This is part of the territory, and Donovan McNabb knows it more than just about anybody in the National Football League. Until you win a Super Bowl, a quarterback becomes a polarizing figure among fans and the media. Sometimes, as Eli Manning is finding out, winning a Super Bowl only buys a player a limited amount of unqualified love.
McNabb has not won a Super Bowl. He has only been dangerously close, playing in five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl. His latest effort, in Arizona, was one that produced mixed results -- struggles in the first half, a torrid third quarter and early fourth quarter and then some missed opportunities at the end of the game. McNabb's game mirrored that of the rest of the team -- too little early, nearly-perfect Eagles football for about a quarter and then disappointment in the end.
But you don't read the Discussion Boards here complaining about the many missed tackles from the defense, and you don't hear callers to talk radio dropping the dime on a special-teams performance that was far from championship level. Instead, the focus is on McNabb.
So be it. That is part of the landscape for a quarterback at this level.
I'm not here to whine about McNabb being unfairly criticized. When you lose, you get criticized. It happens. I'm here to say that anyone who suggests McNabb isn't the right quarterback for the Eagles absolutely ridiculous, and I resist the notion that McNabb can't "win the big game" with the Eagles.
Let's address the former suggestion first, that McNabb isn't the right quarterback for the Eagles. That one right there makes no sense to me. You have no case to say that, in my opinion. McNabb had his struggles in 2008 and he was taken off the field for a half for the first time in his career, and when McNabb came back he got back to playing as McNabb plays. He led the offense down the stretch, managed the game beautifully, made good decisions and piloted the Eagles into the playoffs.
If there is one criticism of McNabb during the season, it was his number of turnovers. It seemed like McNabb turned the ball over a lot, and many of those mistakes stick in my mind. Yet, McNabb's 11 interceptions (on a career-high 571 attempts) and his 5 fumbles lost were right in line with the previous nine seasons of a career that has McNabb ranked first in NFL history in interception percentage (90 career interceptions in 4,303 career passing attempts).
So, in truth, the criticism isn't all too valid, but it's fair to point to the post-season when McNabb tossed 4 interceptions and lost 2 fumbles in games when the Eagles needed McNabb to be as perfect as possible.
That, *in truth, is part of the problem with McNabb: The Eagles may rely on him too much to win games, to be perfect, to hit every open receiver in stride, to see the field perfectly, to come up with the late-game drive to win the big games. McNabb has won plenty of games, and he has won plenty of big games, but he has never won *the big game, so his career will be forever marred until the Eagles win a Super Bowl with McNabb at quarterback.
As the Eagles move forward, they need to improve the picture around McNabb. I'm not talking about wide receiver, because I think the Eagles are good enough there to win a Super Bowl. They have DeSean Jackson, an emerging star in this league. He will add strength and weight in the off-season, and he will be more of a force next year than he was in his stellar rookie season. Kevin Curtis, when healthy, is a great fit here with the way he runs his routes and stretches the field and finds the nooks and crannies in a defense. Jason Avant is a standout slot receiver. Hank Baskett needs to have a bigger role, a more consistent role, in the passing game and, especially, in the red zone.
Reggie Brown is an enigma with a lot of question marks this off-season, and Greg Lewis is a good player with a role here. Could the Eagles use a star receiver to upgrade the group? Of course. Do they need to find their receivers more and get them more involved in the red zone? No doubt about it. Maybe a big, tall, physical receiver is just what McNabb and this offense needs. If you know of one, send a bio to ...
Anyway, back to McNabb. In his NFC Championship Game losses, the Eagles have found themselves behind too much. They held a lead in St. Louis in 2001 and then had it taken away in the second half, and McNabb's last-minute drive came up empty when his pass went one way and wide receiver Freddie Mitchell went another way and the Rams intercepted the throw.
A year later, against Tampa Bay, McNabb did not play a great game. Not even close. I'll also say, if memory serves me correctly, that the Bucs blitzed him effectively and McNabb didn't have his usual mobility after coming back from his injury.
In the loss to Carolina, the offense was hampered considerably by the loss of Brian Westbrook and the performance of the wide receivers, who were roughed up in the game by the Panthers cornerbacks. The offense stunk that day, and McNabb shared in the blame.
Leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl in 2004 wasn't enough to satisfy the "big game" criticism McNabb still gets, largely because he was unable to beat New England in Jacksonville. Again, though, McNabb was not great in that game. The Eagles had no running game and McNabb needed to carry the team and he fell four points short of a win.
McNabb's only shortcoming in a terrific 10-year career here is that he hasn't won a Super Bowl. Hopefully, if the Eagles can accomplish the things they want to accomplish in the off-season, McNabb will be right back on the main stage next year. He will win big games along the way to get the Eagles to the big game, and he will erase doubters.
The critics are always going to chirp. Until McNabb wins a Super Bowl, there are always going to be doubters. I say McNabb gives the Eagles the best chance of winning the Super Bowl in 2009. I say the Eagles need him to be a better player -- every player has things to work on in the off-season, and there is no doubt that McNabb has throws he would like to have back from 2008 -- and they need to be better around McNabb. They need to run the ball more effectively. They need to score touchdowns in the red zone and not settle for field goals. They need to be better up front, at tight end, at wide receiver, at fullback.
All around, the Eagles need to be better. It can't always be about the quarterback. The Eagles have one of the best in the game with McNabb at the helm. He isn't perfect, of course. The Eagles need to win those games, those "big" games, when McNabb isn't having his best day. They need to steal a game like that with defense, or with a big play on special teams.
I know this won't quiet anybody. Everything goes in the off-season. This is the fun time to talk and debate and guess about what the Eagles might do. And I know McNabb is included in just about every conversation, which is why I wanted to add my two cents.
McNabb is the guy here. He is the one who gives the Eagles the best chance to win the Super Bowl in 2009. That's all I really care about right now. I want to win the Super Bowl. I want McNabb to win the Super Bowl. I think the Eagles are going to be that kind of team next year if they execute the blueprint they are drawing up right now for the off-season ahead.