Well that was short-lived.
Six weeks into the 2011 NFL regular season and Minnesota Vikings’ veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb has already been handed a clipboard and a headset. With rookie first-round pick Christian Ponder taking control of the offense, McNabb will now be forced to stand back and watch a new era begin in Minnesota a bit sooner than most expected.
McNabb was brought in by trade in late July with the expectation that he could earn the Vikings some early-season victories while Ponder learned the ropes. Instead, he led the Vikings to a 1-5 record and was extremely underwhelming as a playmaker.
In six games, he threw only four touchdowns. Although he managed to limit himself to two interceptions, a big part of that was his inability to put passes above his receivers’ feet. He consistently threw into the dirt and seemed unwilling to throw the ball deep down the field. Whether there was adequate pass blocking or not, he took numerous unnecessary sacks and even laid down to take a safety against the Chicago Bears this past weekend instead of fighting to get out of the endzone. Even when he’s outside of the pocket, he adamantly avoids using his feet to pick up yards.
Despite his poor production so far, McNabb seems to be caught off guard by his benching.
“It was surprising,” McNabb said. “As any other competitor would say, you want to compete with your team and prepare to get back out on the field and change things – but unfortunately not so.”
Honestly, I find it hard to believe that McNabb was actually surprised by this move. The Vikings are 1-5. I can’t help but reiterate the fact that he’s thrown only four touchdowns in six games. He clearly isn’t the same quarterback that he was during his days with the Philadelphia Eagles. After this short stint as the starting quarterback for the Vikings, the 2010 situation in Washington doesn’t seem so much like Mike Shanahan’s fault.
I know that some people will say that the Vikings’ poor record isn’t entirely McNabb’s fault, and I agree. However, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league which means that losses typically fall on quarterbacks’ shoulders.
“Well, we’ve done some good things on offense, we’ve scored some points and moved the ball,” McNabb said. “But again, the only thing that I can do at this particular point is continue to support Christian and be ready to go when called upon.”
The Vikings offense is currently ranked 31st in the NFL in passing yards per game with 168.7 yards per game, a direct result of McNabb’s struggles. The only reason that the Vikings’ offense isn’t ranked in the bottom five in the NFL is running back Adrian Peterson, who’s currently sixth in the league in rushing yards. They’re 21st in the NFL in points per game with 20.2, which again is due mostly to the talents of Peterson. The offense is averaging 17.2 first downs per game (26th in the NFL), so moving the ball seems a little more tedious than McNabb is making it out to be. I don’t know about you, but none of that sounds like “good things” to me.
Put simply, McNabb doesn’t have “it” anymore and won’t be rediscovering “it” anytime soon.
“I have a lot of football left,” McNabb said. “And at the end of the year that will be something I’ll look at and see what’s next. But the focus is now and what I can do to prepare myself and get ready and continue to get better.”
Although McNabb is confident in his abilities, whether another NFL team shares that confidence is a completely different question. If these first six weeks with the Vikings are any precursor, teams might shy away from him as anything more than a backup. And even though he seems to be accepting that role right now, I doubt he’ll be willing to spend another long season as a spectator.
No matter his mindset, the reality is that Ponder has been handed the reins and McNabb has been permanently placed into the backup role. Barring an injury to the rookie, No. 5 will ride the bench for the rest of what has become a disappointing 2011 season for the Vikings.
As for next season, McNabb better not have his hopes too high. Based off of this year’s performances, I don’t expect a single team to be willing to hand him the keys to their offense unless there’s some sort of miraculous second-coming. Don’t hold your breath, Donovan.
You never know; he could always follow the path of Daunte Culpepper and try his luck in the UFL. Just a thought.