PHILADELPHIA -- Donovan McNabb checked the scoreboard and the game clock, looked at each of his teammates in the huddle, and smiled.
Pressure? McNabb didn't feel any, and he made sure his teammates didn't either.
When the Philadelphia Eagles needed McNabb most, he came through, leading the offense to 10 points in the final 2:33 of Sunday's NFC East-clinching 24-21 victory over the New York Giants.
"He responded like a champion, like he always does," wide receiver James Thrash said. "He just continues to amaze me out there on that field, how calm he is. Every situation that we have been in up to this point, regardless of the circumstances, he is always well-poised, smiling. When he comes into the huddle smiling, he calms everybody down. We just want to go out there and play for guys like that. I know I do. The whole offense revolves around Donovan and he just calms everybody down. He's the general."
McNabb finished 21-of-39 for 270 yards, three TDs, one interception, plus a team-high 48 yards rushing against the Giants. His fourth-quarter heroics were the kind that set elite quarterbacks apart from the others.
First, McNabb threw a 57-yard TD pass to Thrash that gave the Eagles a 14-10 lead less than a minute into the fourth. After the Giants took a 21-14 lead with 2:48 left, McNabb delivered again.
He drove the Eagles 67 yards in 54 seconds, throwing a 7-yard TD pass to Chad Lewis that tied it at 21-21 with 1:53 left.
After New York went three-and-out, McNabb moved the Eagles 54 yards in the final minute to set up David Akers' 35-yard game-winning field goal with 7 seconds left.
He was 5-of-9 for 88 yards passing, and ran three times for 20 yards in the last two drives.
"He was extremely confident, he's a warrior," Lewis said. "He was looking everyone in the eyes, saying 'Let's go, let's go.' There was no hesitation in his game at all. He was a leader, he was fearless. I think everyone on the team drew energy from looking at his eyes in the huddle."
An unpopular choice
McNabb was an unpopular choice when the Eagles selected him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1999 draft. The fans wanted running back Ricky Williams. But nobody is booing him anymore.
He led the Eagles from worst to first in just his second full season as a starter. The last time the Eagles won the NFC East in 1988, McNabb was a 12-year-old growing up in Chicago.
"We're NFC East champions no matter how you look at it," McNabb said, his sarcasm aimed at critics who jeered him on draft day and doubted him ever since.
McNabb had a breakout season last year, finishing runner-up to Marshall Faulk for NFL MVP and leading the Eagles into the second round of the playoffs.
But Philadelphia's success last year came against a last-place schedule, and McNabb regressed this season. He struggled with his accuracy, was reluctant to run and unwilling to take chances at times.
In Philadelphia's five losses, McNabb played poorly. The low point was a 13-3 defeat to Washington on Nov. 25. McNabb was 15-of-27 for a career-low 92 yards passing.
After three straight victories, the offense struggled again in a 13-3 loss to San Francisco two weeks ago. McNabb threw an interception from the 1-yard line that killed a potential go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter.
But it all came down to his performance against the Giants, the team that has given McNabb the most trouble. With the game -- and perhaps the season-- on the line, McNabb stepped up, just like Joe Montana and John Elway, Steve Young and Brett Favre, quarterbacks who have excelled in the West Coast offense the Eagles play.
"Through all the pressure, he evolved and matured," coach Andy Reid said. "He really showed what he was all about. I told you before that he is one of the more competitive guys that I've been around. Sometimes that's hidden by his great sense of humor and demeanor. There's a fighter in there."
And a winner, too.