ATLANTA -- Donovan McNabb needed a lift, a little something to get his season going.
Hello, Atlanta Falcons.
McNabb took advantage of an entirely revamped Atlanta secondary to throw for a season-high 312 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Mitchell, and the Philadelphia Eagles won 23-16 Sunday for their fifth victory in six games.
"I've been saying things will turn out positive," said McNabb, the league's lowest-rated passer coming into the game. "Nobody would believe me. We can't change what happened in the past. The only thing we can change is what's going to happen."
The Falcons (1-7) are stuck in a perpetual nightmare, a season of promise that has gone horribly wrong. They lost their seventh in a row, taking on the look of an increasingly desperate team.
"It's tough to be positive when you lose," linebacker Keith Brooking said. "It's pretty simple. There are key moments in the game when you need to make a play. We're just not making them."
Embattled coach Dan Reeves tried to shake things up by starting four new defensive backs, but it didn't slow McNabb. He completed 21 of 33 passes to go over 300 yards for the fourth time in his five-year career. His highest total this season was 186 yards in Week 2.
"It just feels good that there's a win behind it," McNabb said. "Hopefully, we'll continue to feed off this and keep winning."
The Eagles (5-3) have bounced back from an 0-2 start, putting themselves in the thick of the NFC playoff race. This one wasn't pretty - Philadelphia had a field goal blocked, went 2-of-11 on third down and was penalized 11 times - but it was enough to get a victory.
The Falcons pulled starting quarterback Kurt Kittner, inserting Doug Johnson early in the fourth quarter. Johnson directed Atlanta to a field goal that made it 23-16, but went three-and-out on his last chance to tie it. Philadelphia ran out all but the final 14 seconds.
Kittner was 11-of-18 for just 78 yards, and he also squandered two scoring chances on Atlanta's first possession. First, he overthrew Brian Finneran running alone down the sideline. Then, Kittner badly underthrew Peerless Price in the end zone, the ball fluttering right into the arms of Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard.
"I didn't play the way I wanted to play," said Kittner, who still expressed surprise at being yanked.
The Falcons haven't won since beating Dallas in Week 1, making Reeves 0-for-7 while trying to become the seventh coach in NFL history with 200 victories.
The only solace for the Falcons: At least this one was respectable. Their previous two losses were by a combined score of 81-17.
"I do think that our guys played really hard and left everything out on the field," Reeves said. "I was proud of the effort, and it's frustrating for them because they gave that effort, but didn't get the win."
There was more bad news. Offensive tackle Bob Whitfield went out in the third quarter with a fractured right fibula and ligament damage, ending his season.
The Eagles jumped to a quick 10-0 lead. David Akers kicked a 21-yard field goal, and McNabb threw the touchdown pass to Mitchell, the first scoring pass involving a Philadelphia wide receiver this season.
Atlanta scored 13 second-quarter points to take a lead at halftime, but it didn't last. Philadelphia thoroughly dominated the third quarter, outgaining the Falcons 171-28 and going ahead for good on the second play of the final period.
McNabb completed passes of 36 and 28 yards to L.J. Smith, setting up Duce Staley's 4-yard scoring run that put Philadelphia ahead 20-13. Akers added his third field goal, a 40-yarder with 7:50 left that gave the Eagles a 10-point cushion.
"Most of all, you have to give credit to the defensive line," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "They buckled down and did a better job."
- Brooking played the entire game, just two weeks after getting several small fractures in his back. He made eight tackles.
- Philadelphia has won 21 of its last 28 road games. The Eagles also improved to 21-5 in November and December over the past four seasons.
- Atlanta's Allen Rossum dropped the opening kickoff and Philadelphia recovered at the Falcons 11, setting up Akers' first field goal.
- Rossum redeemed himself with a 72-yard punt return in the second quarter, getting tripped up at the 11 by Ike Reese. That saved a touchdown, and the Falcons settled for Jay Feely's 25-yard field goal.
- Atlanta already had given up far more yards than any other team (416.7) and the average took a hit. The Eagles had 430.
The Associated Press News Service
Copyright 2003, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved