Since Donovan McNabb came to Philly, he's been benched just once by Andy Reid. This is in contrast to the handful of benchings he's been given by the press and the dozens of sitdowns by a certain segment of quick-hooked fans.
On every occasion, I have defended McNabb. Said there's no way he deserved to sit. Said also that there's no way he would sit.
Things have changed.
This isn't because of Michael Vick. For this team, Vick is a curiosity, not a quarterback. His boom and bust style -- perfectly suited to a handful of Wildcat plays each week -- doesn't work for the Eagles' ball control passing game.
You think it's maddening watching McNabb or Kevin Kolb miss some easy throws? Put Vick behind center and you'll quickly go from "quirky" to "cuckoo's nest."
No, if Mike Vick is ever the starting quarterback for this team, we'll officially have to create a new posting category -- Pitchers And Catchers.
The issue for McNabb has rarely been one of performance. It's instead been a wandering eye or what Jason Whitlock would call the lure of strange t-- ok, no, we'll stick with wandering eye.
It is a statement of fact that Donovan McNabb is not a Super Bowl winning quarterback. Whether you see that statement as declaratory or explanatory is up to you, but if McNabb hasn't / can't / won't win a Super Bowl, it's understandable that NotMcNabb might have some appeal.
And boy, do we have an intriguing new NotMcNabb.
Kevin Kolb bears none of the baggage of the former heirs apparent. He's not a mid-round pick getting by more on guile than talent (Feeley). He's not older than McNabb (Garcia). He's not a ridiculously undersized eccentric the team keeps around because he makes the field goal kicker look buff (Koy).
And he doesn't suck (McMahon).
Since the day he was drafted, Kevin Kolb has been the future of this team. We didn't -- and still don't -- know if that future will be a new golden era or a short, miserable, colossal failure. But we do know it's coming.
That Kolb can play quarterback in this league is now apparent to anyone who isn't so invested in defending McNabb that they've forgotten "objective reality" was the reason they started defending him in the first place. And this, as they say, changes everything.
It was one thing for Reid to stick with McNabb through his struggles in the past. For starters, the momentary hiccups were as predictable as the changing leaves. We even started referring to it around here as McNabb's "patented two-game stretch of puzzlingly bad play" (or PTGSOPBP for short). McNabb always came out of the funk in the end. And, most importantly, there was never an obviously better choice anywhere on the roster.
McNabb, and Reid, no longer have that luxury. Last year, when Reid benched McNabb and inserted Kolb against the Ravens, it was the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. We had little reason to believe a guy who hadn't taken a snap in anger in three months was going to do better than a struggling McNabb. And he didn't.
This year, that's out the window. Kolb has been the starting quarterback for 10 quarters now. He's been taking the first team reps. For now, he's still looking towards Tampa Bay as if he will be the starter.
Kolb is now not just talented -- he's also prepared.
What this means for Reid is that he now knows he has a better option than (hypothetical) struggling McNabb. And we know he knows that. And, most importantly, his bosses know he knows that.
If McNabb comes back, plays well and stays healthy, Reid is off the hook. No one will criticize him for sticking with McNabb just because Kolb had a couple of 300-yard games.
But if McNabb starts to struggle or has some issues with his health, Reid will face the toughest decision of his career. Does he bench McNabb and go to his successor? Or does he stick with McNabb, pray he turns things around, and quite possibly go down with the ship if he doesn't?
Right now, out of the moment, this seems like an easy decision -- you stick with McNabb. But in December ... if the Giants are pulling away ... and we've dropped one winnable game and seem on our way to another ... and locker room voices* start questioning who's on the field ...
That's not going to be so easy.
None of this is an argument that the Eagles will or should bench Donovan. He is still the better player. The experience factor is huge. It's one thing to take down Kansas City in September, it's something else to be playing in the Meadowlands in December. The best case scenario remains good health and great play from our #1 guy.
At the same time, in the same way that replacing McNabb in the past created problems -- think "bittersweet" and "Thanks, Jeff, for the great season, now don't let the door hit you on the way out" -- replacing him now solves them, by putting a date certain on when the future starts and eliminating all those pesky questions about who should be extended when.
And if you're Jeff Lurie and Joe Banner, with your undeviating focus on the long-term sustainability of your franchise, well then, those are nice problems to have go away.
This summer, McNabb's new contract seemed to finally fix a firm deadline for the current quarterback on delivery of that elusive Super Bowl win. McNabb's injury, combined with Kolb's successful audition, just altered the terms of that deal.
Pray it's not altered any further.+
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* We'll call this now as "Brent Celek."
+ I know, I know. I said no more Sith jokes. Just this once.