During his 11 seasons as the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, all Donovan McNabb did was lead the Eagles to win after win after win. He posted a 92-49-1 record, which included seven trips to the postseason, five conference championship game appearances, and a trip to Super Bowl XXXIX.
Compare that resume to Michael Vick, who has spent barely two seasons as the Eagles’ starting quarterback. He’s led the team to just one playoff game, a loss, and unlike McNabb, who was a master at not turning the ball over, Vick has had his fair share of games that show that he’s a turnover machine.
In reality though, Vick is a pretty similar quarterback to McNabb: an above average quarterback with a strong arm and exceptional running ability. But there’s one area where Vick stands miles ahead of McNabb, and it’s likely going to be the deciding factor in whether he can lead the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl title.
Vick is a clutch quarterback. McNabb, no matter how you try to defend it, was not.
With McNabb, the game was pretty much over midway through the fourth quarter. Usually the Eagles would be up by seven to 10 points, and there wouldn’t be any need for late-game heroics. And if the Eagles were losing, especially by more than one score, forget it. McNabb wasn’t bringing them back. No chance.
McNabb led 24 game-winning drives or fourth quarter comebacks with the Eagles, but most were the result of scores early or midway in the fourth quarter. If they were later in the fourth quarter, it was usually a go-ahead field goal. They were what you would call boring fourth quarter comebacks.
And there’s truly nothing wrong with that. I think fourth quarter comebacks are a very overrated stat, and I don’t need to see my team constantly on on a last-minute touchdown. It’s exciting and thrilling, but it undervalues guys like McNabb who usually had the team up by enough points early in the fourth quarter to seal a victory.
I’ll be honest too. I think we all know deep down inside, as much as we’ve all likely defended him at one point or another, that McNabb wasn’t as good with the game on the line as he was in the first 56 or 57 minutes. It sucked but it’s the truth.
He had his chance in the closing minutes of the 2001 NFC championship against the St. Louis Rams, in the 2002 NFC championship against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in the 2004 Super Bowl against the New England Patriots, and in the 2008 NFC championship game against the Arizona Cardinals. The first three ended in interceptions, and the fourth was a turnover on downs.
Each time, McNabb’s inability to lead a comeback cost the Eagles a chance at a Super Bowl title. Had McNabb played his usual stellar game in the first three quarters of those games, he likely wouldn’t have needed to lead a game-winning touchdown drive. But McNabb often dropped it down a notch in the postseason. He couldn’t move the ball against great defenses. In the six biggest games of his life, he led the Eagles to one win and an average of 18.33 points per game.
More importantly, he couldn’t lead the Eagles out of the hole in the fourth quarter.
And that, right there, is where I believe Vick can be different from McNabb.
Notice that I said ‘can be different’ from McNabb. We don’t know yet.
Vick’s only postseason game with the Eagles actually ended exactly the way a lot of playoff games with McNabb did–with a game-losing interception in the closing minutes.
So maybe Vick wouldn’t be different if he took the Eagles back into the playoffs. But I think he would be.
What Vick has done in the previous two weeks is not something that McNabb could have done.
One of the biggest reasons is that you get the feeling that McNabb’s teammates didn’t completely trust him with the game on the line. He didn’t have the clutch resume. He didn’t have the never-say-die attitude. I’m not sure his teammates went into a final drive with McNabb expecting it to end with six points.
It’s different with Vick. His teammates completely believe in him with the game on the line. They have confidence that he’s going to get the job done, and they’re genuinely surprised when he doesn’t. He’s got the track record too. He led the comeback in the Miracle at the New Meadowlands against the New York Giants in 2010, as well as the come-from-behind touchdowns for one-point victories in each of the first two games of this season.
And he’s shown that he can score at will despite his tendency to turn the ball over so many times. Nobody will ever forget his 59-point performance against the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football in 2010.
Vick has what ESPN analyst Skip Bayless calls a “Rain Man” memory (although Bayless uses Eli Manning as his example). Vick could turn the ball over four times in a game, and he truly believes on the final drive that he’s still going to get the job done. He has a short memory. Sometimes it seems like he has no memory.
Against the Cleveland Browns in week one, Vick was forcing throws into tight coverage near the end zone despite already throwing four interceptions during the game. It worked too. And the way he led a game-winning touchdown drive in the final minutes against a dominant defense? McNabb could almost never do that.
If Vick can find a way to minimize his turnovers, he will become better than McNabb. Look at the second game of the season. He led the Eagles to 24 points against the powerful Baltimore Ravens defense despite three turnovers. Imagine what he could do against a weak defense when he didn’t turn the ball over once every quarter.
Vick will never go a full game and led the Eagles to just nine or ten points, the way McNabb seemed to do in every sixth or seventh regular season game and third or fourth postseason game. At some point during a game, no matter how many times Vick turns the ball over, he’ll be unstoppable for a drive or two and the Eagles will get some points.
That’s exactly what you need in the postseason.
In the postseason, you need a quarterback who can be unstoppable. You need a quarterback who can shake off three first-half turnovers and still produce points on the scoreboard in the second half. (I understand that it’s obviously better when your quarterback doesn’t turn the ball over at all, but remember, we’re working with what we have here. Vick is the quarterback and as long as he is, turnovers will continue to happen.)
You need a quarterback who you can trust against a solid defense in the fourth quarter.
And most importantly, you need a quarterback whose teammates trust him to quickly and efficiently lead a two-minute drive when the entire season is on the line.
Is it a coincidence that almost every Super Bowl anymore comes down to a quarterback leading a two-minute drive?
Eli Manning did it twice in the Super Bowl in the last five seasons. Fail both times, and he doesn’t have a ring. It’s as simple as that. Eli didn’t play particularly well during the first 56 or 57 minutes of either game. The Giants scored just 10 and 15 points (two off a safety). But they scored seven and seven on the two most important drives in franchise history.
Let’s go back to final drives in the Super Bowl. Ben Roethlisberger got it done against the Cardinals and couldn’t get it done against the Packers. Peyton Manning couldn’t do it against the New Orleans Saints.
There you go. Those are your last five Super Bowls. All five have come down to the final drive.
I’d bet that at least three of the next five come down to a final drive too.
I trust Vick on a final drive.
I never trusted McNabb. I don’t think anybody did, Andy Reid included.
Look, I’m not trying to knock McNabb. I’m truly not. I loved McNabb. He was a great quarterback, probably even better than Vick, but he wasn’t better than Vick at the end of a game. He was so consistent, and well, un-clutch, that nothing was going to change if the Eagles trailed late in the game, especially in the playoffs. Just check his track record.
If you simulated 100 Eagles seasons, I think McNabb gets you to more NFC championship games than Vick. After all, he took the Eagles to five in an eight-year span.
But Vick would get you to more Super Bowls. That’s because he’d lead a higher-scoring offense. And Vick gives a better chance to win a close and late Super Bowl against a top five defense.