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Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Legacy in the Balance

Tim Layden over at Sports Illustrated has a great article on Donovan McNabb's continuing search for his place in NFL history. Let's examine some of the particulars:
McNabb might not be an open book, but his career is. If he never wins another playoff game, he will probably be remembered as a good player who started fast and flamed out. (And got booed on draft day).

Consider him against others in his generation, quarterbacks drafted from 1997 to 2002. Of this group, two are certain Hall of Famers. You know who they are. The vast majority is out of the league, many having failed miserably (including the players taken just in front of McNabb -- Tim Couch -- and just after him -- Akili Smith). Whither Joe Germaine ('99), Pat Barnes ('97), Tee Martin ('00) and Jesse Palmer ('01)?

Five peers against whom McNabb will likely be measured in his dotage are Kurt Warner, Chad Pennington, Drew Brees, Daunte Culpepper and Garcia. (Kerry Collins came into the league four years earlier than McNabb).

Consider:

• McNabb: Came into the league in 1999. 10 years, 29,320 yards, 194 TDs and 90 interceptions. (Plummer had 161 of each, no small feat; Jon Kitna, who came into the league in '97, had 152 touchdowns and 151 picks). Passer rating of 85.9. 7-5 record in postseason. One Super Bowl appearance, no Super Bowl rings.

• Warner: Came into the league in 1998 (he was already 27 years old). 11 years (one of which included just four pass attempts and other with just 38), 28,591 yards, 182 TDs and 114 interceptions. Passer rating of 93.8. 5-2 record in the postseason. Two Super Bowl appearances, one Super Bowl ring.

• Brees: Came into the league in 2001. Eight years (one of which included just 27 pass attempts), 26,258 yards, 168 touchdowns and 98 interceptions. Passer rating of 89.4. 1-2 record in postseason. No Super Bowl appearances.

• Culpepper: Came into the league in 1999 (he was drafted nine spots after McNabb in that QB-crazy draft). Ten years, 23,208 yards, 146 touchdowns and 100 interceptions. Passer rating fo 89.0. 2-2 record in postseason. No Super Bowl appearances.

• Garcia: Came into the league in 1999 as an undrafted free agent. (He was 29, even older than Warner). Ten years, 25,537 yards, 161 touchdowns and 83 interceptions. Passer rating of 87.5. 2-4 record in postseason, No Super Bowl appearances.

If we assume from this generation that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are going into the Hall of Fame (they are), next in line at this moment is probably Warner, followed by McNabb. Brees needs some playoff skins on the wall and Culpepper seems likely to be forgotten before the rest.

Yet it is McNabb, still only 32 years old, probably healthier than he has been in four years, who can put himself in a category of one between Manning/Brady and the rest. He needs to get to another Super Bowl. Probably needs to win it. He can start Sunday. Six weeks after he was benched. Two years after he was toast. Defining his career again.
If you are asking me, I'd rank those quarterbacks this way:

1. Brady
2. Manning
3. Some space here
4. McNabb/Warner (considering Warner's Super Bowl ring)
5. Brees
6. Garcia/Culpepper

Regardless, McNabb stands at a pivotal intersection. Tomorrow's game will mark the quarterback's first playoff action since his disappointing performance in the Eagles Super Bowl XXXIX loss to the New England Patriots. Four years later, McNabb is healthy and fully capable of shredding NFL defenses. His playoff numbers, are slightly above average, with both impressive and underwhelming outings: 7-5 record, 18 TD, 12 INT, 80.1 QB rating, 6 games with a 90+ rating. The definition of "OK."

For some reason, and this may just be my hopelessly romantic side shining through, this Eagles team seems to be riding high with destiny at its back. Maybe it's leftover magic from the Phillies championship. Maybe it's the unbelieveable events that transpired last Sunday to get the Eagles to the playoffs. Maybe it's the feeling I get watching Brian Dawkins cheer on the crowd, directing "E-A-G-L-E-S!" chants and smashing opposing players as if he is ten years younger.

Or maybe it's simply the fact that the days of Negadelphia are over. After twenty-five years of frustration and heartache I believe (knock on wood) that the tide is turning in Philadelphia. Let it sink in: We are winners. I think the vibe has moved across the parking lot to Lincoln Financial Field.

So, to Donovan McNabb, go out there and channel your terrific playoff showings against the Bears, the Bucs (2000), the Falcons, the Packers , the Vikings, and the Falcons. Scramble, avoid pressure, run when it's there, make smart passes.

One at a time...just win. Win and quiet all the critics. Win, move on, and push towards Tampa and February 1. Repeat the Phillies exploits of October 29, 2008 (knock on wood) and a future place in Canton is possible.

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