The Philadelphia Eagles record-setting scoring output this past season featured a few strong individual contributions. Consequently, it had me looking for some historical perspective to see how those stat lines compared with other Eagles players through the years.
Specifically, Brent Celek followed up a strong finish in 2008 with a breakout year in 2009. Although he remains the subject of hot debate and speculation about his future, Donovan McNabb compiled some impressive numbers in an injury-abbreviated season. And, second-year receiver DeSean Jackson burst into the national spotlight with a highlight filled campaign.
In order to provide some backdrop to better appreciate the 2009 performance of these players, I took a look through the archives at other noteworthy seasonal feats by Eagles players. I have picked out the very best individual seasons and ranked them in order.
Knowing my audience here, I limited this review to the "Gen X" period, which roughly coincides with the Super Bowl era. This time frame seems to provide the best measuring stick due to rules comparability, equipment likeness, economic equivalency, and the overall similarities in style of play; plus, it simply stays within the confines of most readers' memory banks.
With no offense intended to those who beckon back to the days of "Concrete Charlie" and Norm Van Brocklin, here is this author's Top 10 Individual Offensive Seasons" in the "Gen X period:
Several Eagles players had seasons worthy of the No. 10 spot in my rankings, but these two players share the honor due to their multidimensional skills. DeSean Jackson showed flashes of his great potential in his 2008 rookie campaign, but raised his game to an entirely different level in his sophomore season.
Jackson grabbed 63 passes for a total of 1,167 yards and an NFC-best 18.5 yards per catch. The electrifying receiver was also handed the ball 11 times, which paid off in 137 rushing yards, including a 67-yard touchdown sprint. DeSean also led the NFC in punt returns with a 15.2 average and two additional TDs to give him a total of 12.
Before "for who, for what"-ing his way out of town after the 1997 season, Ricky Watters contributed three impressive seasons in an Eagles uniform. Unfortunately, part of the impression was that of a player less concerned about the team than himself.
Whether there is basis to that perception or not, few can deny that Watters also made large contributions as a dual offensive threat. He was a workhorse running back (who never got the ball enough in his own estimation) as well as a solid receiver out of the backfield.
In 1996, Ricky racked up 1,411 yards rushing and another 444 yards receiving on his way to crossing the goal line 13 times. His combined total of 1,855 yards ranks 5th all-time in Eagles history.
Rushing: 11-137 yards, 12.5 Avg, 1 TD
Receiving: 63-1,167 yards, 18.5 Avg, 9 TD
Scrimmage Yards: 1,304 yards, 10 TD
Punt Returns: 29-441, 15.2 Avg, 2 TD
Rushing: 353-1,411 yards, 4.0 Avg, 13 TD
Receiving: 51-444 yards, 8.7 Avg, 0 TD
Scrimmage Yards: 1,855 yards, 13 TD
After three straight NFC Championship Game trips that resulted in disappointment, the addition of T.O. helped to finally put the Eagles over the top in 2004. Before breaking his leg, the diva receiver gave Donovan McNabb the pass catching weapon that was sorely missing on the club, leading to a 13-1 start.
In those 14 games, Owens hauled in 77 passes for 1,200 yards. Besides serving as a home run threat, he also became McNabb's favorite red zone target, finding pay dirt through the air a club-record 14 times. T.O.'s special year ended on Cowboys safety Roy Williams' horse collar tackle—at least for the regular season.
Defying all odds and the most optimistic projections of the medical staff, with the aid of his hyperbaric chamber and relentless physical therapy, T.O. made a triumphant return to play in the Super Bowl. As if to punctuate his tremendous season (and as we learned later, to make a statement to McNabb and his teammates), Owens outperformed all expectations with nine receptions totaling 122 yards, unfortunately in a losing effort.
Receiving: 77—1,200 yards, 15.6 Avg, 14 TD (14 games)
It is not mere coincidence that the Eagles made their first Super Bowl appearance in Ron Jaworski's finest professional season. With star running back Wilbert Montgomery limited due to injury during the season, the Eagles relied more heavily on Jaws' right arm on the way to a 12-4 regular season.
The "Polish Rifle" earned the Bert Bell NFL Player of the Year Award, the UPI All-NFC Team, and his only Pro Bowl appearance for his efforts. In 1980, Jaws registered full season career bests in yards (3,529), touchdowns (27), interceptions (12), and quarterback rating (91).
The loquacious quarterback was an ideal fit for what coach Dick Vermeil wanted at the time. He was a blue collar worker who was willing to burn the midnight oil with his coach studying game film and mastering the "X's and O's" of the sport. Jaworski and the Eagles parlayed that into an NFC Championship over the hated arch rival Cowboys.
Passing: 257-451, 3,529 Yards, 57.0%, 27 TD, 12 INT, 91.0 QB Rating
In 1982, a disappointed Dick Vermeil settled for Mike Quick in the first round of the NFL draft after his prized target was "stolen away" before their turn to pick. After learning the ropes for one season in a supporting role, Quick rapidly demonstrated in 1983 how lucky Vermeil and the Eagles truly were to land him.
That season, the aptly named wide receiver got off to a running start and by season's end had arguably assembled the best year for a receiver in team history. He racked up a team record 1,409 yards on 69 receptions, for a phenomenal 20.4 yards per catch. Quick also found the end zone 13 times, a team record that was later broken by Owens in 2004.
The five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro provided a rare combination of abilities. Quick possessed excellent hands, speed to separate, a knack to make ball adjustments often resulting in acrobatic catches, and elusiveness after he had secured the ball. Although he went on to have a fine career, 1983 was truly special.
Receiving: 69-1,409 yards, 20.4 Avg, 13 TD
After sharing backfield duties for his first four seasons, Brian Westbrook was finally handed the featured-back role in 2006. He did not disappoint, as he turned in the team's fourth highest yards from scrimmage totals (1,916) in team history.
With Donovan McNabb being lost to a knee injury, Westbrook was forced to play the lead role and came up big down the stretch. The Eagles rode Westy and backup QB Jeff Garcia to five wins in the last six games to capture the NFC Eastern Division crown.
For the season, Westbrook accumulated 1,217 yards rushing at a hefty 5.1 yards a pop. He also hauled in 77 passes totaling 699 yards, while racking up 11 TD's.
Rushing: 240-1,217 yards, 5.1 Avg, 7 TD
Receiving: 77-699 yards, 9.1 Avg, 4 TD
Scrimmage Yards: 2,104 yards, 11 TD
Wilbert Montgomery rebounded from any Super Bowl XV hangover with a spectacular all-around season in 1981. He was the catalyst on an Eagles offense that finished ranked No. 5 in the NFL.
In just 15 games, Wilbert rolled up 1,402 yards, gaining 4.9 yards per carry. He also recorded 49 receptions for 521 yards–a 10.6 yards per catch average. Both his rushing and yards from scrimmage (1,923) totals are the third highest in team history. And, as was the case throughout his career, Montgomery had a nose for the end zone, scoring 10 TDs.
Rushing: 286-1,402 yards, 4.9 Avg, 8 TD
Receiving: 49-521 yards, 10.6 Avg, 2 TD
Scrimmage Yards: 1,923 yards, 10 TD
Randall Cunningham is one of the greatest athletes to ever put on a uniform for both the Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL. In many ways, he was difficult to assess in conventional terms as a quarterback because he was not a traditional pocket passer until late in his career.
Most Sundays, Cunningham was a Chris Berman-highlight waiting to happen, but especially so in 1990. That season, he combined his running and passing skills into one of the most uniquely spectacular seasons ever seen in the NFL. In recognition of his accomplishments, Cunningham was presented with both the NFL MVP Trophy and the Bert Bell Player of the Year Award.
Randall registered his highest quarterback rating as an Eagle at 91.6, tossing for 3,466 yards and 30 touchdowns with only 13 interceptions. Additionally, he rolled up 942 yards on the ground with an 8.0 average per carry and five rushing TDs. I'm still working to confirm, but rumor has it that he drove the team bus and taped ankles at halftime as well.
Passing: 271-465, 3,466 Yards, 58.3%, 30 TD, 13 INT, 91.6 QB Rating
Rushing: 118-942 yards, 8.0 Avg, 5 TD
After campaigning for and getting a stud receiver for the first time in his career, Donovan McNabb showed the football world that the Eagles now had the pieces to make a Super Bowl run. He broke out of the gates quickly with T.O. as his main weapon and put together a marvelous season that fell one pass short of the Lombardi Trophy.
Winning 13 of his first 14 starts, Donovan and company stated their case as the team to beat in the NFC and a worthy rival of the defending champion New England Patriots. Personally, he set several team records along the way to leading the Eagles to the most wins in team history.
McNabb assembled his finest season with a 104.7 rating, completing 64% of his passes for 3,875 yards–all new team records. If not for playing only one series the last two weeks of the season after the team clinched the No. 1 playoff seed, "No. 5" may have approached 4,500 yards passing for the season. He also tossed 31 TDs with a paltry eight interceptions, and rushed for 220 yards with three TDs.
Although his future with the team is currently in doubt, the oft-discussed QB has already made his mark as the best signal-caller in Eagles history. Despite still looking to win the big one, McNabb has strung together many noteworthy seasons, but 2004 was one for the ages.
Passing: 300-469, 3,875 Yards, 64.0%, 31 TD, 8 INT, 104.7 QB Rating
Rushing: 41-220 yards, 5.4 Avg, 3 TD
Following up his breakout year, Westbrook outdid himself in 2007. He established a new single-season team record for yards from scrimmage with 2,104 and had many football pundits referring to him as the best player in football.
The elusive and explosive running back rushed for 1,333 yards with a 4.8 yards per carry average. He was also the team's biggest threat through the air, catching an astounding 90 passes for 771 yards.
Overall, he found the end zone 12 times to lead the team. Westbrook also averaged 19.8 yards returning punts when the team needed an occasional quick strike.
Both the Pro Football Writers Association and the Associated Press named him first-team All-Pro. Although the wear and tear on his body has sadly limited him over the past three campaigns, that pair of spectacular seasons has established Westbrook as one of the Eagles all-time greats.
Rushing: 278-1,333 yards, 4.8 Avg, 7 TD
Receiving: 90-771 yards, 8.6 Avg, 5 TD
Scrimmage Yards: 2,104 yards, 12 TD
Although there is very little to separate from Westbrook's 2007 campaign, the nod here goes to Wilbert Montgomery by the slightest of edge for his 1979 accomplishments. Wilbert gave every ounce of his 5'10", 196-pound body on every play and the Eagles rode him all the way to their first ever NFC Eastern Division Crown.
Montgomery rushed for a team-record 1,512 yards on 338 carries for a 4.5 yard average. He also turned 41 receptions into 494 yards for an amazing 12.0 yard average–an unheard of number for a running back.
And, with his darting cutback runs and determined demeanor, he pounded the ball across the goal line 14 times. Montgomery was the first Eagles player to eclipse 2,000 combined yards from scrimmage in a season, setting a team record that stood until Westbrook broke the mark in 2007.
More than any player, Montgomery's brilliance keyed the Eagles transformation from a last place team to a Super Bowl contender in the Dick Vermeil era. He was a clear difference-maker that other teams feared. In fact, the soft spoken running back was arguably the single most influential player in turning a perennial loser into a winning franchise during the Gen X/Super Bowl era.
Additionally, he was the perfect role model and embodied everything in a player that Vermeil valued. Besides being tremendously talented, Wilbert was hard working, gave maximize effort on every play, unfailingly put team over self, and was abundantly humble. In many ways, he was the consummate all-time Eagle.
Rushing: 338-1,512 yards, 4.5 Avg, 9 TD
Receiving: 41-494 yards, 8.6 Avg, 5 TD
Scrimmage Yards: 2,006 yards, 14 TD
Randall Cunningham-1987, 1988
Irving Fryar-1996, 1997
Donovan McNabb-2001, 2007, 2008, 2009
Duce Staley-1999, 2002
Let me know what you think. Did I miss a great individual season in this era? Would you have ranked them differently?
It's been fun.