Stud of the week: no stud of the week this week. But I am going to nominate a Stud of the Year: Donovan McNabb. McNabb has not had an easy tenure in Philly. Just to refresh your memory: booed by idiots who wanted Ricky Williams on draft day, he was pressed into service as a starter mid-way through his rookie year.
In his first year as a full-time starter, 2000, he led us into the NFC Wildcard. 2001 resulted in our first of 4 back-to-back trips to the NFC Championship Game. In 2002, he famously threw for 4 TDs on a broken leg. He missed 6 games, but came back for the playoffs and another NFC Championship Game appearance.
In 2004, he finally got the #1 wideout he'd been begging for, and we went to the Super Bowl, where we lost to Belichick's Cheaters.
McNabb then went through some wilderness years, falling prey to a sports hernia in 2005 (in the infamous Year When Everyone Got Hurt and TO Reverted to Form) and a torn ACL in 2006. Everyone, including me, was sure the window had closed. Big5 came back in 2007, starting games at least 3 months before he even should have been back on the practice field. By 2008, he was back in playoff form, taking us, once again, to the NFC Championship Game. And this year, with the youngest roster not in the division, not in the NFC, but in the entire NFL, he led us back to the playoffs.
The whole time, he's had to put up with unremitting bullshit from a cadre of vocal and stupid Philly "fans" and the often disturbingly uninformed Philly sports media. And he's kept smiling, kept answering the same asinine questions over and over with patience and good humor, and, mostly, kept winning. All while being acknowledged as one of the classiest players in the NFL.
And, for those who are all "cut Don and start Vick and/or Kevin Kolb," I need to remind you that he has the 3rd highest winning percentage of all active QBs (behind only Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and I think our chances of trading for either of those guys are pretty slim - which is a good thing, because they'd never be able to withstand the Philly fan/media scrutiny). Don, I know it's not universal, but I love you and I appreciate all you've done for us.
I'm not planning to recap the game in any great detail. I think the Cowboys did a good job of identifying and taking advantage of our weaknesses: talented, inexperienced young skill players on offense (our "vets" - other than Westy, who I think might be done - are just-turned 23 DeSean Jackson and 24 year old Brent Celek), problems on the O line (losing our starting center so late in the regular season just killed us), not being able to come up with a satisfactory replacement for injured-during-the-preseason All-Pro MLB Stewart Bradley, no real safety to speak of, and rookie defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. Also, the Cowboys have the biggest O and D lines in football, and that creates problems for a team that's small and quick by design. And I think they're the only team in the playoffs with no key starters injured. At this time of year, that means a lot.
It's a shame that we had to end our season like this - two back-to-back losses to Dallas - and it's a shame that we handed them their first playoff win in 13 seasons while at the same time handing Big Red his first first round playoff loss ever. On the other hand, no team has EVER lost 7 consecutive playoff games. Not even the Lions.
And the future looks great. To refresh your memory, something like 19 players out of our 53 man roster didn't play in the NFC Championship Game with us last year. Of that 19, something like 9 of them are rookies, and something like 4-5 more are sophomores (feel free to correct me in the comments if my calculations are off). The ENTIRE team has turned over in the Reid/McNabb era other than McNabb (Akers came on in McNabb's sophomore year, and Trot started in 1998, but has been in and out). That window we all thought was closed? Feels WIDE open at this point - we have a bunch of really young, really talented offensive skill players who are only going to get better. We need to work on our O-line - which is fine, AR LOVES to draft linemen - and some of our defensive secondary guys are aging. We need a safety. But we have a veteran QB who can help teach them and lead them.
When Prototypical Eagles Fan showed up, I said that, while I was hoping we'd manage to pull off the upset, I didn't think this was our year. I think it's next year or possibly even 2011. I think Mike Vick will be gone - not because of anything he did or didn't do with the Eagles, but because he wants to start and there are plenty of teams for whom he'd be a major upgrade. I think Wolverine might be back. The Eagles weren't going to match $7 million for a single season, and for all those who are still crying about "The Eagles just let him walk away!" remember that he didn't even offer to let them try to keep him. But a lot of our guys, particularly on D, have gone elsewhere for a year or two to get paid and then come home over the years. I think Westy may be done, which is a shame because we got to see a few flashes of the old BWest last night, and I'd hate to think that he ended his career with that mess as his last game. But he's a 30 year old RB who sustained two serious concussions this year and is owed more than $7 million next. I think The Big Kid's done too.
So get ready for our typical offseason: few to no big free-agent moves and really smart draft picks. Unless the collective bargaining agreement goes to hell, taking the entire league with it. And the Donovan-watch. And the Westy-watch. And relax and enjoy rooting against the Cowboys, and, at least in my house, FOR the Saints (who, I think, are stick-a-fork-in-them done, so I'll be picking up another hopeless cause, which will at least feel familiar).
Saturday night, after watching a few eps of early season Roseanne (a show which has aged surprisingly well) for some laughs, Chef Spouse and I drank a toast with some of the FINE tequila Ex-Navy Cheesehead brought us a few weeks ago to a great year of football. To quote Chef Spouse: "If only we'd beat the Raiders...then we could've lost the NFC Championship Game, like we're supposed to."
In the other matchups...I am really, really bad at picking games.
Jets over Bengals. Brought to you by the color green, the letter R and the number 2. Why 2? 2 turnovers, 2 missed field goals, and Marvin Lewis used up 2 challenges - both unsuccessfully - in the first quarter. All Mark Sanchez had to do was not lose the game, and that he did. Bummer for my boy OchoCinco, but the Jets will get their comeuppance in San Diego next week.
Ravens over Pats. I may never stop laughing. OK, 3 of the games were blowouts, but at least this one wasn't dull - watching the Pats get their asses handed to them is never boring. I think Joe Flacco completed like, 1 pass for about 3 yards, but it didn't matter - Ray Lewis and the D came to BALL. And in the end, that's all that mattered. Also it was fun to watch Tom Brady get hit, whine for penalties and be roundly ignored by the officiating crew that, according to the pre-game info, was tied for the lowest penalizing crew in the NFL. HA! Not so easy to win when the zebras don't call 15 yards on anybody who looks at you too long, there, is it, Rocks?
Cards over Packers. This game made up for the other 3 dogs. Well, other than the fact that one of them was us losing to the Cowboys, that is. Aaron Rodgers was 28/42 for 422 yards 4TDs and one pick, and he was hot, for sure. But Warner had 5 TD tosses and only 4 incompletions (and NO picks). Grandpa was on FIRE! That's how we do it in the P-H-X, Junior. You know, while we were watching the game, Chef Spouse was like: "Where were these Cardinals all season?" I have a theory - they know that, as long as they can win 8 games, they'll win their division, and they're pretty much guaranteed to win at least their 6 divisional games (although of course the 49ers swept them this year), so I think maybe they basically slack off all season and save it for the playoffs. Which is looking like it might be a good strategy. What do we have to do to get transferred to the NFC West?