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McNabb's early escape run sets tone for Bucs' defeat

The Eagles QB displays elusiveness again, especially on an early 39-yard run.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 13, 2002


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PHILADELPHIA -- He is what he is. Quick, ingenious, crafty and, well ... quick.

For the second straight season, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb tore the heart out of the Bucs.

For the second straight season, the Bucs went in aware of how much he likes to move in the pocket and how willing he is to improvise. And for the second straight year, they were incapable of doing anything about it.

Tampa Bay lost 31-9 at Veterans Stadium on Saturday and the Eagles earned the right to celebrate. But make no mistake, McNabb was a big part of beating the Bucs.

"He made unbelievable plays and is an unbelievable athlete," Bucs free safety Dexter Jackson said. "He gets away from trouble I have never, ever seen another player get away from.

"He's a new-school quarterback and there are a lot of quarterbacks like that where they can get away so easily and be so mobile. That's him. He was amazing. We had him so many times and couldn't bring him down."

Added defensive tackle Warren Sapp: "McNabb makes them special. Let's keep this real. He is what makes them go."

And he did from the first few moments.

Take the sixth play from scrimmage for the Eagles. Tampa Bay's defense, which had played so well in the final weeks of the season, had forced a Philadelphia turnover and on the next possession had the Eagles facing third and 5 at their 39.

The Bucs brought their pass rushers up both sides of McNabb and somehow left the middle open. McNabb stepped into a Grand Canyon-sized opening, turned right and bolted 39 yards for the first down.

To polish off the moment, Jackson was called for hitting McNabb out of bounds, adding a 15-yard penalty. That sequence led to the Eagles' first points and set the tone.

"He's back there running around, running around," Bucs cornerback Donnie Abraham said. "Today he made plays, kept plays alive when we had them dead. That's what it came down to."

Added Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber: "He's a one-man wrecking crew."

McNabb was 16-of-25 for 194 yards and two touchdowns. He added four rushes for 57 yards. Not bad, said Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice, who has been friends with McNabb since high school and appeared to be the only Buc who could get to the quarterback.

"He's been doing it his whole career," Rice said. "He's a great athlete who can run. He came up big. You have to give it to him. We lost, they won. It's extremely disappointing for me."

Equally disappointing for the Bucs was how they handled McNabb once he was out of the pocket.

"I don't want to say the wrong things, but you have to look at where the breakdowns were at," cornerback Brian Kelly said. "We knew coming in that he was going to want to run with the ball. We knew it was his thing. He was just running around and all of a sudden he was taking off. We knew that's what he had been doing for the Eagles for the past two years."

Barber said the time McNabb had to throw was a factor.

"They found time to throw the ball," he said. "When you have time to throw the ball like that, the zones break down, the man-to-man breaks down. Give them credit, they outplayed us. We're going home and they are not."

Added middle linebacker Jamie Duncan: "I thought this was one of best weeks for preparing. We were on it. Man. I just can't put my finger on it. It's the weirdest thing. I knew we were coming here to shut these guys down. He made a couple of plays, as expected, but a couple of those runs ... wow."

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