Bob Ford: McNabb in search of redemption, too

Jason Avant (left) and Donovan McNabb congratulate Michael Vick (7) after his fourth-quarter TD throw to Brent Celek.
Jason Avant (left) and Donovan McNabb congratulate Michael Vick (7) after his fourth-quarter TD throw to Brent Celek.
Posted: December 08, 2009

This whole notion of a quarterback needing to find redemption on a football field is really nothing new for Donovan McNabb, so perhaps it's no surprise he has apparently embraced the presence of Michael Vick on his figurative and literal turf this season.

Every season is a search for redemption for McNabb, after all. He comes back each year trying to make amends for the failings of the previous season, failings that are never remarkable by themselves but have accumulated like bricks over more than a decade to form a wall that stands between him and true acceptance in this city.

"The sky's the limit for this team," McNabb said Sunday night in a loud concrete corridor near the team's Georgia Dome locker room.

It is one of his catchphrases, and this year, like some other years, the Eagles are talented enough to win a championship. The question is whether they will also be lucky enough, because championships go only to the teams that are healthy at the right time, hot at the right time, and fortunate with the bounces of the game at the right time.

In his seasons here, McNabb has usually been good enough to win a Super Bowl. His numbers and his performance this season - despite his missing two games with a fractured rib - are right in line with the best of those seasons.

After leading the Eagles to a big advantage over Atlanta on Sunday, McNabb is completing more than 60 percent of his passes. He's ranked among the top five or six quarterbacks in the conference. Put Drew Brees aside, and McNabb is in any conversation regarding NFC quarterbacks.

The numbers, however, are no more surprising than finding the Eagles at 8-4 three-quarters of the way through the season. And this year, like the others, we wait to find out if this means anything more lasting.

"It's something that has been happening to us for years now," McNabb said. "You go through the first part of the year trying to get things like your timing down. This is the time that people remember. You never remember September and October. You remember November, December, and January. You want to hit the playoffs rolling if you have the opportunity. We know what is at stake and we have to play like it is the last game."

Oh, yes. The Januaries have been remembered, and the lone February, too. The misses have not all been his fault, but sometimes it must feel that way. Last season, he drove the team to within one more defensive stop of returning to the Super Bowl and that didn't happen. It was a chance that fell from a lucky sky after a season of miscues and a long-shot invitation to the playoffs.

This season feels somewhat like that, too. Things have turned out well so far in the standings, but nothing has gone as planned. The offensive line is patched together. Brian Westbrook is missing and perhaps gone for good as a dominant player. The linebackers have been a mix-and-match group from the very start. Every week, someone else gets a concussion.

The Eagles have beaten just one team with a winning record this season - the 7-5 Giants, who get another shot at them Sunday night at the Meadowlands - and none of them, if the team is honest, really knows how this January and beyond will be remembered.

So, where is the harm, after all these seasons and all this pain of coming close only to fall, in adding a player more needing of redemption than the rest of them combined?

Perhaps that is how McNabb looked at it when he began texting Andy Reid this summer, putting the idea in the coach's head.

"Sign him," McNabb texted when Vick was released from prison.

"You're killing me," Reid texted back.

Eventually, the coach came around, the front office came around, and the tearful owner came around, but the locker room needed only to believe that the new player could help the team win. That part of the equation is still unknown, but football players thrive on the us-vs.-them bunker mentality that brings together a team. If the rest of the world hated Vick - and with some damn good reason - they would accept him because he was theirs.

Sunday night, McNabb was asked about Vick's contributions to the offense, which had been underwhelming until the Atlanta game. Truth be told, he wasn't that great on Sunday, either. The big play when he was at quarterback was a badly underthrown pass on which Reggie Brown made an all-pro catch, turning it into a 43-yard gain.

McNabb almost shrugged. Vick is another weapon. He's another look for defensive coordinators to chew on in preparation. Is it possible that sometime soon, in one of those games that everyone remembers, he does just one thing, one little thing, that makes possible a win? Right now, you'd have to say that is possible. If Vick can sway the seesaw just that much, McNabb is on board.

"My hat is off to Donovan because Donovan kind of led the charge on this whole thing," Reid said.

It would be ironic, after these long years, if the quarterback who has done almost everything right finds his final redemption with help from a quarterback who has done so many things wrong.

Redemption is a very elusive thing, though. If both quarterbacks receive it in the same season, that would be a season to remember.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.

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