5 Best and Worst Moments of Donovan McNabb's Career
Donovan McNabb's career seems to be winding down, if it's not already at the end. He has been one of the most polarizing players in recent NFL history in terms of people's opinions on both him and his play.
First, we should recognize he has a spotless off-the-field record, which is rare for a player with such a range of opinions, so credit him with that.
But some of his traits, especially as a leader, are in question which lead to the ambiguity in identifying just exactly how talented he is.
Here are the five best and worst moments of No. 5's career, starting with the good before the bad, as that is how is career and perception chronologically occurred.
Top Moment No. 5: McNabb's Eagles Destroy Packers
The Eagles were playing their first game since clinching the 2004 NFC East. Matching up against them were the Green Bay Packers, who, in their own division championship season, were fresh off a 45-17 drubbing of the NFC West-leading St. Louis Rams.
It was their first meeting since a historic playoff game and moment in Eagles history (more on that later) 11 months earlier.
On paper, it seemed like a heck of a game, but the McNabb-led Eagles didn't even make it close.
With an incredible five first-half touchdown passes, McNabb kept the pedal floored on the Eagles' incredible 2004 run, as they destroyed the Packers 47-17.
It was his game from the gate, as No. 5 opened the game with 14 consecutive completions, which followed 10 consecutive competitions to end the previous game.
The feat broke Joe Montana's record of 22 straight completions.
This game got so out of hand that before being pulled from the blowout, McNabb was throwing deep balls in the end zone to Terrell Owens in an attempt to get him his 15th touchdown and thus force Andy Reid into tights.
It also cemented the Eagles as the NFC's best, as they moved to 9-0 in the NFC with nine double-digit wins.
McNabb's final stats were 32-of-43, 464 yards, five TDs, no interceptions and a 147.8 passer rating.
Top Moment No. 4: McNabb Throws 4 TDs on Broken Ankle
Even McNabb's critics will credit him with this one, as it was nothing short of gutsy.
After breaking his ankle on the third play of the game, McNabb went on to throw four touchdown passes and lead the Eagles to their seventh win.
Equally impressive was the fact he completed an astonishing 80 percent of his passes.
McNabb went on to miss the remainder of the regular season and did not return until the second round of the NFC playoffs.
McNabb's final stats were 20-of-25, 255 yards, four TDs and one INT.
Top Moment No. 3: McNabb Gets over NFC Championship Game Hump
It was in his fourth NFC Championship that McNabb finally came through and got the Eagles to the Super Bowl. It was nothing flashy (only five of his 17 completions were to wide receivers), but he still got them there and kept them in control the whole game.
He also did what he's always done best—use the tight end. McNabb hooked up with Chad Lewis for two touchdowns, including the final one that sealed the 27-10 victory and sent the Linc into a frenzy.
It also sealed the Eagles' first Super Bowl since 1981.
Why is this only No. 3? Truth is, this wasn't a legacy game for No. 5.
The general feeling after the game, aside from the euphoria of going to the Super Bowl was, "Well it's about time."
What followed this game didn't help, either, as it is much more lasting in most minds. But more on that in our next section.
McNabb's final stats were 17-of-26, 180 yards, two TDs and no INTs.
Top Moment No. 2: The 14-Second Scramble
Here's another moment from 2004, which must have been a pretty good season. This play was simply spectacular, one of incredible athleticism.
McNabb not only avoided every Cowboy that came his way behind the line, but after scrambling away, he heaved a 60-yard bomb on the run to Freddie Mitchell.
Although Mitchell's celebration would indicate it was he who made the play, it was all a result of McNabb's athleticism.
To scramble for that long and make a throw across his body while on the move, you would think it would be the most famous McNabb-to-Mitchell hookup.
It was the quintessential young McNabb at his best—mobile and with a strong deep ball.
McNabb was so dangerous with his legs, and even though he didn't actually rush the ball on this play, his legs were on display, as were his arms. He was a tremendously mobile quarterback early in his career, and this is his finest example.
The play and the game also symbolized the Eagles' season. They could not be stopped by any opponent.
Even when the Cowboys approached McNabb, they really weren't even close to touching him. No one in the NFC came close to stopping the Eagles. They could do anything that year.
They had everything going for them, especially in that game. From Owens being approached by naked celebrities before the game, and Lito shuffling his way to the end zone on a 100+-yard interception return, to McNabb tossing four more touchdowns on offense, it was the Eagles' year in the NFC.
And McNabb was in the middle of all of it.
McNabb's final stats were 15-of-27, 345 passing yards, four TDs, no INTs and one incredible highlight.
Top Moment No. 1: 4th-and-26
What else could be No. 1? It is the only play in Philadelphia Eagles history, and really in NFL history, that is referred to as its down and distance.
After being sacked for a 16-yard loss on second down, followed by an incompletion, the Eagles faced a 4th-and-26 on their own 26-yard line. With one timeout left and trailing by three, a failure to convert would end the game.
Their season would also be over, another No. 1 seed wasted and another season of failing to meet expectations.
But Donovan found Fred-Ex, who did deliver this time for what would be the most famous McNabb-to-Mitchell hookup. With a generous spot, they gained 28 yards to get the first down and eventually tied the game.
It was the longest fourth down conversion in NFL history, and they eventually won in overtime.
With the win, McNabb was in prime position to grab full control of the city. It could have been his. All he had to do was beat the over-achieving Panthers at home, a team they had already beaten a few weeks ago.
They were finally headed to a Super Bowl.
The play overshadows McNabb's game against the Packers. No. 5 was spectacular. He was compared to Houdini after the game for his tremendous scrambles and runs, including a highlight reel 41-yard run.
The quarterback finished the game with over 100 rushing yards on 11 carries from scrimmage.
He did it both with his arms and legs, and it came only a few months after Rush Limbaugh questioned his true ability as a quarterback due to his race.
McNabb proved in this game that he could not only make plays, but win a big game.
Sadly, that would be the highest point his career would reach, as he'd be embarrassed by Carolina in the NFC title game. He could have had the city of Philadelphia after this performance, but sadly he choked, as we'll see in his poor moments.
McNabb's final stats were 21-of-39, 248 passing yards, two TDs, no INTs, 11 carries, 107 rushing yards and a fourth down conversion.
Worst Moment No. 5: Air Guitar Solo
The best way to explain No. 5's fifth-worst moment is the hot word high school girls use to explain most things in their lives—awkward.
It was so awkward. Everything about it—the timing, the place, the opponent and the company he was walking with onto the field.
The Eagles had just come off a 24-0 spanking at the house that Jerry built the week before and had just surrendered the NFC East to the Cowboys.
In doing so, they went from possibly having the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a bye to falling to the No. 6 seed and having to return to Dallas.
They had nothing to be loose and unfocused about in this Wild Card playoff game.
Yet, out came their leader (only because he's the starting quarterback of 10 seasons) making a complete fool of himself on a Saturday night game seen in bars throughout the country and on national television.
He plays an air guitar, does some strangle shaking of his rear, then throws himself at the Plexiglass separating him from the Dallas fans. I'm sure Cowboys fans love him, right?.
Look at Michael Vick's reaction—he can't even watch. His top receiver, DeSean Jackson, tries to get him amped up and even play along but McNabb loses him with this one.
So he lets McNabb drown by himself.
And that senseless, loose attitude came forth on his play. He came out on the first play of the game and severely under-threw a receiver, bouncing a three-hopper that went six yards on a 10-yard curl.
That's really how the game unfolded—flat, short and well off-target. For a while, it was Michael Vick (who decided not to perform air guitar) that accounted for the Eagles' lone touchdown until they got a meaningless one later in the game.
And that was the end of McNabb's career as an Eagle, as he was traded to a divisional opponent less than three months later. It was just one of several examples when McNabb failed to demonstrate he was any type of true leader.
Lead air guitar doesn't count.
McNabb's final stats were 19-of-37, 230 passing yards, one TD, one INT and one solo performance on air guitar. Fortunately, it was just that—a solo.
Worst Moment No. 4: Not Knowing the Tie Rules
This was simply inexcusable. Not knowing the rules of the sport. And not the nitpicky rules like what is defensive pass interference, but rules regarding the determination of a game's outcome.
For so many reasons, this was inexcusable, including the fact there was a tie during McNabb's playing career, as well as 15 in his lifetime.
So many existing tie games are an indication he does not pay attention to the league around him.
What troubling a trait for an NFL quarterback, who usually succeeds by studying other teams, to have.
It was equally inexcusable how poorly he played. The Eagles were in position to tie a Bengals team, without Carson Palmer, that went on to win only four games that season.
McNabb's stats in that game were 28-of-58, 339 yards, one TD, three INTs and one fumble lost.
Worst Moment No. 3: Ronde Barber Picks McNabb off to End Season and Vet
This is by far the most disappointing moment of Donovan's career. It's not the worst, though, because part of the disappointment was contributed to the defense and playcalling.
McNabb also may be a bit of a victim to the situation that surround this moment.
In what would be the final game in Veterans Stadium history, the top-seeded Eagles hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Eagles had played Tampa in the past two regular seasons, that year included, and won both games.
They had also played them at home in the last two playoffs and beat them both times. 4-0 against the Bucs in less than 25 months.
They had beaten them in Tampa Bay three weeks earlier with their second-teamers. The NFC's top seed had made it to the Super Bowl every year since 1998.
Tampa Bay was also coming to the cold Vet in cold Philadelphia.
They were 0-5 all-time in road playoff games. In temperature under 40 degrees, the Bucs were 1-21 all-time and 0-9 when the temperature was below 30 degrees.
The temperature at game time was 20 degrees.
Brian Mitchell returned the opening kickoff 70 yards and on the second play of the game, Deuce made a few cuts and ran for a 20-yard score.
They pinned Tampa at the 4-yard line on a second-possession punt, and later Bobby Taylor picked off Brad Johnson. The game seemed like a lock.
Was there any indication the Eagles weren't going to win the game?
Then, everything fell apart. The defense crumbled. McNabb was ineffective. Andy Reid went away from Staley. Nothing was working.
Trying to keep their Super Bowl hopes alive, McNabb drove the Eagles deep in Tampa Bay territory, accumulating 73 yards.
But then, he stepped back in the pocket and Ronde Barber stepped back into coverage after faking a blitz. He grabbed the McNabb pass from the air and ran 92 yards untouched to clinch the game for the Buccaneers and placed a slamming halt on the Eagles' season.
Was it a poor play by McNabb, as it was the second straight year an interception from him ended Super Bowl hopes? Of course.
But really, this was more disappointing because it was the final nail in the coffin in a game that saw Tampa Bay return from their own death and kill the Eagles' season.
In a larger context, the disappointment stems from the situation. Andy Reid's moved away from the run and forced an ineffective McNabb, on a bitterly cold day, to throw 49 times.
McNabb's final stats were 26-of-49, 243 yards, two lost fumbles and one fatal interception.
Worst Moment No. 2: The T.O. Feud
This is the biggest example of McNabb's poor leadership skills. Coming off a Super Bowl season where he and Terrell Owens dominated the NFC, the duo looked primed to be one of the best combinations in football for years to come.
They talked glowingly about the potential of things they could accomplish together.
McNabb had himself a nice 12-year deal, which when he signed was actually the richest in NFL history.
T.O.'s was flawed in that he was not assured of receiving the money he deserved, despite being arguably the best wide receiver in the game and that era.
When T.O. pursued a more fitting and fair deal, McNabb did not once support him. You can understand that, seeing as how he does not have access to the team's financial decisions.
But I don't understand the leader supporting the idea of the team's best offensive player not even being on the team.
Owens was eventually suspended, and McNabb's inability to lead a team and keep it together was quickly brought to light. Before being injured, McNabb led the Eagles to a 4-5 season.
In numerous games, there was clear evidence that having Owens would have given the Eagles at least two more wins.
In one particular game on a Monday night against Dallas, over-matched rookie Reggie Brown had a key drop to prevent the Eagles from being in field goal range. Though they would never admit it, though they did not miss his personality, the Eagles' offense woefully missed Owens.
Clearly, they undervalued Owens, in large part due to McNabb's ego.
Andy Reid was set to welcome his star receiver back to the team until McNabb complained about it.
Years later, McNabb would have the nerve to complain about needing more playmakers after going 8-8, that they needed to improve. While this is not necessarily a sign of regret, it does show he may not have realized Owens's true value.
What the whole fiasco did was make fans question his priorities. Did he want to lead a team to a championship or was there some T.O. hate and jealousy?
It's a legitimate question. Owens had the city singing his own version of a song, and McNabb was the goat for four consecutive poor finishes in the Eagles' ultimate elimination games.
And Owens did not do something McNabb did in a key spot of a certain big game (more on that to come). T.O. was not afraid to point this out to people.
This was only the second most puzzling example of No. 5's leadership in a span of months, only behind that certain thing he, not Owens, did in a certain big game.
Worst Moment No. 1: Vomiting in the Super Bowl
This will always be Donovan McNabb's legacy. Not only was it all his flaws in one example, it was the ultimate sign of failing in the biggest moment in his life.
Trailing New England by 10 points in the Super Bowl, the offense was driving down the field in an attempt for a comeback. While doing this, they were acting as if they were leading by 10 points.
A series of very sluggish, slow and lackadaisical offensive plays had everyone in Jacksonville and the country wondering what the Eagles were doing.
Turns out McNabb was described as being very ill.
There is strong reason to believe the quarterback threw up in the huddle. Aside from Owens saying this, Hank Fraley and Freddie Mitchell have since confirmed this. Mitchell even added that he had to call the plays because McNabb was so sick.
Let's put into context what exactly was happening. Aside from death, is there a more finalizing action than vomiting? It is the ultimate sign of something being either too much or too big to handle.
Not only that, it usually signals the end of an activity, especially a party. So McNabb could not handle the big party that was the Super Bowl.
It's also pretty disgusting. But what is something that sometimes induces vomiting? Choking.
So, in the biggest moment of each player's life, there is the quarterback indicating that the moment is too big for him. He can't handle it. That's the end for him. He choked.
He and Andy Reid can continue to lie and try and convince us that Fraley, Owens and Mitchell are all wrong and that it never happened, but the reality is we have every indication possible that it happened, aside from the cameras not catching it.
In their defense, how could they expect something like this? They did learn from their "missed shot" (if you can call it that) and actually caught him vomiting in another game in Florida years later on a late drive against the Buccaneers.
McNabb clearly threw up on the field and quickly burned a timeout. That being the case, and the fact that they were going so slowly, you have to believe that he absolutely did vomit.
This was a culmination of all of McNabb's flaws into one (which all have been represented in his four previous worst moments). Poor leader, struggles in the clutch and can't handle big moments or adversity.
And really, this is his legacy in Philadelphia. He will forever be remembered as the guy who choked in the Super Bowl first and his prouder moments second.
McNabb's final Super Bowl XXXIX stats were 30-of-51, 357 passing yards, three TD's, and three INTs.
Honorable Mention and Perspective of Meaning of His Career
Being benched for Rex Grossman, the first time.
This game is the low point in his career, but really, we've seen this moment so many times. What it was, more than anything else, was a confirmation of reality.
The situation: Redskins trailing 31-25 to a bad Lions team. 1:45 left in the game, Redskins have the ball in Detroit territory. Mike Shanahan benched McNabb and inserted one of the biggest laughing stocks at the quarterback position, Rex Grossman into the game to handle the final drive.
Shanahan's initial explanation: Grossman was more familiar with the team's 2-minute offense. He then backtracked and said it was his "cardiovascular endurance was the issue.
So he was too stupid, but then really, it was just that he was too fat or out of shape.
Shanahan, first with an action, then with words put McNabb's career flaws into the spotlight. A poor leader, prone to struggle in crunch time, with a strong chance of getting physically sick.
Grossman turned the ball over on a fumble that Detroit recovered for a touchdown. Literally the worst possible play that could happen. Yet, somehow, Shanahan though McNabb could have done worse. And that is what his career has come down to, as he sits after going unclaimed, a worse option for every single team. Whether your quarterback is TJ Yates or Caleb Hanne.