Donovan McNabb: Ranking the 10 Best Moments of His NFL Career

Ian Stancato@ijstancato3Contributor IIIOctober 27, 2011

Donovan McNabb: Ranking the 10 Best Moments of His NFL Career

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    Donovan McNabb, quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, watched last Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers from the sidelines, having lost his starting role to rookie Christian Ponder in the wake of the Vikings' 1-5 start.

    It marked the second time in as many seasons that McNabb has been benched in favor of his backup during the regular season. In 2010, as a member of the Washington Redskins, McNabb lost his starting spot to the famously inconsistent Rex Grossman.

    When McNabb was first benched in 2010, late in a game against the Detroit Lions, many had speculated that it was the result of a poor relationship with Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan. Shanahan's explanation for the decision, that he felt Grossman had a better grasp of the Redskins' two-minute offense, was heavily criticized.

    The Redskins' front office however, gave McNabb a vote of confidence that same week in the form of a five-year contract extension worth up to $88 million with incentives. The good will, however, would not last as the Redskins struggled on their way to a 4-12 record and McNabb was again benched late in the season to little fanfare.

    Minnesota was supposed to represent a new opportunity for McNabb, a chance to bury his lost season in Washington. It has turned out to be anything but and, more and more, his midseason benching against the Lions in 2010 seems to be, in retrospect, the beginning of the end for McNabb, not a player/coach relationship gone awry as many had believed at the time.

    And so begins the twilight of an illustrious career. In a league starved for veteran leaders at quarterback, McNabb may yet hang on for a few more years, but his best days are undoubtedly in his past. McNabb, in his prime, was a playmaker capable of carrying an entire team on his back for weeks on end.

    The Philadelphia Eagles chose McNabb with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. New head coach Andy Reid handpicked McNabb out of Syracuse to be the keystone of his team and the two went on to be one of the most successful head coach/quarterback tandems in the history of the NFL.

    Now in his 13th season in the NFL, McNabb has produced more than his fair share of highlights. In his 11-year career with the Eagles, McNabb led the Birds to five NFC Championship Game appearances and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIX. He was named to the Pro Bowl six times, an All-Pro twice and won the NFC Player of the Year Award in 2004.

    He shattered nearly every major passing record in the team's long history.

    As time erodes the bitter taste of McNabb's failures left in the mouths of Eagles fans, his four losses in the NFC Championship as the overwhelming favorite, his maddening inconsistency and the sight of McNabb doubled-over, vomiting during the final drive of his one Super Bowl appearance will eventually be forgotten, as will be his attempts to resurrect his career in other cities.

    What will endure is the memory of a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback who, in his prime, was among the league's elite signal callers. Here are the top 10 moments in Donovan McNabb's career, almost all of which came while he was wearing Eagles' green.

No. 10: McNabb's First Career Win

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    On November 14, 1999, Donovan McNabb made his first career start in a home game against the Washington Redskins. The Eagles had struggled mightily up to that point in the season, but Andy Reid refused to throw his young quarterback into the fire without first getting him acclimated to the speed of the NFL.

    Serving as the understudy to career backup Doug Pederson, McNabb had seen limited action in the first half of the season. With the Eagles already all but eliminated from playoff contention and fans growing restless, seeking something, anything to cheer for, Reid finally decided it was time to turn the keys over to his young star.

    While it wasn't pretty, McNabb completed just eight passes in 21 attempts for 60 yards, and the Eagles won 35-28. McNabb provided a spark to what had been a moribund Eagles offense that season and, in rushing for 49 scintillating yards, gave the fans the excitement they had sorely missed. 

    With the win, McNabb became the first Eagles rookie to win his first start since 1974. It would be the first of many for McNabb and the Eagles, and marked a turning point in the franchise's history.

    The team was coming off of a 3-13 season under former coach Ray Rhodes and there were whispers that owner Jeffrey Lurie was considering moving the team to Los Angeles to pursue a more profitable enterprise. The win re-ignited the love the city of Philadelphia had for the Eagles and helped to propel legislative measures that helped to fund a new stadium that would ensure the Eagles would remain in Philadelphia.

No. 9: McNabb Leads Eagles to Playoffs and Notches First Playoff Win

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    The 2000 NFL season was Donovan McNabb's first as a full-time starter. He led the team to an 11-5 record that year, including a stretch of back-to-back overtime victories, showing a level of composure not often found in a second-year pro. Not many had expected the Eagles' fortunes to turn so quickly behind their rising superstar at QB, after all they had finished just 5-11 the previous year.

    McNabb quickly proved, however, that he was not your average quarterback.

    With little to no talent at receiver, McNabb still managed to throw for 3,365 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2000, and with his ability to keep a play alive with his legs and make something out of nothing, he single-handedly provided Eagles fans with a level of excitement they had not experienced since the days of Randall Cunningham.

    The Philadelphia Eagles' 2000 season reached its climax in a Wild Card playoff match up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at a frigid Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia on New Year's Eve. The Buccaneers were the prohibitive favorite going into the game, led by superstars Keyshawn Johnson and Warren Sapp. Not many prognosticators felt the upstart Eagles would be able to move the ball against the Bucs' vaunted defense, but McNabb set out to prove them wrong.

    He did just that.

    In his first career playoff start, McNabb was brilliant. He finished with 24 completions in 33 attempts with 161 yards passing and two touchdowns. He added 32 yards and another touchdown on the ground in just eight carries, personally accounting for all three of the Eagles' touchdowns on that blustery afternoon.

    He turned the ball over just once, throwing one interception, faring much better than anyone could have expected against a defense that had been among the best in the NFL that season.

    While the Eagles' season would end the following week in New York where they were beaten by the eventual NFC Champion New York Giants, McNabb had emphatically announced his arrival to the rest of the NFL.

    A superstar was born.

No. 8: McNabb Defeats His Old Team

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    In the 2007 NFL draft, the Eagles surprised the football world by using their first selection, a second-round pick, on University of Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb. The connotation of the move was clear. After two injury-riddled seasons, the Eagles were hedging their bets and had designated an heir apparent to McNabb's starting position, an indication that their confidence in McNabb's ability to sustain a high level play was wavering.

    McNabb held off the inevitable for three years, even reaching another NFC Championship Game well after those outside the organization had written him off and had already turned an eye toward the Kevin Kolb era.

    In the spring of 2010, however, McNabb's hourglass in Philadelphia ran out of sand.

    The Eagles traded McNabb to the Washington Redskins for a second-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and a conditional third- or fourth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. McNabb said all the right things on his way out of town, but one could sense that he felt betrayed by his old team. Fortunately for McNabb, he would have the chance to exact revenge twice a year.

    His first opportunity to do so came on October 3rd, 2010, on his old stomping grounds at Lincoln Financial Field.

    The McNabb-led Redskins defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 17-12 in a hard-fought, physical game. McNabb's statistics were pedestrian, eight for 19 for 125 yards and a touchdown with one interception, but, ironically, McNabb put the Eagles away for good with his legs, the same legs the Eagles had doubted could still carry them to victory.

    It may not have been pretty but the revenge was sweet for McNabb nonetheless.

No. 7: The Ultimate Rebound

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    The Philadelphia Eagles entered their Thanksgiving night matchup against the Arizona Cardinals riding a three-game winless streak.

    Following a tough loss at home to the New York Giants, the Eagles went on the road to face the lowly Cincinnati Bengals. McNabb turned in one of the worst performances of his career, completing just 28 of his career-high 58 pass attempts, throwing three interceptions en route to a tortuous 13-13 tie, after which McNabb sparked a controversy by claiming that he didn't even know an NFL game could end in a tie.

    McNabb followed up on that hideous performance with an even uglier first half in Baltimore against the Ravens. After turning the ball over three times, he was benched for the second half in favor of Kevin Kolb, who, to be fair, didn't perform any better. The Ravens trounced the Eagles 36-7, and the calls for Kolb to take over the starting role grew deafening as the Eagles staggered to a 5-5-1 record through their first 11 games.

    Despite vociferous majority of fans calling for a swift end to the Donovan McNabb era right then and there, Andy Reid stuck by his man and his patience paid off. Against a playoff-bound Cardinals team that many had expected to feast on the fading Eagles, McNabb came out firing.

    In front of a national TV audience, McNabb cut up the Cardinals' defense with laser-like precision, completing 27 of 39 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns. The game was over as quickly as it started as the Eagles cruised to a 48-20 win that wasn't even as close as the final score would indicate.

    McNabb's performance was one of the most dominating in his career and, given the circumstances, must have been one of the most satisfying. The game would propel the Eagles to their last great playoff push with McNabb under center, marching all the way to the NFC Championship game where they would fall to those very same Arizona Cardinals.

No. 6: McNabb and Eagles Storm Back to Claim NFC East Title

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    Andy Reid's Philadelphia Eagles start out every season with the stated goal of winning the NFC East division. In 2001, McNabb's third season in the NFL and only second as full-time starter, the Eagles went into their second to last game of the season with a chance to accomplish that goal. Playing at home against the New York Giants, the math was simple; win and the division crown was theirs.

    Fast forward to 2010.

    By the time McNabb was traded to the Redskins, Eagles fans had grown quick to criticize McNabb for coming up short in the clutch. Eagles fans could rattle off a laundry list of missed opportunities where McNabb and the Eagles had botched the two-minute drill and fell short, the most glaring examples of that ineptitude coming in Super Bowl XXXIX and the 2008 NFC Championship game. McNabb was a "choke artist," or so they said.

    However, few remembered the afternoon of December 30, 2001.

    That afternoon against the Giants, McNabb and the Eagles found themselves down by seven points to the defending NFC champions with just 2:43 left in the game, their hopes of capturing the division crown that evening fading fast. If recent history was any indication, the Birds' chances of making a comeback were non-existent having lost nine of their last 10 to the Giants.

    McNabb, however, was blissfully ignorant of the specter of recent history and led the Eagles on a comeback for the ages. It took just 54 seconds for McNabb to strike, engineering a 67-yard drive capped by a seven-yard touchdown pass to Chad Lewis to tie the game. After the Eagles' defense held the Giants to a three-and-out, McNabb and the offense took over at their own 29-yard line with just 58 seconds remaining, the game seemingly headed to sudden-death overtime.

    The extra time would not be necessary. McNabb first found wide receiver James Thrash for a 25-yard gain, then followed that up with a nine-yard strike to Todd Pinkston. With the clock continuing to run, McNabb then took off for an 11-yard gain to put the Eagles in field goal position.

    After a delay of game penalty against the Giants' Michael Strahan, who held McNabb on the ground after his run in hopes of keeping the clock running, added another five yards to the Eagles' drive, David Akers hammered home a 35-yard field goal with seven seconds left to give the Eagles the division title.

    The comeback gave the Eagles their first NFC East crown since 1988. McNabb, who completed 21 of his 39 pass attempts for 270 yards and three scores, cemented his status as an elite NFL quarterback and, for a time at least, it seemed as though the sky would be the limit for McNabb and the Eagles.

No. 5: The Great Escape

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    Monday Night Football has given the NFL some its most memorable moments and plays.

    The prime-time telecast, which helped bring the NFL into America's mainstream consciousness, was where Bo Jackson ran over Brian Bosworth, out of the Kingdome, and into living rooms across the country. It was where rookie Earl Campbell broke an 81-yard touchdown run in the midst of a 199-yard performance against the Miami Dolphins, trumpeting his arrival to the NFL.

    The point is that if you make a memorable play on any given Sunday, diehard fans are sure to remember. Make that same, memorable play on Monday Night Football, and the entire country will remember.

    Donovan McNabb's Monday Night moment to remember came against America's team, the Dallas Cowboys, in Cowboys Stadium on November 15, 2004.

    McNabb dropped back to pass on 3rd-and-10 from the Eagles' own 25-yard line and almost immediately found himself in the clutches of a Dallas defender. In a move that highlighted McNabb's superior lower body strength, he pulled himself away from the defender and left the pocket, scrambling toward the far side of the field, all the while keeping his eyes down field.

    When he saw no one open and yet another Dallas defender charging toward him, McNabb reversed field and came all the way back to the near side of the field, still looking for an open receiver.

    After making his way all the way across the width of the field, McNabb spotted Freddie Mitchell break free of his defender and launched a bomb, on the run and slightly across his body, that traveled 60 yards in the air. Mitchell caught the ball and was brought down at the Cowboys' 15-yard line, a 60-yard gain on a play that should have been a seven-yard loss.

    McNabb had kept the play alive for 14 seconds before launching the pass to Mitchell, a testament to his elusiveness, the pass itself a testament to his arm strength. The completion was one of 15 by McNabb on the night, in 27 attempts, as he piled up 345 yards passing. He also threw for four touchdowns in the Eagles' 49-21 rout of the Cowboys.

No. 4: McNabb's Perfect Day

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    A constant criticism of McNabb throughout his career has been his tendency towards inconsistent passing accuracy.

    One of the more maddening aspects of McNabb's game is the regularity with which he will inexplicably fire a laser at the feet of a wide open receiver. Week in and week out, for at least a brief stretch, his accuracy eludes him and he will single-handedly stall a promising drive. This season, those brief stretches have grown longer and more pronounced and those struggles with accuracy helped to usher in the Christian Ponder era much sooner than McNabb would have liked.

    In his tenure with the Eagles, there were times, however, when McNabb was able to keep his familiar demons at bay. When he was able to avoid firing drive-killing worm-burners, McNabb was nearly unstoppable, the perfect combination of size, speed and accuracy. 

    On December 5, 2004, in the midst of the best statistical season of his career, McNabb found his groove in a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

    McNabb was nearly perfect on that chilly evening, completing 32 of his 43 pass attempts, a scorching hot 75 percent completion rate, for a career-high 464 yards. Five of those completions went for touchdowns, none were intercepted, and his quarterback rating was nearly as high as it could possibly be at an other-wordly 147.8. 

    The Eagles sent the Packers packing, licking their wounds from a 47-17 defeat. McNabb's performance was one of the most dominant ever by an Eagles quarterback and left fans wondering what could be if only McNabb could keep from losing his accuracy for a series at a time each game.

No. 3: The Broken Leg Game

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    Donovan McNabb has faced criticism for his accuracy, his decision making and even his leadership ability throughout his career. However, no one has ever questioned his toughness.

    McNabb is one of the biggest, strongest and toughest quarterbacks the league has ever seen and never was that toughness more on display than during a November 17, 2002 game against the Arizona Cardinals at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.

    On just the third play of the game, McNabb's lower right leg was twisted awkwardly while being sacked by two Cardinals defenders. He immediately clutched at his lower leg in obvious pain and slowly hobbled off the field, heavily favoring his injured leg. The injury was diagnosed as a sprain on the sideline so McNabb had his ankle heavily taped and trotted out to lead his team on their next offensive series. He would later refuse an x-ray at halftime, not allowing anyone to even come close to his injured leg.

    Instead of being slowed by the injury, which severely limited McNabb's mobility, it seemed to focus his passing efforts and what followed was one of the most impressive performances of his career, injury notwithstanding.

    McNabb was crisp and accurate, completing 20 of 25 passes for 255 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception. The Eagles won the game, 38-14, and McNabb didn't come out of the game for even a single play until the outcome was well in hand.

    It wasn't until after the game that it was discovered that McNabb had actually broken his leg and it was only then that fans realized the true depth of his performance.

    It was impressive that McNabb could even walk, let alone play a football game, let alone put together one of the best performances of his career.

No. 2: 4th-and-26

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    The 2003 Philadelphia Eagles entered the playoffs as heavy favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Donovan McNabb had led the Eagles to a 12-4 record that year and, after falling short in the two previous NFC Championship Games, most felt that this was the Eagles' year.

    Those dreams almost came to a screeching halt in the Eagles' Divisional Playoff against the Green Bay Packers, and it took heroics that none who watched will ever forget to push the Eagles through to the next round.

    Brett Favre and the Packers jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, leaving McNabb and the Eagles scrambling to catch up.

    When  McNabb found Todd Pinkston for a 12-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, it completed the Eagles comeback and tied the game at 14-14, allowing Eagles fans to breathe a sigh of relief. However, that feeling was short-lived as, on their next possession, the Packers kicked a field goal to go up 17-14 with 10:21 left in the game.

    The rest of the fourth quarter was a tedious battle of field position. The Eagles couldn't seem to move the ball on offense, while their defense held the Packers and continued to give them chances to at least tie the game with just a field goal, all while the clock continued to click toward 0:00.

    With just 1:12 left in the game, the Eagles found themselves in a desperate situation, their season hanging in the balance. Facing 4th-and-26 from their own 26-yard line, the game seemed all but over. The Eagles lined up for one last desperate play. McNabb took the snap, dropped back to pass and quickly got rid of the ball. The stadium fell silent as the ball, and the season, hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity.

    Miraculously, McNabb's pass found a streaking Freddie Mitchell, who was hit immediately, just beyond the first-down marker. The catch gave the Eagles a first down and breathed new life into a team many had left for dead just seconds before. Several plays later, David Akers hammered home the game-tying field goal and the Eagles went on to win in overtime.

    Mention 4th-and-26 on the streets of Philadelphia and everyone's eyes will immediately light up. The play will live on forever in Eagles lore, a pillar of McNabb's legacy with the team.

No. 1: McNabb Pushes the Eagles over the Hump

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    2004 was a fairy tale season for the Philadelphia Eagles and their fans. The newly acquired Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb set the NFL ablaze, teaming up to create an unstoppable aerial attack. The Eagles lost only one game in which their regulars played the whole time.

    To many NFL fans, an Eagles Super Bowl appearance seemed all but a foregone conclusion.

    Eagles fans, however, knew better than to get their hopes up. Three straight trips to the NFC Championship Game had resulted in three straight monumental disappointments. Even as the Eagles tore through the regular season, earning a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, fans looked on with guarded optimism, conditioned by three straight years of falling just short.

    Even a Division Playoff victory against the Minnesota Vikings did nothing to calm their frayed nerves.

    The NFC Championship game had become McNabb's and the Eagles' nemesis and now only it and their NFC Championship opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, stood in the way of their first Super Bowl appearance since 1980. If history alone weren't enough to temper fans' excitement, the Eagles would be without Owens, the man who seemingly transformed the Eagles from good to great, who was injured in a Week 14 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

    Mother Nature added to fans' anxiety by dumping close to two feet of snow on Philadelphia the week before the game, and game -time temperatures hovered around 17 degrees. If the Eagles were to break through the wall that seemed to stand between themselves and their ever-elusive Super Bowl appearance, it would be on the back of No. 5, Donovan McNabb.

    In the face of the biting, arctic winds blowing through Lincoln Financial Field, McNabb performed beautifully, completing 17 of his 26 pass attempts for 180 yards and two touchdowns, no small feat considering the weather. McNabb added 32 yards rushing in 10 attempts, doing all he could to ensure his team would not be denied a trip to the Super Bowl for a fourth consecutive year.

    The victory, given the circumstances today, will likely stand as the high-water mark in Donovan McNabb's career.

    Making the victory even sweeter, he did it without Owens on the field, with whom his relationship quickly soured after Super Bowl XXXIX, and who many had credited with pushing the Eagles over the hump. McNabb had carried his team to the promised land and proven himself to be truly one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL and certainly the best in the Eagles' franchise history.

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