PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Donovan McNabb's impressive resume didn't buy him much leeway in a city known for being tough on its best athletes.
Before anyone heard one word from McNabb on his thoughts about being a black quarterback, people already were questioning his ability after poor performances in his first two games back from a knee injury.
The Philadelphia Eagles lost both games, so McNabb got most of the blame.
Five Pro Bowl appearances, four trips to the NFC championship game and one Super Bowl berth didn't matter. Suddenly McNabb was Mike McMahon.
He's lost a step. He'll never be the same player he was before he got hurt. Jeff Garcia is a better fit in this offense. Trade him. Bench him.
And then came the HBO interview in which McNabb said black QBs face greater scrutiny than their white counterparts. That gave critics even more ammunition.
When McNabb was introduced before Sunday's game against Detroit, some of the hometown crowd gave him an earful. It wasn't the first time Philly fans booed McNabb - everyone remembers draft day 1999 - and it won't be the last.
If McNabb was jeered only for his three-week old comments that coincidentally aired when the Eagles were 0-2, that's understandable. He made a strong statement on a volatile topic. Everyone's entitled to their opinions, and those who disagreed with McNabb made it known.
However, some of those fans booed and hurled insults because McNabb was struggling. That was totally unfair. A player with McNabb's pedigree deserves at least a two-week pass, especially when he's coming off a major injury.
McNabb tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Week 11 last year. Though it's a common injury, it's a serious one. Anyone who's experienced it knows it can take up to 18 months to completely heal. Many doctors attest to that.
But McNabb returned to practice in the team's last minicamp and started the season opener just 9 1/2 months removed from surgery. He was for more successful doing so then, say, Daunte Culpepper, whose comeback from a knee injury was a disaster.
McNabb looked uncomfortable in a 16-13 loss at Green Bay and wasn't sharp in a 20-12 loss to Washington. Considering he didn't take many snaps in the preseason because coach Andy Reid prefers to protect his regulars in meaningless games, it wasn't a surprise McNabb was shaky.
His numbers were lousy by his standards: 54.4 completion percentage, 424 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a passer rating of 68.8 that ranked 24th in the league. And he wasn't scrambling anymore.
So, people started comparing his return to Culpepper's. Some of those fans and a few so-called experts even called for rookie Kevin Kolb or backup A.J. Feeley to replace McNabb.
Reid isn't that clueless. He insisted McNabb was improving, and getting closer to regaining his old form. He just needed time to work off the rust.
Not even Reid could've imagined McNabb was this close. In just his third game back, McNabb had one of the best days of his nine-year career. He threw for 381 yards, four touchdowns and had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in a 56-21 win over the Lions.
Playing without a protective brace on his surgically repaired knee, McNabb was nearly flawless. He completed 18 straight passes at one point, and finished 21-for-26, including a couple drops. McNabb's throws had plenty of zip and were precise. He moved around the pocket well and appeared to have full confidence in himself and his knee.
So much for all the nonsense about him being washed-up at 30.
``When you're a great quarterback, you're going to have days where things aren't working,'' Reid said. ``He knows that. He knows that if he keeps firing, good things will happen. That's what he did.''
McNabb takes a lot of heat for not having thick skin. He's dealt with criticism throughout his career and sometimes he sulked or pouted. This time, he handled an adverse situation the best way possible. He did his talking on the field.
``I think the important thing he did was he blanked everything out,'' Reid said. ``He didn't worry about one thing. He had some things that people played on this week, and he was able to block all the outside thoughts out, and he came out and played and just did a heck of a job. He didn't let anything distract him.''
Given an ideal opportunity for an I-told-you-so moment after the game, McNabb passed it up.
``I didn't pay much attention to that,'' he said of the boos. ``The team heard it. All the fans that cheered heard the boos. All the people that booed heard more boos, so I didn't feed off of that. It didn't bother me at all because the majority of those boos turned to cheers as the game continued on.''
McNabb took the high road, but his teammates had his back.
``It's kind of sad to have people booing Donovan,'' All-Pro guard Shawn Andrews said. ``He's been loyal here and he's done a great job for this organization.''
ne. There's a perception that he's a mama's boy with a fragile psyche, someone who needs to be coddled and reassured.
His style doesn't work in a blue-collar town that has always revered gritty, hard-nosed players who display their emotions. That's why Garcia was a hero around here after only six starts.
Unless McNabb wins a championship, he'll never be good enough. If he doesn't win it all, he won't be truly appreciated until he's gone.
That's the saddest part.

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