PHILADELPHIA - The way Donovan McNabb is completing passes, it won’t matter if he has lost a step.
Playing his first game since tearing a knee ligament last November, McNabb did everything but scramble in the Philadelphia Eagles’ 27-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Friday night.
The five-time Pro Bowl quarterback put on an aerial display in the first quarter, finishing 6-for-9 for 138 yards, including a 58-yard strike to tight end Matt Schobel. He led the Eagles (1-1) to 10 points on four possessions, before giving way to backup A.J. Feeley.
“It wasn’t a test for me at all,” McNabb said. “I knew I can play this game at a high level.”
While McNabb shined, Jake Delhomme struggled for the Panthers (1-1) after a promising start under new offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson in Carolina’s preseason opener against the New York Giants.
Delhomme, coming off a subpar season, was 9-for-18 for 78 yards, got sacked three times and threw one interception that was returned 40 yards for a touchdown by Lito Sheppard.
“It’s very disappointing,” Delhomme said. “I don’t even want to say I’m glad it’s preseason. I don’t know. We’ve still got a lot more work to do. When we go back and look at tapes, it’s not a good feeling. Preseason or not, we played awful.”
Wearing a bulky protective brace on his surgically repaired right knee, McNabb hardly needed to escape the pocket. He was flushed out to the right once and threw an incomplete pass. On his final play, McNabb was sacked by Stanley McClover and Thomas Davis. He got right up and walked to the sideline.
“I’d rather sit in the pocket and have (reporters) say I don’t run anymore,” McNabb joked.
Overall, it was an impressive return for McNabb, who went down in Week 11 last season against the Tennessee Titans. He reported no soreness or swelling in his knee, though he wore ice packs on both knees after he came out, a routine procedure for many athletes.
“I have a long way to go, but the exciting part is just what we can do,” McNabb said. “I tried to get us back to the point where we were when I left. Hopefully we can get back to that, but it’s going to take some time.”
McNabb came out firing, completing a 27-yard pass to Kevin Curtis on the first play from scrimmage. He connected with Jason Avant for a 16-yard gain on the next play, before his fourth attempt fell incomplete.
On Philadelphia’s second possession, McNabb tossed an 18-yard pass to tight end Brent Celek. He then hit Schobel in stride with a perfect pass over two defenders down the right side. Schobel was tackled at the Panthers 3, and Tony Hunt ran in on the next play to give the Eagles a 10-0 lead.
“He looked confident and it didn’t look like the leg bothered him,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “He threw the ball very well.”
Sheppard, who returned to practice this week after sitting out with an oblique strain, stepped in front of Delhomme’s pass to Steve Smith at the 40, eluded a few tackles and ran into the end zone to make it 17-0 in the second quarter.
Hunt scored from the 1 for a 24-0 lead late in the second quarter. David Akers kicked field goals of 52 and 51 yards.
McNabb sat out Philadelphia’s preseason opener at Baltimore four days ago. He got a standing ovation from the sparse home crowd that was inside Lincoln Financial Field by the time he ran on for the first series.
Sporting a shaved head, McNabb came out about 90 minutes before kickoff. He played catch, chatted with a few Panthers and was one of the last players to leave the field following pregame warmups.
“It was good to see all the fans come out, and I just want to thank them for the support they’ve given me throughout the whole rehab process,” McNabb said.
Philly’s first-team defense shut down the Panthers in just under one half of action. Carolina managed only 37 total yards in six possessions against the starters.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
“That was the first preseason game ... but that’s not characteristic of us to put on that type of showing,” Sheppard said. “So, we definitely wanted to come out and show what type of football we’re capable of playing.”
Delhomme’s backup, David Carr, scored on a 9-yard run in the fourth quarter.
“There’s no reason to panic,” Panthers coach John Fox said. “You’re looking at different people in different spots.”
Notes: The Eagles had a lengthy list of players on the sideline. The most notable were DE Jevon Kearse (knee), FS Brian Dawkins (Achilles’ tendinitis), G Shawn Andrews (ankle) and tight end L.J. Smith (groin). ... DE Julius Peppers (sick), DE Mike Rucker (knee) and LB Dan Morgan (concussions) sat out for the Panthers. ... Delhomme beat the Eagles here in the NFC championship game in January 2004.
PFT: Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith said the draft process taught him an important lesson on taking criticism.
Y! Sports: Redskins fans found what appeared to be the wedding registry for Robert Griffin III and fiancee Rebecca Liddicoat, and they helped out their star QB.
2013 SNF Schedule
Check out the 2013 Sunday Night Football schedule.
Latest from ProFootballTalk
Video: Football from NBC Sports
Chudzinski: 'Too early' to name a QB
Following Thursday's OTA, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski speaks to the media about his team’s brewing quarterback controversy. He feels the competition will aid in each QB’s progression as a passer, but he isn’t ready to name a starter for Week 1.
Check out some of the NFL cheerleaders from across the league.