PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Donovan McNabb’s next important decision won’t be calling an audible at the line of scrimmage.

McNabb was told Thursday to have surgery for a sports hernia that probably would end his season. The Eagles’ quarterback is considering his options. It’s likely he’ll seek other opinions before making a final decision.

Mike McMahon, who had been the third-string quarterback, will start Philadelphia’s game against the New York Giants on Sunday. The struggling Eagles already are without star receiver Terrell Owens, who was suspended four games and told not to return to the team last week.

“Whatever guys we have left have to get the job done,” safety Brian Dawkins said.

McNabb has played through injuries most of the season. He re-injured his groin while trying to tackle Cowboys safety Roy Williams following an interception on Monday night. Williams returned it 46 yards for a touchdown with 2:43 left to lead Dallas to a 21-20 comeback victory over the Eagles.

Dr. William Meyers recommended that McNabb have surgery now to correct the sports hernia after an examination Thursday morning.

McNabb had planned to have surgery after the season, but he said Wednesday he wasn’t sure if he’d do it sooner.

“It’s important that we all be on the same page because you don’t want to go through it and hear later that you might have been able to play through it and have the surgery later,” McNabb said before seeing Meyers, a specialist who serves as chairman of surgery at Drexel University.

Sports hernias are most common among male athletes. A diagnosis sometimes can be tricky because, unlike more common hernias, there is not always a visible bulge in the leg or groin area. And with about 18 different variations, sports hernias can range from torn muscles to frayed muscles to a weakness in the abdominal wall.

Sometimes, the symptoms masquerade as a hip joint problem, a groin pull, a strained abdominal muscle or bursitis in the hip.

A five-time Pro Bowl selection, McNabb clearly hasn’t been the same quarterback who led the Eagles to the NFC championship game the last four years. He has thrown a costly interception in the fourth quarter in each of the last three games, and has nine picks this season.

He threw just eight interceptions last season when he became the first player in NFL history to throw more than 30 touchdown passes (31) and fewer than 10 interceptions.

Overall, McNabb has passed for 2,507 yards, 16 TDs and has a passer rating of 85.0 this season. His troubles started off the field with the turmoil between him and Owens.

McNabb feuded with Owens throughout the summer after he was criticized by the All-Pro wideout, and the two didn’t speak for a prolonged period. They clicked on the field, however, with Owens catching 47 passes for 763 yards and six TDs in seven games.

Owens was suspended following a series of incidents, including repeated criticism of McNabb and lashing out at the organization. The Eagles have lost both games without Owens.

McNabb hurt his chest in the season opener and has been bothered by the sports hernia for months.

“He’s our leader. If he’s out, it’s a major hit,” tight end L.J. Smith said. “It’s definitely a blow to our offense.”

The reigning conference champion Eagles (4-5) have lost three straight games and are last in the NFC East. Now they turn the offense over to McMahon, a fifth-year pro who has started just seven games.

McMahon spent his first four seasons in Detroit, and had a 43.8 completion percentage with 10 TD passes and 13 interceptions. He showed his mobility by running for 273 yards on 46 carries.

“Mike has a strong arm, he has good speed and he makes good decisions,” running back Brian Westbrook said. “I’m confident in his ability to go out and make plays.”

McNabb had started the last 37 games, excluding the meaningless regular-season finale last season. He’s missed a total of seven games due to injury during his seven-year career, including the last six regular-season games in 2002 after breaking his ankle.

Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley filled in for McNabb that season, leading the Eagles to a 5-1 finish and the No. 1 spot in the conference. McNabb returned for the playoffs, but the Eagles lost the NFC championship game to Tampa Bay.

Offensive coordinator Brad Childress said the transition to McMahon should be smoother than the one to Feeley, who went 4-1 playing for McNabb in just his second season.

“It’s easier from the standpoint that (McMahon) has actual game experience,” Childress said. “I think he’ll play a lot like A.J., disciplined in the system. He has more movement abilities than A.J.”

AP-ES-11-17-05 1523EST


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