Vick's play overshadows McNabb's return

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

TORONTO - The Donovan McNabb homecoming is still a very big deal in the City of Brotherly Love.

But thanks to the Michael Vick saga, it is no longer the all encompassing story it was presumed to be after the Eagles made the stunning decision to send the veteran quarterback packing to division rival Washington back in the spring.

Sure, a lot of eyes will be on McNabb this Sunday when he takes the field at Lincoln Financial Field, but how he performs has suddenly taken a back seat with the miracle of Vick and all that story entails.

If Kevin Kolb was still the Eagles No. 1 quarterback, McNabb’s return would be of far more importance and far more controversial.

But the controversy these days is all about Vick and Reid’s decision and it seems as if the McNabb trade happened a long, long time ago.

That may work in McNabb’s favour, as far as keeping the famed Philadelphia boo birds at bay.

For his part, McNabb expects an even response from the fans.

“Honestly, I think that I would be cheered; more cheered than booed,” he said on his radio show. “In reality, you have to remember this is a big rivalry.”

And why not? It’s not a case of a disgruntled player pleading to be traded and having his wish granted. McNabb was as shocked as anyone else when Reid pulled that trigger.

“No matter what the situation is right now, that I’m with a different team and obviously it’s kind of a rival, and it wasn’t my choice,” McNabb said. “But the whole deal about it was 11 years. It was a successful 11 years. And you had a lot of great times, a lot of great moments, a lot of exciting plays. Obviously, some down times, but you have that in the NFL. But there’s more exciting things that happened in 11 years.”

As far as the Vick saga, McNabb wishes his friend nothing but the best and is not surprised by what he has done on the field this season.

“For a guy, who, obviously, had been through the situation that he was, you would think some guys would just kind of play the back burner and just be accepting of his role,” McNabb said Wednesday. “Here’s a guy who wanted to be the best and wanted to get back to where he was in Atlanta and better. I was just excited about his attitude and his aggressiveness and his enthusiasm for trying to get back out on that field.”

Now they will share a day and a field.

But thanks to Vick and his redemption and terrific play, the sun won’t be shining on McNabb alone.

ONE TO GO

The Pittsburgh Steelers have just one game to go before Ben Roethlisberger returns to assume his rightful place at quarterback.

Considering that Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the season and his backups Byron Leftwich and then Dennis Dixon were both injured, the Steelers’ 3-0 start is almost as miraculous as the 3-0 starts of the Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears — maybe more so.

The experts said that given the strength of opposition they would face in those four games, a 2-2 record was the most favourable result possible.

But here they are at 3-0 and perhaps it’s just as well for the Steelers that on Sunday they face the stiffest test of their opening four games in taking on the Baltimore Ravens at home.

When a team faces adversity due to the absence of a star player, often you see a slump in performance in the game before their arrival back in the lineup. Psychologically, there’s a letdown of sorts.

If the Steelers were facing a team like Buffalo or Cleveland, a letdown would be the more likely scenario but in Baltimore they get to face a hated divisional rival which means the Steelers will be looking for blood.

Guiding the Steelers for his second consecutive start will be the ageless Charlie Batch, who opened the season in the No. 4 position on the depth chart.

His story is, of course, a wonderful one and is a perfect compliment to what may well be a perfect 4-0 start.

“He’s done a nice job,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Batch. “The guy has got a great deal of confidence in him. He’s simply a man that’s taken advantage of an opportunity.”

After misfiring under Dixon, Batch got the Steelers offence rolling last week at Tampa Bay.

While his team’s 3-0 start is a shock to many, it hasn’t taken Tomlin totally by surprise.

“It’s gone how I expected it to go in terms of where we are,” he said. “I didn’t foresee the number of injuries at the quarterback position; that’s been the surprise. Had you told me two of the quarterbacks were going to get hurt, I might not have been too optimistic.”

The Steelers have built their 3-0 start on Steelers traditional strengths — a tough, relentless defence and an ability to run the football. The play of Batch and especially Dixon, was not to make turnovers, to not get in the way. For the team, it’s about a test of character, a test of inner strength as much as it is a test of ability.

“The reality is that when you’re playing a backup at any position, but in particular at quarterback, people have to pick up the slack,” Tomlin said. “Special teams, maybe you gain an extra possession there. You’ve got to run the ball extremely well. Guys have got to make plays for whoever is the quarterback.”

And the Steelers have done just that.

“We all like the challenge,” Tomlin said. “We’ve been presented with some adversity, some of which is our doing, but it’s adversity nonetheless. It’s challenging for competitors and I think the guys are having fun.”

At 3-0 and one game to go they are having more than fun — they’re having a ball. No way they want to ruin it with a loss on Sunday.

No way was Dallas Cowboys rookie wide receiver Dez Bryant going to be anybody’s porter.

No way was he going to carry veteran Roy Williams’s shoulder pads during training camp, a rookie hazing ritual that stretched way back.

“I’m not doing it,” Bryant said at the time. “I feel like I was drafted to play football, not carry another player’s pads.”

He made his stand and stood by it.

As it turned out, Williams and the other Dallas veterans got the last laugh Monday night when they handed Bryant a $54,896 US tab — minus tip — after a team diner.

Bryant, who will earn $8.3 million this season, thought he was taking just the offence out for the night but Williams asked the defence to show up at the appointed steakhouse as well.

“They got the young fella,” said David Wells, Bryant’s adviser. “What could he say? He had to pay it unless he wanted to wash dishes for a month.”

What’s that about revenge tasting best when served cold?

Word now is that Bryant also played with a stress fracture in his ribs in the Cowboys must-win victory over Houston last Sunday. In the game he had four catches for 50 yards.

On Monday he caught the bill.

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It’s kind of fitting that in the same week that George Blanda passed away that the New Orleans Saints went out and signed another geezer in place kicker John Carney.

That the Saints would be looking at options other than Garrett Hartley is hardly surprising given the fact that Hartley yanked a 29-yard field goal attempt in overtime that would have given New Orleans a victory over Atlanta. Instead he missed and the Falcons went on to victory and handed the Saints their first loss.

The fact that they turned to the 46-year-old Carney is a surprise. Maybe Blanda would have been their next choice.

The Saints will carry both kickers for the time being, with Hartley handling the kickoffs.

Hartley, one of the hero’s in the Saints Super Bowl run last year, especially for his overtime field goal against the Vikings in the NFC Championship, is off to a poor star having connected on just four of seven attempts with all three of his misses being pulled left of target.

Now he could be on the way out.

In other Saints news, QB Drew Brees is on the limp but is in no danger of not playing Sunday. At Wednesday’s practice he had a brace on his left knee.

“He’s sore but he was full in practice and did well,” coach Sean Payton said. “He put a brace on there but he was able to go full.

“There’s not an injury to report. I was pleased with how he functioned. It’s something that as the week goes on, I think he’ll have no problem with and he did a real good job in all the team stuff today.”

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The Houston Texans, who were flattened by the Cowboys in the big showdown in Houston last Sunday, will probably be without one of their main weapons this Sunday when they go to the West Coast to take on the Oakland Raiders.

Andre Johnson, quarterback Matt Schaub’s No. 1 target and one of the best receivers in the league, will be iffy for the game due to an ankle sprain he first suffered during Week 2 against Washington. Johnson re-injured his right ankle when tackled following a catch in the Cowboys game.

Although Johnson came back to play in Sunday’s loss, he was a non-factor and didn’t make another catch.

“Ankle-wise, I re-aggravated the high ankle sprain that I had and we’re going to do the same thing we did last week as far as treatment and see what happens,” Johnson said at the time. “I’m not worried about my ankle.”

But apparently the Texans are and they will play that cat-and-mouse game regarding the extent of the injury up until Sunday’s game.

“He will be day-to-day and we will be smart with Andre Johnson,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”

Johnson is one of the main cogs in the Texans offence so the best bet is not to expect him to play. Better to take the cautious approach and sit him out for this game rather than take the chance on losing him for a significant chunk of the season.

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You can flip a coin over which team is in the bigger mess right now, the Giants or the 49ers.

Sure, Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit are all 0-3 but nobody expected them to do much if anything again this season.

On the other hand the 49ers are 0-3 after expecting to take over the top spot in a weak NFC West while the 1-2 Giants were expected to be a playoff contender in the always tough NFC East.

The Giants looked just dreadful in their 29-10 loss at home to the Titans, what with the Eli Manning interceptions and total lack of team discipline which led to six personal fouls.

Last week, safety Antrel Rolle caused a stink when he publicly questioned the focus and heart of his new teammates but against Tennessee, everything that Rolle talked about was visible to all.

Now, former Giants great Michael Strahan is calling out the current players to stand up and be accountable, for someone to step forward and show some much-needed leadership.

“It doesn’t look like they’re having fun,” Strahan said in a radio interview. “They’re not looking inspired and (they’re) undisciplined and all that stuff. Of course that’s what everybody’s thinking. That’s what I’m thinking when I watch.”

There is losing and then there is the way in which the Giants are losing. In their previous game against the Colts they threw in the towel early in a 38-14 drubbing.

“You just want to see a team that may be losing, but they are competitive,” Strahan said. “For the Giants, when I look at games, it seems like they’re coming unraveled at times when they usually used to handle it. You can’t get down a little bit in the game and give the other team that momentum to finish you off. You’ve got to take that back.

“Somebody has to stand up at some point and take control of the team as a player.”

It all adds more heat and pressure on coach Tom Coughlin as the Giants prep for a home game Sunday night against the 3-0 Chicago Bears.

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OK, now we go to the other mess out in San Francisco where just about anyone with a microphone or a keyboard is questioning whether or not head coach Mike Singletary is capable of handling the duties of a head coach in the NFL.

Following their 31-10 thrashing against Kansas City, Singletary decided to throw offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye overboard and replace him with quarterback coach Mike Johnson.

Quarterback Alex Smith doesn’t create a lot of excitement, even among the most diehard 49ers supporter, and the feeling was that the offence created by Raye was predictable and boring.

In Johnson the expectation is that he will open things up allowing Smith and his receivers plus powerful running back Frank Gore room to operate.

Tight end Vernon Davis gave the changing of the guard an instant thumbs up.

“I strongly believe it’s a good move, an awesome move.” Davis said. “Mike Johnson is a talented young man, and he’s hungry.

“We want to get everybody involved; that’s the dream. You look at other teams; they take advantage of their talent. We’ve got a ton of guys. We want to use everybody we can, any way we can.”

So at least there’s some enthusiasm.

The thing is, as bad as the 49ers look, they are far from being out of it in the weak division which is topped by Seattle and Arizona, both 2-1. Both those teams also have major question marks.

Time, though, is not on San Francisco’s side. They have turn things around pronto.

This week they are on the road against the pumped up Atlanta Falcons and then are at home to Michael Vick and the Eagles.

If they happen to go 0-5 you can kiss Singletary and the season goodbye.


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