He had not come right out and said it, in part because, until Monday’s news conference, no one specifically had asked the question. But here’s what Donovan McNabb expects for the Eagles this season: “We are a Super Bowl team.”McNabb said it, and he meant it. Just like Tiki Barber meant it when he recently declared the Giants a championship-caliber team. Just like Mark Brunell meant it when, two weeks ago, he said anything short of a title for the Redskins would be a failure.
Players, particularly accomplished veterans, are supposed to be brimming with confidence in August. It is the month of optimism, when players state goals and send notice out to the league that yes, their team is loaded, their team is tough, their team is going to be difficult to beat.
Who is to argue when the real games haven’t even begun?
Still, McNabb’s pronouncement was striking, given the Eagles’ bust of a 2005 season. In a wide-ranging 30-minute interview after his news conference, McNabb made another prediction.
“I think (if) we get back to the form we were at, we can change 6-10 to possibly 13-3, or 14-2, possibly,” McNabb said. “I would love to say 16-0, but we can get back to that winning season. I think it is possible. I don’t think it’s out of reach.”
Fourteen wins and just two losses? Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, the Eagles never have won 14 games in a season. Their 13-3 record of 2004 is the benchmark.
Only five teams this decade have won 14 or more games in a season: St. Louis in 2001, New England in 2003, New England and Pittsburgh (15) in 2004, and Indianapolis last year.
It is a lofty goal, to say the least.
McNabb isn’t a blustery, in-your-face, talk-a-bunch-of-trash kind of player. He is a thoughtful guy, not necessarily cautious but not wildly flamboyant with his words either. He qualified his comments by insisting he wasn’t “saying it overconfidently or with my chest out. It’s just kind of that push we have in that locker room.”
Despite the Eagles’ lack of a big-time wide receiver and Brian Westbrook’s ongoing injury issues, McNabb really likes this team. He mentioned the depth and talent on defense – particularly along the line and in the secondary – and said he expects the defense to be ranked in the top five in the NFL. He named a variety of options on offense, including almost all of his receivers, tight ends L.J. Smith and Matt Schobel, and Westbrook.
Sure, McNabb is concerned about Westbrook’s sprained left foot, and even more concerned about Todd Pinkston’s healing Achilles tendons. He cautioned everyone not to set unrealistic expectations for young receiver Hank Baskett. And he acknowledged that Jabar Gaffney is still trying to learn the offense, and Darnerien McCants is still trying to master it.
But this team, McNabb said, reminds him of the 2004 team that went to the Super Bowl, with one notable exception.
“We don’t have the big-name receiver that everybody can talk about, but just the team as a whole,” McNabb said. “We have some great talent on defense that’s going to be really exciting, where I think our defense can get back to top five in the league. Offensively, people still talk about our run game and we don’t have that No. 1 receiver, but offensively I think we can get back to kind of that top-five, top-10 offense where we’re doing a lot of different things to create mismatches. …
“I think it’s important that we get back to our offense, to running our offense. Add some wrinkles in there to create a lot of mismatches and holes in the defenses we play, but I still feel the talent is there.”
The `04 Eagles held opponents to 16.3 points per game and scored 24.1 points per game. They had the league’s 10th-best defense and ranked second in sacks, while the offense was eighth in scoring and ninth in total yards.
Terrell Owens was an integral part of the offense, and his importance cannot be overstated. He infused the team with confidence and drew double teams that freed other receivers to make plays. Westbrook had 73 receptions, just four fewer than Owens, and rushed for more than 800 yards. Pinkston pulled down 36 catches, and Smith grabbed 34.
It’s way too early to say the `06 Eagles will have that kind of balance on offense, but from what he’s seen over the last several weeks, McNabb thinks they can. It is not unrealistic, McNabb said, for Reggie Brown to have 70 catches this season, Baskett to have 50, and Gaffney, McCants, Schobel and Smith to have 30 apiece.
Of course, as the Redskins learned Sunday night, expectations can change in an instant. Four minutes into Washington’s preseason game against Cincinnati, Clinton Portis dislocated his left shoulder tackling a Bengals cornerback after Brunell threw an interception. Backup running back Kerry Carter later suffered torn ligaments in his knee, effectively ending his season before it began.
Portis likely will be back once the regular season starts, but even he acknowledged that the injury could dog him all season. He is a focal point of the Redskins’ offense. Without him healthy, they struggle.
That’s the thing about Super Bowl aspirations. Almost anybody can have them in August.