In a memorable and wildly entertaining NFC Championship game, Kurt Warner solidified his legacy among championship quarterbacks. His story of going from grocery bag boy to Super Bowl MVP has long been repeated, but consider this: He now boasts the honor of guiding two former doormat franchises to the promised land. No easy feat.
McNabb, meanwhile, has proven to be little more than the poor man's Jim Kelly. They both have their share of big-game defeats on their resumes, but at least Kelly's came in the final round.
Admittedly, McNabb was superhuman for much of the second half Sunday. He nearly led the Eagles to a stirring comeback almost by himself, scrambling and making plays and scoring points in bunches. Nearly.
But all his second half did was make it harder to remember his rather pedestrian first half, one in which he lugged a QB rating of about 50 for most of two periods. He missed a wide-open Desean Jackson early, and fired behind Hank Baskett on a crossing route that could have produced at least 50 more yards had the toss been on target.
It should be noted that much of his work was done behind an offensive line playing a stellar first half. McNabb stood around longer than travelers at the Philadelphia airport and still couldn't find a rhythm.
And with the game on the line, McNabb shriveled again. Let's not forget, this is the same McNabb who lost his cool - and most of his lunch - in the two-minute drill against the Patriots in the Super Bowl a few years back. With 1:57 left Sunday, he fired behind Baskett again under pressure on third down, and tossed high and wide to Kevin Curtis on fourth-and-10. Even the Eagles biggest play on the drive - a dump-off to Brian Westbrook - required a leaping catch from Westbrook on a poorly thrown McNabb delivery.
Warner, meanwhile, managed to wedge a stinker of a third quarter into an otherwise impressive performance, but he rose from the dead in dramatic fashion with a methodical, eight-minute drive midway through the fourth period that punched all of Philadelphia in the gut. He answered the blitz. He found the open man. He delivered a score and ensuing two-point conversion that will forever change Arizona football history.
He also managed a near-perfect first half, with only one incompletion thrown into the final minute of the second period. He and Larry Fitzgerald toyed with the Philly secondary while building a 24-6 lead, every point of which would become critical after Philly rallied in the second half.
It should be noted that Warner got the best of McNabb in the NFC title game in 2001, as well. He's certainly had some memorable downs since then - including a lifeless stint with the Giants and a few frustrating seasons in Arizona - but with the chips on the table, he's come up big more times than not. He's got three Super Bowl appearances to brag about, and in two weeks he has a chance to join some truly elite company by winning a second NFL title.
On the other side, nobody doubts McNabb's talent. He's a rare breed in quarterbacks, blending serious strength with the ability to scramble and a rocket of an arm. And he's managed to survive in the headache-inducing world of Philadelphia sports. But, for whatever reason, he's never come up big in the clutch. Football is most certainly a team sport, and nobody would put all of Philly's big game chokes on his shoulders alone, but the bottom line is quarterbacks are remembered for securing big wins. And McNabb hasn't done it enough.
For whatever reason, he seems to shrink in the biggest moments. He'll pick up the telephone on the Giants sideline in the Divisional round, but never gets to answer the call in the Super Bowl. Unless something changes - dramatically - he'll go down as a talented quarterback who simply wasn't a winner.
He had a big-time chance to do so on Sunday, and he nearly pulled it off. His efforts in the second half were memorable, and downright impressive. But the hole he dug was too big to climb out of, and when handed the ball with two minutes to go, he handed it right back. Warner, meanwhile, shook off some third-quarter adversity and punched his ticket to the NFL Hall of Fame.
Back when Warner was bagging groceries, he and McNabb likely couldn't have seemed more different. But the disparity has never been more obvious than it was in the Arizona desert on Sunday afternoon.
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