McNabb prepared for vaunted Bucs' defense

Posted: Thursday, January 16, 2003

PHILADELPHIA -- Donovan McNabb had little trouble running away from Atlanta's Keith Brooking and Patrick Kerney. It won't be easy to escape Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks.

In his first game after missing two months with a broken right ankle, McNabb showed few signs that he'd been away, leading the Philadelphia Eagles to a 20-6 playoff victory over the Falcons last Saturday.

The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback completed 20 of 30 passes for 247 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for 24 yards, including a 19-yard gain on his second play. But that was against Atlanta's 19th-ranked defense.

The top-ranked defense belongs to the Buccaneers (13-4), the team Philadelphia (13-4) will face in the NFC championship game Sunday at Veterans Stadium.

''They have great core linebackers, their defensive line plays great. You have to be able to attack them,'' McNabb said Wednesday. ''If you're able to do that, then you put yourself in great positions to do other things.''

Led by Brooks, The AP's Defensive Player of the Year, and Rice, the NFC's sack leader with 15 1/2, the Bucs allowed just 12.3 points and 252.8 yards per game. They had 43 sacks, forced 38 turnovers and scored five defensive touchdowns. Tampa ranked first in seven defensive categories, including pass defense.

McNabb, however, has had success against the Bucs, especially in the postseason. The Eagles have won the last four meetings, including playoff games the last two years.

McNabb threw for 161 yards and two TDs, and ran for 32 yards and one TD in Philadelphia's 21-3 victory over Tampa in a 2000 wild-card game. He had 194 yards passing and two TDs and ran for 57 yards in last season's 31-9 first-round win.

In a 20-10 victory over the Bucs earlier this season, McNabb passed for 127 yards and one TD. He had just 4 yards rushing, but scored once. Duce Staley ran for 152 yards in that game.

''We have to establish a run game,'' McNabb said. ''We know that they like to attack with John Lynch in the box. Everybody knows that, everybody knows about their defensive line. In order to put yourself in a position to score points, you have to be able to run the ball. And in passing the ball, make sure you're able to spread the ball around.''

McNabb set the tone for last year's playoff victory with a 39-yard run in the first quarter. His run set up a 40-yard pass to Todd Pinkston later in the game. On the play, he froze the defenders by scrambling, then stopped and threw downfield.

Against the Falcons last week, McNabb proved right away his ankle was fine with the 19-yard scramble. He didn't run much after that, but he moved around enough to keep the defense off-balance.

On a fourth-and-1 play in the fourth quarter, McNabb rolled to his right, faked running and hit James Thrash with a 35-yard TD pass that iced the win.

''Donovan has learned he can do both. He has the ability to stay in that system and run in that system, and he has the ability to break loose,'' said Lynch, a Pro Bowl safety. ''He's a big, big man, and it looks like he even got bigger in his time off, but he still moves well. It was impressive watching him. We heard about the limp he had, but I didn't see any limping going on. He seemed to be moving extremely well.''

McNabb acknowledged that he wasn't at his best against the Falcons. He overthrew a couple open receivers and didn't see a few others who were open. But his receivers didn't help him by dropping at least four passes.

''I got rid of a little bit of rust,'' McNabb said. ''There were some plays in the game that I felt I could have made better plays with. That's something I can learn from.''

The Bucs hope they've learned by facing McNabb four times in 24 months. Tampa had success against other mobile quarterbacks this season, holding Michael Vick to 10 yards rushing in two wins against Atlanta. The Bucs also limited Daunte Culpepper to 8 yards rushing in a win over Minnesota.

''McNabb's a different quarterback,'' Brooks said. ''We have played him several times so we know how to rush him. You have to be disciplined. We just need to go out there and make plays. We have had every chance to make plays against them in the past, but for some reason we didn't.''



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