– When Tai Streets simply has to win a football game, there’s
only one quarterback he trusts.
Donovan McNabb is the 49ers receiver’s choice
– in the NFL video games played avidly by a large portion of the
league’s young stars. Whether he’s scrambling around or throwing
downfield, nobody is more dangerous than the virtual McNabb.
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
SAN FRANCISCO – When Tai Streets simply has to win a football game, there’s only one quarterback he trusts.
Donovan McNabb is the 49ers receiver’s choice – in the NFL video games played avidly by a large portion of the league’s young stars. Whether he’s scrambling around or throwing downfield, nobody is more dangerous than the virtual McNabb.
“That’s only in the (video) game, though,” Streets said with a grin. “On the field, I’ll take Jeff Garcia.”
Koy Detmer is no McNabb, as Detmer readily admits. Still, the 49ers aren’t convinced their Monday night task is any easier with McNabb on the sideline nursing his broken right ankle while Detmer takes charge of the Philadelphia Eagles’ huddle.
Two NFC division leaders with 7-3 records will meet at Candlestick Park in a game that both coaches expect to affect playoff seedings in five weeks. McNabb’s absence seems to favor San Francisco – but the 49ers aren’t counting on it.
San Francisco’s defense didn’t change much in its preparations for the game after learning McNabb would be out, and the Eagles didn’t make any wholesale adjustments to their offense. The Niners were more worried about Philadelphia’s effective running game with Duce Staley.
“We’ll run the same offense and just try to execute,” Detmer said. “Every week, you put in different things and change up things to attack the defense you’re going against. Duce is a big part of this offense when Donovan’s in there or when I’m in there.”
Still, Philadelphia faces a big adjustment going from the smooth, cerebral McNabb to Detmer, an unshaven, happy-go-lucky career backup who’s called a goofball even by his friends. Unless the Eagles fall far behind early, Detmer thinks his passing abilities should be enough to get him through.
When the Niners’ defense has keyed on a running back this season, it has been quite successful. San Francisco clamped down on Kansas City’s Priest Holmes so well two weeks ago that he dropped out of the NFL rushing lead.
Only New Orleans’ Deuce McAllister has run wild against coordinator Jim Mora’s unit this season, but Staley is the type of shifty back that gives San Francisco the most trouble. The 49ers are at their best when linebackers Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich step up to tackle rushers.
“He’s good, and their line can be tough,” Smith said. “You would expect them to try to establish the run early on in the game, but Detmer can throw downfield, too. We can’t just stack nine guys in the box and pretend like they can’t throw, because they can.”
Still, Mora’s defense stifled Philadelphia coach Andy Reid’s offense last December, when the Eagles couldn’t get in the end zone during a 13-3 loss at Candlestick even with a healthy McNabb.
The Niners’ offense faces its own set of challenges against the Eagles’ defense, which entered the weekend ranked third in the league. The 49ers’ lineup is studded with five Pro Bowlers, but they’ve gone through long stretches of inefficiency in recent weeks despite their winning record.
What’s more, rookie kicker Jeff Chandler will make his NFL debut after coach Steve Mariucci benched Jose Cortez last week. The 49ers will do everything possible to avoid resting the game on Chandler’s foot, particularly with Terrell Owens feeling much better about his bruised heel.
“We anticipate throwing the ball a lot,” Garcia said. “We’re probably going to have to, because they’re very strong against the run. Everybody knows that T.O. is probably our most dangerous player when he’s running free on the field, so we’ll try to get the ball to him.”
The Eagles’ secondary is so deep that talented rookie Lito Sheppard barely plays at all. Philadelphia drafted Sheppard in the first round one pick ahead of the 49ers, who reportedly wanted Sheppard badly but had to settle for Mike Rumph. He’s having a rocky season as the 49ers’ nickel defensive back.
Still, all eyes will be on Detmer in his first start since 1999, even though both teams insist the game won’t depend on him.