EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – It was just one game Sunday, albeit one very bad game with 39 passing yards. Yet, it was one bad game after a bad season in which Donovan McNabb(notes) was deemed unfit to quarterback the Washington Redskins. At some point he is going to have to face the possibility that Andy Reid was right: Maybe he really is finished.
McNabb hates this question. He rolled his eyes slightly when it arose again Wednesday here in Minnesota – his latest stop. When you throw for 39 yards, the question will get asked, especially when he looks very much like a soon-to-be 35-year-old quarterback whose finest days are in the past. He is not as fast. His passes lack the same sizzle. The process of finding open receivers seems more laborious.
Mostly though, he just looks old.
McNabb is good at deflecting the topic of his decline. He spent years batting away criticism in Philadelphia when it wasn't nearly as deserved, when he threw lots of touchdown passes and led the Eagles deep into the playoffs, so he is accustomed to it. On Wednesday he stood behind a lectern at the Vikings' practice facility and said everyone always makes too much of just one week.
"As the season continues on, the guy they thought looked great in the first game, you aren't hearing about him anymore," McNabb said. "The team that maybe started out a little slow and then continued to progress, those are the teams you talk about later. That's one thing that I have learned throughout my whole 13 years in the NFL: everyone wants to crown guys, like Denny Green said, 'You wanna crown em, crown em.' "
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Perhaps it is harsh to declare McNabb done this fast. Minnesota drew a tough first assignment in playing at San Diego against a talented Chargers defense. The Vikings installed a new offense this summer and with McNabb not arriving until after the lockout there wasn't much time to build continuity. Things might get better. And even when everything does become familiar, the Vikings will rely heavily on running back Adrian Peterson to carry them. The offense doesn't demand that McNabb win games himself, but rather to soften defenses for Peterson to run.
Unfortunately, this puts him in bad situations.
Rather than throwing as much on first and second down as he did in Philadelphia and last year in Washington, he is stuck with third-and-6's and third-and-8's. It is hard to expect a quarterback to be successful at times like this.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier spent a lot of time on Wednesday talking about how the Chargers did a fantastic job of taking away McNabb's primary targets, forcing McNabb to look for the second player on progressions. But the Chargers had many of those covered as well. After that McNabb was running for his life.
He could probably use a more dynamic offense. Yet that still doesn't explain 39 yards. Nothing can explain 39 yards. It looks awful compared to the string of 300- and 400-yard passing performances – and even a 500-yarder – by so many of the league's other quarterbacks in Week 1. As the Vikings get more conservative and McNabb grows tentative, everyone else is throwing more than ever and succeeding while they do it.
The knock on McNabb is that he has always been stubborn. This is his biggest flaw. Eagles executives wearied of the way he brushed away instruction with a quick "I've got it," when in fact he either didn't get it or just didn't bother to listen. Back then they could live with it because he could still hit a receiver streaking down the sideline and find a way to pull his team from trouble when the first two options weren't there. Last year in Washington his stubbornness clashed with coach Mike Shanahan's fierce inflexibility. Eventually the Redskins essentially fired him, forcing the player they heralded as the new face of the franchise to languish on the bench until the season ended and they could get rid of him following the lockout.
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McNabb has now moved into that phase of his career where he is a journeyman looking to summon magic that may not longer be there, skipping from team to team in hopes of finding what he had in Philadelphia. Minnesota doesn't seem like a long-term destination. The Vikings didn't draft Christian Ponder(notes) to sit for long. They need to sell a future here – not 39 yards passing from a quarterback in decline.
On Wednesday, Frazier called McNabb "a pro." And there is no doubt the quarterback will be everything the word implies. He will work hard. He will encourage teammates. He will say the right things.
But the end often comes fast in the NFL and being a "pro" isn't enough.