Six weeks ago, I was thinking about writing this article, only with a different title. It would have been called, “Was Andy Reid's Decision to Bench Donovan McNabb the Worst Decision of His Coaching Career?”
Six wins out of seven games later, including a wild-card victory in Minnesota and a solid triumph over the defending Super Bowl champion N.Y. Giants in the Meadowlands, my Philadelphia Eagles are heading to the desert to take on the surprising Arizona Cardinals.
And we wouldn't be there without the outstanding play of our rejuvenated and motivated quarterback Donovan McNabb, who has played brilliantly since he was benched at halftime of a Week 12 game against the Baltimore Ravens.
This makes me wonder if Reid's decision to bench McNabb was the best decision of his career.
You remember the scenario.
The Eagles had just tied the Bengals, 13-13, in one of the most painful offensive performances of all-time. Afterwards, McNabb felt the need to inform America that he did not know that games can end in a tie.
The following week against the top-ranked Ravens defense, McNabb threw two interceptions in the first half, and if it wasn't for a Quintin Demps 100-yard kick return touchdown, we would have been shut out heading into half.
To start off the third quarter, Kevin Kolb emerged as our quarterback, with a sullen McNabb on the sidelines.
The Eagles were down by just three points in a must-win game, and Reid pulled his five-time Pro Bowl quarterback for a guy who hadn't—and still hasn't—thrown a touchdown pass (at least to his team) in the NFL. Kolb proceeded to hand the game to Ed Reed and the Ravens, who won, 36-7.
At this point, I remember screaming at my TV. All of us as Philly fans did that. We were angry. We wanted Andy Reid's head on a platter. We wanted blood. We said it was the stupidest thing Andy Reid had ever done.
And we were wrong.
McNabb started the following week, a prime-time Thanksgiving night game against the eventual NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals, and thrived. He played like the quarterback who led the Eagles to four straight conference championship appearances, throwing for 260 yards and four touchdowns in a big 48-20 win.
The following week, the Eagles dominated the 11-1 Giants, as McNabb once again turned in a fine performance, throwing for 191 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions, as the Eagles won their second straight, 20-14.
Eight days later, against Cleveland on Monday Night Football, McNabb threw two touchdowns and posted a passer rating of 105.1 as the Eagles won their third in a row to improve to 8-5-1.
Although the offense came up empty in a must-win game against Washington in Week 16, much of the blame can be attributed to the lackluster performance of the receivers, especially rookie DeSean Jackson, who dropped four passes, including what would have been a game-tying touchdown with less than a minute to play. McNabb still threw for 230 yards and no interceptions.
When fate set it up so the winner of the Eagles-Cowboys matchup in Week 17 would advance to the playoffs, McNabb came through when it mattered the most. He threw for two touchdowns and no interceptions, and ran for a score, posting a passer rating of 116.2 in the Eagles' 44-6 win.
He torched a hot Vikings team for 300 yards and a touchdown in the wild-card round and played well enough to beat a tough Giants squad in the divisional round, as McNabb converted several key third downs in a 23-11 win to send the Eagles to their fifth NFC Championship Game in eight seasons.
In all, McNabb has thrown for 12 touchdowns and ran for two more, against just four interceptions since the benching. After turning the ball over seven times in six quarters prior to being pulled in Week 12, McNabb has turned the ball over just six times in his last seven games.
Maybe McNabb realized his job wasn't safe. Maybe Reid was sending him a message, basically telling him, “You're capable of playing better than this, and you better do it, or you're gone.”
Whatever Reid's motive was, it worked. McNabb, who has endured more criticism than perhaps anyone in football this season, has responded with outstanding play. And he's done this without an elite receiver or competent tight end.
We'll see this week if McNabb can keep the season alive for the Eagles.