A one-man wrecking crew
The vaunted Bucs defense has met its match. It is Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. “He was a one-man wrecking crew out there,” Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said Saturday after McNabb wrecked the Bucs' season for the second time in as many years.
In running for a team-leading 57 yards on just four carries while passing for 194 yards and two touchdowns, McNabb almost single-handedly led the Eagles to their 31-9 victory Saturday against the Bucs in an NFC wild-card playoff game at Veterans Stadium. McNabb was pretty much the same last year, leading the Eagles to a 21-3 victory in which the Bucs thought they'd learned a valuable lesson about stopping McNabb.
Looking back at that loss, the Bucs were confident they could beat the Eagles this time if they could keep the third- year quarterback contained in the pocket. And at times Saturday, they did contain McNabb. When they didn't, though ... “He made plays,” linebacker Shelton Quarles said. “He was able to get out in the open and make plays on us and that's what killed us.”
Though the Bucs got a good performance from their defensive line (ends Simeon Rice and Steve White accounted for three sacks), the pressure that unit produced wasn't always enough. That created problems for players in the secondary, which McNabb took good advantage of. “When you've got time to throw, you've got time for zone to break down,” Barber said. “That's what happened. I mean, they just outplayed us. There's no other way to put it.”
Where the Bucs were outplayed most was in the running game. With rookie Correll Buckhalter running nine times for 55 yards and a touchdown, the Bucs gave up 148 yards on the ground. “Defensively, it wasn't our best game,” Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. “But Philadelphia played very well offensively. They made some big plays and I thought Donovan McNabb was outstanding moving around and making things happen.”
The first time McNabb made something happen was when he ran for 39 yards midway through the Eagles' second offensive series. That jaunt set up a 26-yard David Akers field goal that tied the game at 3. Then, early in the second quarter, McNabb hit wide receiver Todd Pinkston with a 41-yard pass to set up a 16- yard touchdown strike to Chad Lewis that gave Philadelphia a 10-3 edge.
McNabb later connected with running back Duce Staley on a 23-yard touchdown pass. Coupled with Buckhalter's 25- yard TD run, that did in the Bucs. “They beat us with some big plays, and just about every one seemed like it had something to do with Donovan getting away,” safety John Lynch said. “It happened last year to us and it happened again this year.”