Ask as often as you wish. Phrase the question 1,000 ways.
It simply will not matter. Donovan McNabb will not concede. The Eagles quarterback is adamant, in some cases even defiant, when it is suggested his halftime benching against the Ravens on Nov. 23 has anything to do with his recent domination.
There is absolutely no relationship between the two events, he says. But maybe the question should be: Who cares?
What matters to Philadelphia is McNabb is playing some of his best football in years. And it's largely McNabb's unanticipated resurgence that has the Eagles in today's division playoff game against the Giants.
"When you go through tough times, it's important that in our situation you go in that locker room and you begin to show the guys that none of that ever affects you and that you do everything you need to do in order to change that," McNabb said.
"And the guys begin to see that. Confidence begins to grow, and everybody understands that none of this will ever affect you. Then you get out and play well."
That was not the case in the weeks preceding his benching. McNabb, 32, found himself in a funk that began Nov. 9 against the Giants. He completed just 17 of 36 passes in a 36-31 loss. He followed with a 28-for-58 day and three interceptions against the Bengals.
The game ended 13-13, and McNabb admitted afterward he didn't realize ties were possible. Philadelphia's season was on life support. It got worse the next week: McNabb's 8-of-18, two-interception first half against Baltimore was coach Andy Reid's breaking point. The 36-7 loss left the Eagles at 5-5-1.
For the record, Reid believes he made the right call by playing Kevin Kolb in the second half and the benching did McNabb some good.
"You're talking about one of the all-time greats here that has ever put on an Eagles uniform," Reid said. "Sometimes, you just need to take a little bit of a step back and you can take a big step forward."
McNabb's response? Whatever.
"I don't believe in stepping back," he maintains.
His snippiness might be forgivable. Being McNabb can be a thankless job. Where its sports stars are concerned, the City of Brotherly Love could be more aptly described as the City that Loves to Hate. The vitriol directed McNabb's way during his slump was intense and ugly — to the bewilderment of some.
"It is crazy that people keep doubting this guy," Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "All he has done is put up probably a hall of fame career. He led a team, when they looked like they were down and out, to the playoffs. He goes out there, and he just lays everything on the line."
The chorus has been loud at times, but McNabb knows how to silence a crowd: Winning cures everything.
The Eagles are doing that often nowadays. They have won five of six, including last week's wild-card game 26-14 at Minnesota.
Not coincidentally, McNabb has been playing winning football. Behind his strong finish, his 3,916 passing yards in the regular season were a career best, his 23 touchdowns third most. If McNabb earns a win today, a good season only gets better.
"This is a time where you want to play your best, put your team in a position to win. And you see the ultimate goal of making it to the Super Bowl and winning it," he said. "I think for all of us, it's an exciting time because of the things that we had to go through to get here. And we don't want it to end."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]