Duce Is Loose
Regrouping after the loss of Donovan McNabb, the Eagles turn to resurgent running back Duce Staley
They Embraced in the concourse of Veterans Stadium late on Sunday afternoon, a devastated quarterback on crutches and his dapper running back. Eagles passer Donovan McNabb didn't say anything to Duce Staley, and considering the circumstances, he really didn't have to. McNabb was on his way to a press conference to answer questions about the right fibula he had fractured hours earlier in the Eagles' 38-14 win over the Cardinals. Staley, drifting toward the exit and waving farewell to his teammate, was already thinking about his new role as Philadelphia's go-to guy.
It was a rough Sunday for quarterbacks—McNabb was one of three on division-leading teams to go down with a serious injury. Most frightening were the concussion and spine injury sustained by the Steelers' Tommy Maddox, who temporarily lost feeling in his arms and legs after a hit by Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck. Maddox was hospitalized, and no timetable has been set for his return. Also, the Broncos' Brian Griese left with a sprained left knee late in the third quarter in Seattle and is expected to miss up to three weeks.
The most surprising diagnosis, however, was McNabb's. He was hurt while being sacked on Philly's third snap of the game. However, believing that the ankle was only sprained, McNabb played on and completed 20 of 25 passes for 255 yards and four touchdowns. The fracture, discovered when X-rays were taken after the game, will sideline him for six to eight weeks—at least the rest of the regular season. On Monday coach Andy Reid said he was preparing as if McNabb were done for the year.
"He's their Michael Jordan," said Giants linebacker Mike Barrow, whose team (6-4 and a game behind the Eagles in the NFC East) figures to benefit most from the quarterback's absence. "Everything goes through him." Reid now turns to Koy Detmer—who has six career NFL starts but none since 1999—for this Monday night's game in San Francisco against the 49ers.
The burden on offense now falls squarely on Staley's shoulders. On Sunday he picked up 136 yards on 31 carries, his third 100-yard rushing effort of the year; he added 82 yards and a touchdown on three receptions. "I know I'm blessed to still be playing," says Staley, who was hobbled by a career-threatening foot sprain in 2000 as well as a lingering shoulder injury last season. "I'm trusting my instincts again."
Even before McNabb was injured, Reid had been trying to ease the load on his Pro Bowl signal-caller. The Eagles have the NFL's second-ranked rushing attack (159.1 yards per game), and Staley has been the catalyst. In the last five games he has averaged 20.8 carries, up from 11.6 in the first five games. He has thrived in a rotation that includes freeagent acquisition Dorsey Levens and rookie Brian Westbrook.
Staley was initially angered by the addition of Levens, signed after Correll Buckhalter tore an ACL at a spring minicamp, and Westbrook, a third-round pick out of Villanova. Staley viewed the crowd at his position as an indication that Reid didn't believe he could be the same back who had 1,000-yard seasons for losing Philly teams in 1998 and '99. But Staley seized the opportunity.
Now he will be asked to do even more. Considering that Detmer has thrown two passes this year and only 46 over the past three-plus seasons, Reid will undoubtedly lean even more heavily on the ground game. "There was a time when Duce used to be the whole offense around here," says fullback Cecil Martin.
That time may be here again.