Bob Ford: Few could have predicted how this Eagles season has turned out

Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb (left) has had to take a backseat this season with the stellar play of starter Michael Vick.
Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb (left) has had to take a backseat this season with the stellar play of starter Michael Vick.
Posted: December 22, 2010

When the Eagles traded Donovan McNabb to the Redskins on Easter Sunday, turning the final page of a long chapter in team quarterbacking history, there was no lack of theories about how that move would work out.

Nobody had the right one, however.

The trifecta of McNabb, benched-Kolb, demoted-Vick MVP was a ticket that went unplayed. Who would have believed it? But that improbable reality has unfolded during a strange football season, one that might get even stranger before it is finished.

As has been mentioned a lot in the national media - and somewhat less often locally - Andy Reid, his staff, and the front office look like geniuses. It's just one big Mensa meeting in sweatpants down there at the NovaCare Complex. When they aren't busy divining the future of the NFL, the boys sit around debating the string theory of particle physics and doing the Sunday crossword in French.

This is what you deserve when things work out as they have since the McNabb trade, but it overlooks the fact that Reid had an MVP-quality player on his roster at the beginning of the season but wasn't starting him. If Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews hadn't given Michael Vick his chance by dribbling Kevin Kolb off the turf at Lincoln Financial Field, who knows how different the season would have been or how smart the Eagles would look now.

That hardly matters, of course. What happened here happened, and what happened in Washington happened, and the Eagles might have clinched the NFC East already, depending on what the Giants do in Green Bay on Sunday afternoon. That outcome will be known before the Eagles take the field against the Vikings, meaning that Vick might not need to be exposed to a lot more pounding in the regular season.

There still will be a first-round bye to pursue, but depending on what the Bears do against the Jets earlier on Sunday, they'll have a good idea about that probability as well.

So, yes, things are lining up nicely for the Eagles, and it's interesting to ask exactly what they knew and when they knew it, a line of questioning that has to start with the precipitous demise of Donovan McNabb.

On the surface, the trade was an economic decision, as the Eagles found themselves with three quarterbacks entering their final contract seasons. They went with youth and, at the same time, traded the only one who had a reasonable trade market.

Judging by what McNabb did in the 2009 season, when he completed more than 60 percent of his attempts and had his highest passer rating in three years, there was no expectation he would suffer the disaster that has befallen him with the Redskins.

The better calculation that the Eagles might have made, however, is that even with a good Donovan McNabb, the Redskins still would be a lousy team and wouldn't be a factor in the division. On defense, the team was in shambles, and on offense there was a terrible lack in difference-making skill players.

If that was their thinking, genius or not, it has turned out to be correct. The Redskins are ranked last in the league in overall defense and stuck solidly in the middle on offense. McNabb's biggest weapon was receiver Santana Moss, who is far past his prime, and the Redskins' running game was abysmal, leaving little protection for the quarterback.

It's true that, before being benched last week in favor of Rex Grossman, McNabb's passer rating was his lowest since his rookie year and that he had thrown a career-high 15 interceptions. As a bonus, head coach Mike Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, were either the source of whispers that McNabb couldn't run the offense, or merely did nothing to dispel them.

This wasn't all McNabb's fault. The Redskins stink. He is a handy scapegoat, however, and undoubtedly will be released before next season. The obituaries on his stint in Washington are already being written, and they aren't particularly glowing.

"He has been visibly slow to master the new offense, and made routine plays look hard with his plaguing habit of skipping the ball off the turf. He can be shockingly casual and unfocused," columnist Sally Jenkins wrote in The Washington Post. "He has made baffling mistakes for a veteran, such as running out of bounds when he needed to keep the clock running, or fumbling the ball on a routine slide. There is something frustratingly sleepy about him, even when he plays well."

To which Philadelphia fans would reply, "Really? You don't say?" If the folks in Washington think they have seen McNabb when he's off his game, they haven't been paying attention for the last decade. That is his game.

But on a good team with decent weapons on offense, and a line capable of allowing him to make things happen, McNabb can take a team a lot further than Rex Grossman. Faint praise, admittedly, but that's the equation as written by Shanahan.

Even McNabb's harshest critics in Philadelphia - let alone Reid and the front office - couldn't have envisioned this outcome. It would have been as hard to predict as the eye-popping play of Vick, who looked ordinary in training camp and the exhibition season. And that Kolb's year of arrival would become another season of flipping through rumpled magazines in the NFL's waiting room, well, that wasn't supposed to happen, either.

All of it has taken place, though, and the Eagles, if Vick stays upright and their defense can hold together, have as good a shot as any team of winning the Super Bowl. That wasn't a popular theory before the season, but it is quite popular now - in Philadelphia, in Washington, and around the country - and it isn't just a theory anymore.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

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