DONOVAN McNABB WENT to the Pro Bowl 5 years in a row, 2000-2004. The Eagles' quarterback hasn't been there since, and he almost certainly won't be among the initial invitees this season.
But McNabb is compiling better numbers this year than he posted in any of those Pro Bowl seasons, except for the last one, the year he had Terrell Owens (77 catches, 1,200 yards, 14 touchdowns) and a young, healthy Brian Westbrook (73 catches, 703 yards, six TDs) to help him to the Super Bowl.
The 2009 NFC Pro Bowl competition includes three quarterbacks having monster years - the Saints' Drew Brees, the Vikings' Brett Favre and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers all are completing more than 65 percent of their passes, averaging more than 250 passing yards per game, have at least 25 touchdown passes apiece, and boast quarterback ratings over 100.
McNabb's 95.9 rating is the second-highest of his career, but it ranks fifth in the NFC right now, behind those three and the Cowboys' Tony Romo (97.4). The rest of McNabb's stats suffer from the fact that he missed two games early in the year; McNabb's 2,702 passing yards place him only ninth in the NFC, his 18 TD passes rank eighth.
"Personally I would rather make the Super Bowl; I mean, it is in the same place," McNabb said yesterday. He was referring to a change making the events literally either/or, since the Pro Bowl has been moved to the Super Bowl site, to be played a week before. That means a Jan. 31 Pro Bowl at Dolphins Stadium, where the Super Bowl will be played Feb. 7.
McNabb referenced the numbers of the top contenders, particularly Rodgers, whom he noted has managed to remain effective while being sacked 47 times.
"It's nothing that I focus on as far as where I would be in the Pro Bowl [rankings] and things of that nature. I would rather find myself the week after playing in the Super Bowl," he said.
Of course, McNabb made the Pro Bowl several times after other QBs dropped out. That could happen again, and there is an excellent chance that somebody among the top contenders will indeed be playing in the Super Bowl. But whether he makes it or not, McNabb has a lot to be proud of this time around.
As McNabb noted yesterday, the 2004 Eagles were a veteran group. With the offseason addition of Owens, they dominated the NFC. They were 13-1 before Andy Reid rested starters to get ready for the playoffs. This - first place in the NFC East at 9-4 - hasn't been like that.
"I believe we had eight or nine Pro Bowlers that year [actually, it was 10]. This year, obviously we may not have any of that but we still have a great group that just plays well together," McNabb said. "I think they're totally different teams. This is a younger team, you have young guys flying around and just having fun. I don't think it's truly hit them yet."
San Francisco coach Mike Singletary has been watching film of McNabb, with his team visiting Lincoln Financial Field Sunday.
"He's doing some exceptional things," Singletary told a conference call with Philadelphia-area reporters yesterday. "This is the first time in a long time they've been able to collect a body of talent around him. It's been just short of amazing to see what he can do."
McNabb's coach, Andy Reid, was asked yesterday how he would rate this season in the McNabb oeuvre.
"I don't like that question," joked Reid, ever vigilant about avoiding controversy. "He's doing a nice job. I can't tell you any more than [that] I think he's a future Hall of Fame quarterback. That's how I feel about him. I think that's the highest praise you can give somebody in this profession. I think the world of the guy, on and off the field, in the way he conducts himself. He just does it right. He deserves every accolade that he gets from this sport."
Right now, McNabb is the lone offensive starter from 2004 (Westbrook might rejoin him at some point, but he has started just six games this season). McNabb has always bristled at "graybeard" talk and he did so yesterday, 3 weeks after his 33rd birthday. He said he sees himself more as the centerpiece that different groups have formed around over the years.
"I don't look at it as [being] the old guy," he said. "It's just like a basketball player, when you . . . draft guys and you still have that key guy, or that face, the face that's been there for years in the organization, and you build around him, and all of a sudden you're starting to see younger guys making big plays and guys flying around . . . and it looks like you're having fun and you're winning ballgames. I love that role."
Middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter was an Eagle in 2004. Trotter said yesterday he thinks the 2004 offense was more consistent (though this team needs just 14 points to match that squad's total of 386).
"In '04, every week, we were like, 'At what point are the starters going to be out of the game?' " Trotter said. He said that with this much younger group, "I really don't believe we've even come close to how well we can play . . . Donovan's putting up big numbers, man, leading the offense, making big plays . . . he's got a lot more weapons" than in the past.
"That is exciting, when you can put the ball up out in front of a DeSean Jackson and have him run up under for a big touchdown, or a [Jeremy] Maclin making a guy miss and picking up yards, or a Jason Avant taking the middle of the field and just going up and making a miraculous catch . . . that's something that I haven't had in years, and even in the 2004 season," McNabb said. "But also, we have to continue to stay grounded . . . making sure that everybody understands that what you were able to do last week, you may not be able to do this week . . . That's why I just try to stay on these guys, and make sure I stay on myself as well . . . try to be perfect, try to do the right things with the ball and just make sure that you put the team in a position to win."
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