time -- the NFC Championship Game.
"I played poorly," McNabb said. "There were opportunities to make plays, and I didn't make them."
The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback completed 26 of 49 for 243 yards, lost two fumbles and threw a costly interception that was returned 92 yards for a clinching touchdown by Ronde Barber late in the fourth quarter.
Constantly harassed by Tampa Bay's top-ranked defense, McNabb made several ill-advised throws, missed open receivers and couldn't scramble free.
He hardly looked like the MVP candidate he was before hurting his ankle in the 10th game of the season.
"You put all the pressure on yourself," McNabb said. "Any time a quarterback plays poorly, it makes it harder for everybody else."
Their next four possessions went fumble, fumble, punt, punt.
"It's my responsibility for us to perform better," Eagles head coach Andy Reid said. "I didn't do a good job putting us in better position."
McNabb drove the Eagles into field-goal range to Tampa Bay's 24 late in the first half, but he lost the ball when Simeon Rice hit his arm, and the Bucs ran out the clock.
On Philadelphia's first possession of the third quarter, McNabb drove the Eagles to Tampa Bay's 48, but again he lost the ball when Barber hit his arm.
A 6-yard punt by Tom Tupa then gave the Eagles the ball at their own 36, but they went three-and-out. Again, the defense held the Bucs. But after getting one first down, the Eagles punted again.
"There were so many opportunities to make plays," McNabb said. "Being the leader, I have to make them."
Trailing 20-10 in the fourth quarter, the Eagles finally moved the ball, going 73 yards to Tampa Bay's 10. But Barber intercepted McNabb's pass to Antonio Freeman, and ran it 92 yards untouched into the end zone to put the game away.
Barber ran up to the line of scrimmage, faked a blitz, slid back into coverage and stepped in front of Freeman to make the pick.
"He baited us," Freeman said. "He made a great, great, game-deciding play."
Though he hadn't played since Nov. 17, McNabb didn't show any effects of his injury in last week's 20-6 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. He completed 20 of 30 passes for 247 yards and one TD. McNabb also ran 24 yards, including a 19-yard gain on the second play from scrimmage that helped keep Atlanta's defense off-balance most of the game.
After Duce Staley ran 20 yards for a TD on Philadelphia's second offensive play, the Eagles managed just one field goal.
"We came out, set the tempo early and from then on, we did absolutely nothing," Freeman said.
Philadelphia went 5-1 after McNabb went down, finished 12-4 and earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. But they couldn't beat the Bucs for the third consecutive year in the playoffs, failing to reach the Super Bowl for the 22nd consecutive year.
The Eagles went to the NFC title game last season, losing 29-24 to the St. Louis Rams. Philadelphia, which entered that game as 12-point underdogs, led 17-13 at halftime, and had the ball at its own 48 with a chance to take the lead in the final two minutes. But McNabb was intercepted by Aeneas Williams to stop the drive.
"This hurts more, but there's nothing we can do right now," McNabb said.