19 Dec 2006
I first heard it after the Eagles beat the Redskins in Week 14. At that point, it was said sheepishly, almost apologetically. After the Giants victory, I heard it asked straight-facedly on a Philadelphia morning sports-talk show:
"Let's say the Eagles win the Super Bowl with Jeff Garcia. Do they go back to Donovan McNabb next year?"
As a teacher, I am supposed to live by the mantra that there are no stupid questions. But this question is stupid with a capital "stew." And it is being discussed seriously by people who should really know better.
To understand the abject idiocy of the question, we must first examine the opening phrase. "Say the Eagles win the Super Bowl." Yeah, let's just say. Say the most exciting, wonderful, unlikely event in the history of Philadelphia sports happens in six weeks (please don't e-mail me about Villanova-Georgetown). Say the Eagles make the playoffs, win a game, win another game, beat the Bears in Soldier Field, then beat the Chargers or Ravens or Colts or Patriots or whoever. Say that the trumpet doesn't sound at that moment and the Seventh Seal isn't broken. Say that Eagles fans don't burn South Street to the ground in celebration. Say all of that happens. Who's the quarterback next year? Who cares? If the Eagles win their first Super Bowl ever, the Barefoot Contessa can quarterback the team for all anyone cares. They'll have won the Super Bowl!
What an assumption to make – after three wins, the Super Bowl is a prepositional phrase leading into a sentence about a quarterback controversy brewing in the mind of a deluded armchair GM. The only thing more preposterous about the concept itself is the idea that someone would broadcast it. "Hey, Tony, Mike from Mount Ephraim here. Say a race of giant space insects comes to earth and enslaves the population in their subterranean lairs making nutrient jelly for their queen's eggs. If that happens, do we start Garcia or McNabb next year?" I can hear these same callers flooding the airwaves 45 minutes after the Eagles beat the Ravens 56-0 in their imaginary Super Bowl, with Garcia throwing eight touchdown passes. "So, Jody, who do we start next year? And by the way, what was that bum Andy Reid thinking when he punted on 4th-and-inches from midfield when we only had a 49-point lead? He's a lousy gameday coach who can't make adjustments."
The issue here isn't the Eagles' Super Bowl worthiness, though I feel despite their DVOA that they are a notch below the top contenders (here's a thought: what would LaDainian Tomlinson do to their defense?) The issue is that some fans are willing to leap to absolutely insane conclusions on the basis of three games. Garcia led the Eagles to victories over a bad Redskins team and Panthers and Giants teams that fit squarely into the Eagles' sewing circle of talented-but-highly-flawed NFC contenders. The Eagles needed defensive heroics to win all three games. Garcia's performances in all three contests were surprising and effective but not great. But suddenly, Garcia can do things that McNabb couldn't. He's better at reading defenses (no he isn't). He's easier to block for (no he isn't, because most linemen hate quarterbacks who jitter around in the pocket). He's more creative when plays break down (please be serious). He's better on quick-hitting timing passes (okay, you've got one, but I'll take the 45-yard bombs to the five-yard hitches any day). He finds a way to win.
Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner. Garcia is a winner, because he has won three games. McNabb never executed a three-game winning streak. Oh wait, he has, but that was then and this is now, baby. The Eagles respond to Garcia (actually, their luck for the season started to even out). He has come through in the stretch (he hasn't been victimized by dropped passes and 62-yard field goals). He's a "leader" in some magical way that McNabb isn't. He's taking the Eagles to the Super Bowl, and it's time to ask now if Reid has the guts to trade McNabb and give Garcia the chance to repeat, or if he's going to go with "his man".
Maybe I am overreacting to one or two talk radio callers and some water cooler speculation. Or maybe not. Midday sportstalker Jody McDonald (one of our more level-headed thinkers in the Philly media) read a long diatribe on the air that I believe was taken from some Eagles blog. The screed ripped McNabb for all of his shortcomings and explained why Garcia makes the Eagles a much better team. For good measure, the screed railed against Reid for being a lousy coach (who only won because he inherited great players from Ray Rhodes) who has finally seen the light in the last three weeks. I think Jody Mac was only throwing it out there for conversation, not endorsing the essay, and I don't know or care who wrote it (when a street corner lunatic tells me that fluoride in my water is giving my kids ADHD, I don't write his name down so I can cite him in future research, either).
I couldn't write a better parody of incoherent football reasoning if I tried. Anyone with eyes can see that McNabb is a better quarterback than Garcia – not a better athlete, not a better option for the future because he's younger, but a better quarterback. Anyone who paid even a little attention to the Eagles over the last three weeks knows that the team could easily be 6-8 right now without changing a thing that Garcia did: just have Keyshawn Johnson outjump Lito Sheppard and get the Redskins to convert in the red zone in the fourth quarter, and the same geniuses who have anointed Garcia a winner would be clamoring for A.J. Feeley. I'm thrilled (and somewhat shocked) at how well Garcia has played, but I have seen his faults and failings in the past three weeks, the interceptions that bounced off defenders' hands, the throws behind receivers, the wobblers, the "buy time" dances in the pocket that will turn into sacks once teams adjust to him. He's no McNabb. Not even close. And he doesn't have any magical "winner" properties.
So let me phrase a more rational, realistic question. Say the Eagles make the playoffs and lose in one of the first two rounds. What do they do about Garcia, and what does that say about the team? If that happens, I say we re-sign Garcia to back up McNabb. If McNabb is slow to rehab his knee, then we give Garcia a start or two. And the moment McNabb can plant and cut and do all of those things, we give Garcia a baseball cap and put the real quarterback in.
And if Garcia gets us a Super Bowl, we do the same darn thing.
But if/when the Eagles fall short, we should realize that this season was an absolute vindication of Reid's system. Look at the offensive line. Look at the secondary. Look at the front seven on defense … well, don't, but at least the team's problems are localized. If the Eagles finish 10-6 with Garcia, they would easily have gone 11-5 with McNabb: either give them the Titans game back or take away the miracle field goal. That is sustained success, with 2005 written off as an injury-and-distraction ridden blip. You don't throw that away for a three-game hot streak. For me, the thought that this team is on the right track is a lot more satisfying than a pre-fab quarterback controversy.
Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.