McNabb's benching could signal the end of a turbulent era in Philly

That life preserver Andy Reid just tossed to Donovan McNabb might have helped keep the quarterback afloat if it were equipped with a couple of vibrant receivers, steadfast pass protection and a commitment to balance the Eagles offense.

It was not.

So, the McNabb trek will likely pick up where it left off with this quarterback in a state of football flux -- his team, too -- spiraling downward and steaming toward a split. Soon. Very soon.

It is nearly impossible to imagine that McNabb is going to be the Eagles quarterback beyond these five games remaining. It's likely he will be pulled again, benched again, before the Eagles exit this middling, 5-5-1 season full of broken promise and hope.

Reid explained that he benched McNabb after the first half on Sunday against the Ravens to light a spark. When McNabb left, the Eagles trailed, 10-7. In his absence, the score was 26-0 Ravens. The 36-7 drubbing was beyond a wakeup call for the Eagles. But they are broken and look beyond repair. At least for these next five games.

Curiously, Reid also said he instructed quarterback coach Pat Shurmur to tell McNabb he was being benched at halftime. Reid said he was busy finishing all of the tasks a head coach must complete at halftime. In the same news conference setting, Reid also said that he knows McNabb "better than anyone in this room."

And if that is the case, after 10 years of being joined in controversy, battle and shining moments, Reid might not know the quarterback as well as he thinks. Hard to imagine that McNabb took the approach as nothing else but cowardly. He said his first reaction when told by Shurmur was, "Wow." The "Wow" was likely as much for the send-a-messenger approach as much for the benching.

The guy was obviously stung.

It has been this way for him in Philadelphia from the start, from the moment he was drafted in 1999 and booed by Eagles fans. McNabb proved to be a better draft pick than Ricky Williams, whom many Eagles fans preferred, or quarterbacks Tim Couch, Akili Smith or Cade McNown. McNabb has always had one part of him in harmony and another in discord in Philadelphia. There is an undercurrent of leeriness there on both sides. It has been there all along.

Four NFC Championship games, a Super Bowl appearance and five Pro Bowl berths by McNabb have not been enough to heal and mend and grow an unbreakable bond. Eagles fans have long given him the business. He has given it back. In the end, he usually had the final answer -- he was easily a top-five NFL quarterback in style and in production.

Now that his game is slipping, crumbling as the Eagles offense around him crumbles, the howling is intense. The benching a byproduct. All of this with an Eagles offense that ranks ninth in points scored, ninth in yards, fifth in passing, and ... a lousy 26th in rushing.

That is a quarterback killer.

The Eagles have run the ball 260 times this season, but their opponents have run it 316 times. The Eagles have passed the ball 432 times and their opponents have thrown it 356 times. It is an out-of-whack offense, an imbalanced offense that demands that McNabb do more with less.

Dallas' receiving corps includes Terrell Owens and Roy Williams. The Giants include Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. Washington features Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El. These are the talents the Eagles are trying to beat in the NFC East while rolling out a crew of receivers who are not in that stratosphere. Maybe rookie DeSean Jackson can get there, but not much more among the current Eagles group.

This has eaten away privately at McNabb, the idea that he is being asked to produce in a system that rarely has complemented his abilities with an abundance of playmakers. Many personnel people in this league believe that McNabb has had a successful 10-year career in spite of the parts around him, not because of them.

I do not see McNabb repeating his horrible first half against the Ravens (8-for-18 for 59 yards with two interceptions and a lost fumble) on Thanksgiving night against Arizona. For his sake, in front of the brutal Eagles fans, let's hope ugliness is avoided. But I do not see McNabb surviving with the Eagles beyond this season. This is a final dance here and the feet on all sides will likely continue to tangle. All of the ingredients point to more misery. Maybe even another eventual benching.

McNabb might draw interest from Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Minnesota, St. Louis, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Chicago and even the Jets if Brett Favre makes it a one-and-done deal.

McNabb is back, Reid says. McNabb is the starter again. Until he is benched again. It is coming. Clearly. That life preserver Reid tossed is full of holes. From the moment the Eagles spent a second-round pick on quarterback Kevin Kolb in 2007, the clock was ticking. This insufferable season has sped the dials.

McNabb is scheduled to give his spin on it all Tuesday. It is his birthday. He turns 32. Happy Birthday, Donovan. Make a wish.

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