Switcheroo: Streaking Eagles vs. Skidding Redskins

Eagles expected to keep watch on scoreboard

Welcome to the hot seat, Jim Zorn and Jason Campbell. Nice of Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb to leave it warm for you.

Last month, the mob was all over Reid and McNabb, ready to run the longtime coach and franchise quarterback out of town after a three-game winless stretch that put the Philadelphia Eagles into last place in the NFC East and off the charts of most playoff scenarios.

An impressive three-game winning streak has the Eagles back in play, and it is now rookie coach Zorn, young quarterback Campbell and the Washington Redskins who have lost three in a row and five of six. They have moved into the cellar with virtually no hope of making the postseason and every chance of being scrutinized to the nth degree.

It's therefore quite a switcheroo that the Eagles (8-5-1) and not the Redskins (7-7) will do the scoreboard-watching when the teams meet Sunday.

"Once we got to 6-2, we felt like we could contend for the division title, we could continue to keep winning," said Campbell, who operates an offense that has scored just 66 points in the last six games. "And I think we probably got caught up more into that aspect instead of just continuing to play freely."

The Eagles almost certainly need to win their last two to stay in the playoff hunt, a challenge they'll gladly accept considering where they were following a 36-7 loss at Baltimore on Nov. 23. McNabb was benched in the second half of that game, but he has since thrown seven touchdown passes with one interception and a 107.9 rating during the three-win spree.

"You can do a couple of things once you are challenged," Eagles safety Brian Dawkins said. "You can agree with those people, cower down, and not step up. But you can step up to meet the challenge head on -- and I think he did that. Any time that you challenge a player of his magnitude, they are going to step up and they are going to meet that challenge."

McNabb has tried to minimize the visible chip on his shoulder the benching gave him, but he grudgingly admitted it might have given his teammates a rallying point.

"For me to be used as the guy to motivate other guys, I really don't think that was needed, but I guess we've all seen what happened and have learned from it and moved on," McNabb said. "It's a different situation when it's really not you that's being the guy to motivate everyone else. I think, in light of it, I guess we're all playing well together."

The Redskins have been searching in vain for a turning point. The veterans called a players-only meeting last week, then four days later played the most embarrassing game of the season, a 20-13 loss at Cincinnati.

They even had their own team-rattling benching in the city of Baltimore. Running back Clinton Portis sat most of the second half of the 24-10 loss to the Ravens on Dec. 7 and complained loudly about it. He backed up his words by gaining all of 3.1 yards per carry, well below his season average, against the Bengals.

Zorn tried a different approach this week. He gave the players an extra day off, said he felt like "the worst coach in America," and huddled with his assistants to figure out how he can do his job better. Like McNabb, however, the coach is trying to downplay whatever effect his actions might have on the win-loss record.

"If we can put it all together and win, it won't be 'Oh, I'm a genius,"' Zorn said. "It will be because the players played well."

The Redskins not only need to play well, they need to choose well. The event that creates perhaps the greatest contrast between the teams occurred in the second round of the draft in April.

Philadelphia picked DeSean Jackson, who has 58 catches and leads the Eagles, as well as all NFL rookies, with 852 yards receiving. Washington selected no fewer than three pass-catchers in the round -- receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly and tight end Fred Davis -- and their disappointing seasons have resulted in a mere 19 receptions for 142 yards combined.

"I didn't think he would be the leading receiver," Eagles running back Brian Westbrook said of his rookie teammate. "But the way things have turned out, he has been very explosive downfield making plays. I'm glad that he has."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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