Lot’s to talk about, but I’m going to limit today’s post to Donovan McNabb. Given his “retirement” and the fact that others are running McNabb columns today, I figured the time was right to finally put my thoughts about McNabb into post form. As I’ve alluded to before, I believe McNabb is the greatest Eagles QB ever AND a Hall of Fame caliber player.
As usual, I will not be rehashing all the draft-day stuff or the TO event, you can go elsewhere for that. Here, I’ll just give you what I believe is often missing from McNabb discussions: CONTEXT. I have much more to say about all the external crap, but I’m already at 1500+ words, so that’ll have to wait.
Given all the noise and drama surrounding McNabb’s career with the Eagles, it’s almost understandable that many commentators/fans don’t fully appreciate how good #5 was. Here are some major statistics, followed by the comparable numbers for other QBs. Again, just trying to provide objective context.
- Career Record (regular season): 92-49-1, .647 win percentage
P. Manning with the Colts – .688 win percentage
B. Favre with the Packers – .632 win percentage
J. Elway with the Broncos – .641 win percentage
- Passer Rating with the Eagles: 86.5
D. Marino – 86.4
B. Favre with GB – 85.8
J. Kelly – 84.4
T. Aikman – 81.6
- 9 Playoff Wins
P. Manning – 9
J. Kelly – 9
D. Marino – 8
- 2.16 TD/Int Ratio with the Eagles
P. Manning – 2.08
D. Brees – 1.96
J. Montana – 1.71
D. Marino – 1.66
Donovan McNabb’s career with the Eagles was among the best QB/Team runs of ALL-TIME. Look at the names above and how McNabb with the Eagles compares. My guess is that, if asked, most fans wouldn’t place #5’s run in this company. However, it EASILY belongs, and in some cases exceeds the statistical greatness of some legendary players.
So what’s the problem?
I’m guessing most people don’t consider McNabb a HOFer because of the ridiculous concept of his “big-game” performance. McNabb did not win a Super Bowl. NFL writers typically cling to this criteria when measuring greatness, despite its obvious outrageousness. First off, this is not basketball, one man can not win a ring single-handedly. This should be obvious, but the importance of winning titles is so ingrained in hack-writing that it’s frequently glossed over.
Ascribing such importance to titles is how you get fans seriously arguing that Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman are among the best QBs ever. It’s a complete joke, yet it will probably lead to a HOF that includes Eli Manning while excluding McNabb (also a complete joke).
However, regardless of how stupid I think it is, playoff performance is an important criteria for evaluating a QBs career. Let’s look at McNabb’s.
As I showed above, McNabb has more playoff wins than Dan Marino and just as many as Peyton Manning and Jim Kelly. Despite that, people cite McNabb’s “clutch” performance as among his biggest weaknesses, pointing to him throwing up in the Super Bowl and his empty ring finger as evidence of his shortcomings. Once again, though, we need to put his performance in the correct context.
Donovan McNabb lost 7 postseason games. Lets look at a few of them:
2001 – Eagles (11-5) lose to the Giants (12-4) by a score of 20-10.
This was McNabb’s first playoff lost, in his second playoff game. The Eagles had defeated the Bucs the week before. In this game, McNabb passed for just 181 yards, with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Not very good numbers (though not terrible either). How about that context?
- The Eagles rushed just 14 times for just 46 yards. BTW, McNabb had 17 of those rushing yards.
- The Eagles offensive leaders (other than McNabb) were Charles Johnson, Brian Mitchell, and Torrance Small.
- The Giants went to the Super Bowl that year, losing to the Baltimore Ravens (the historically great defense).
2002 – Eagles (11-5) lost to the Rams (14-2) by a score of 29-24
Donovan McNabb passed for 171 yards, with 1 TD and 1 Int. He also ran for 26 yards and a TD. Not great numbers, but again, we need context:
- The Eagles had a lead at halftime.
- Kurt Warner passed for just 212 yards and 1 TD that day, meaning McNabb and Warner had extremely similar statistical games (McNabb had 1 more TD and 1 more Int).
- St. Louis fumbled the ball twice, but recovered both of them. The Eagles fumbled once, but lost it. (LUCK!!!)
- Putting up 24 points in a playoff game is a pretty good performance.
- The Rams were historically good on offense that year, scoring more than 500 points. Warner, Faulk, Bruce, Holt, Hakim, etc…(as compared to McNabb, Staley, Buckhalter, Lewis,…)
- The Rams had the best point differential in the league that year and went to the Super Bowl, losing by 3 points to the Patriots, in what would mark Tom Brady’s arrival.
2003 – The Eagles (12-4) lose to the Bucs (12-4) by a score of 27-10
This is a VERY important game in the McNabb/Eagles canon. The team, playing at home, only put up 10 points. Clearly a very disappointing game, and the finger was pointed directly at the offense, and obviously, at McNabb. However, this game, more so than any other, is misunderstood. McNabb went 26-49 for 243 yards, no TDs, and 1 interception. He also fumbled twice. A bad game, no way around it. HOWEVER, the context:
- The 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs allowed just 196 points and are among the greatest defenses in recent NFL history. The Bucs were 44% better than league average on defense that year, second only to the previously mentioned Ravens defense for the BEST in the last 12 years (likely longer than that as well).
- The Bucs defense had 5 Pro Bowlers that year and 3 1st-team All-Pros. The roster included Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, John Lynch, as well as Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly (who had 8 INTs and 21 passes defensed that year).
- Against this defense, McNabb’s “weapons” consisted of Duce Staley, Todd Pinkston, James Thrash, and Antonio Freeman. For the 2002 season, those were the Eagles leading offensive players. Brian Westbrook was on the team, but did not yet feature in the offense.
Suddenly McNabb’s 243 yards and no TDs doesn’t look so bad. The Eagles only chance in this game was for the DEFENSE (+31% that year) to shut down the Bucs offense as completely as the Bucs did to the Eagles.
This did not happen.
The Bucs did score on the 92 yard Int return by Ronde Barber, but neither of McNabb’s fumbles turned into Tampa Bay points.
Blaming McNabb for this loss is ridiculous.
2004 – The Eagles (12-4) lose to the Panthers (11-5) by a score of 14-3.
This is the bad one. This loss is the ONLY time during the “Peak” that the Eagles lost to a clearly inferior team. McNabb passed for just 100 yards and had 3 interceptions and no TDs (obviously).
No real contextual mitigation here. McNabb played terribly. His supporting cast sucked (as usual), but that excuse doesn’t go anywhere near as far as would be needed to absolve #5 of his performance. UPDATE: I forgot that McNabb was injured during the 2nd quarter of this game and missed a play. He remained in the game until midway through the 4th quarter. Note that all 3 of his interceptions occurred after the injury.
If you want to denigrate McNabb’s career, this is THE game to point to. As I’ve shown above, the other losses aren’t nearly as bad as people remember them being. This one, depending on how much leeway he gets for being injured, may be worse.
2005 – The Super Bowl. The Eagles (13-3) lose to the Patriots (14-2) by a score of 24-21.
This, along with the previous 2 losses above, form the bulk of the anti-McNabb “evidence”. McNabb threw up at the end of the game, and didn’t more the offense as quickly as the situation demanded. That’s true. However,
- McNabb threw for 357 yards. He had 3 interceptions, but he also threw for 3 TDs.
- The Eagles rushed for just 45 yards, meaning McNabb was the entire offense.
- The Patriots had a point differential that year of +177, the 11th best measure over the past 10 seasons (out of 320 teams).
- The Patriots allowed just 16.2 points per game that season, the Eagles scored 21 against them.
- In the playoffs that year, Peyton Manning and the Colts put up just 3 points against the Patriots.
- The Patriots may have cheated (Spygate!!!).
After looking at McNabb’s statistics, with the context I provided, it should be clear to any objective observer that #5’s career was remarkable and deserves to be celebrated to a much greater extent that it is. The “big-game” performances that McNabb takes hits for were not as clear-cut as they seem. As far as I can tell, there is just one game where McNabb clearly performed far below expectations (Carolina). Just as evaluating an entire career based on Super Bowl wins is ridiculous, so is ascribing any more meaning to one playoff game versus all the rest. Remember, I only covered the losses (most of them). The only ones I excluded were the loss to the Cardinals (the Eagles scored 25 points and lost, again, to the NFC Super Bowl rep) and the 2010 loss to the Cowboys (which was an awful defensive performance and included some Mike Vick).
The man had a Hall Of Fame career, regardless of whether the hack-writers recognize it. If you had the type of career #5 had and received the same amount of shit for it, you’d be bitter too. I wish McNabb’s personality was more affable, but everything he’s upset about is 100% justifiable. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves; not everyone (very few in fact) can be magnanimous enough to ignore that.
Look at the stats, watch the highlights; you’ll see an All-Time Great. It’s time for everyone to agree on that.
I’ve used this before, but here is Hall of Famer Jim Kelly compared to Donovan McNabb:
Tell me how Kelly is a HOFer and McNabb isn’t?