When I contacted one of my favorite personnel directors for an assessment of this weekend's quarterbacks, he couldn't wait to talk about Donovan McNabb and Kurt Warner -- partly because he sees them as the same guy.
"They're Lazarus," he said. "They've risen from the dead."
Warner was supposed to be finished. McNabb was supposed to be finished in Philadelphia. Both are in the NFC Championship Game, and one will have a very nice story to tell in Tampa in a couple of weeks.
I can wait, and so can you. We have no choice. In the meantime, I want to know what makes these quarterbacks tick and why I should trust any or all of them this weekend. So I asked people throughout the league, and here's what they produced for scouting reports:
Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia
Pros: This is his fifth NFC Championship Game, so he's experienced and he's confident. He's mobile in and out of the pocket, too, and will pull down the ball and run ... not as much as he once did but enough to make him a threat to pick up a first down with his legs. Plus, he throws well when he's moving. He tends to be streaky, and that's a good thing when he's hot because he can be bulletproof -- with the Arizona Cardinals called as our first witness. McNabb shredded them for four touchdowns when they played Philadelphia on Thanksgiving night. He has a strong arm and generally makes good decisions. He wasn't all that accurate in the pocket when he first started in the NFL, but his accuracy has improved over the years -- with McNabb achieving a career best 64.0 percent completion percentage in 2004. Still, he is probably a better thrower on the run than he is in the pocket.
Cons: Did we mention "streaky?" That description cuts both ways, and when McNabb is off he tends to force the football, throw it across his body and flirt with disaster. When he's Bad Donovan his decisions are no longer sound, and rewind the videotape of the tie with Cincinnati if you don't know what I mean. His passes were flying all over the place, with too many aimed at Bengals defenders. If he starts poorly he can continue to play poorly, with the Cincinnati and Baltimore games the best examples. Therefore, it's critical for him to get off to decent starts. Otherwise he can dig himself a hole so deep that he and his teammates are doomed.
Why You Should Trust Him This Weekend: Because he's been here before, and because he's playing as if he has something to prove -- which he does. Since he was benched in Baltimore, McNabb has 13 touchdown passes and four interceptions and won three of his last four road games -- including two in the playoffs.
Why You Shouldn't: Because he's 1-3 in championship games and because he can be shaky on the road -- with four touchdowns and eight interceptions in his last six road starts.
Kurt Warner, Arizona
Which QB would you want leading your team in a title game?
Total Votes: 47,010
Pros: Like McNabb, the guy is experienced. He's been to the Super Bowl twice and been a league MVP twice. He is smart. He is accurate. And he is confident. In fact, when I visited him in August he made a compelling case why he should start for the Cardinals, and, remember, those were the days when Matt Leinart was numero uno. Apparently, Ken Whisenhunt listened. Warner doesn't have an overly strong arm, but it's strong enough to make the deep throw. Plus, his receivers have great confidence in him and can adjust to the ball when it's near them. Talk about a guy who makes good decisions; Warner knows where to go with the football, and you're almost never out of a game with him at quarterback. When the Cards fell behind the New York Jets 35-0 in the first half earlier this year, Warner rallied them to 35 second-half points and a season-high 472 yards passing. Seven times this year he threw for more than 300 yards. Four times he threw three or more touchdown passes. He completed 67 percent of his throws. He threw for 4,583 yards. I think you get the picture. There is no more productive or accurate passer in the playoffs than Warner.
Cons: He has small hands, and he will drop the football when hit. Let the record show that Warner committed 11 fumbles this season, seven of which he lost. He will throw interceptions, too, as he did against Philadelphia when he was picked off on the Cards' first two series. He had 14 interceptions this season, more than all but one of the quarterbacks ranked in the top 15. He's not mobile and will take sacks. "He has pocket mobility, but nothing outside of it," said one scout. "If I worry about him it's that he sometimes tries to do too much. He's got to be careful not to try to win the game in the first quarter."
Why You Should Trust Him This Weekend: Because he's been to the NFC Championship Game twice and won it both times. Plus, nothing fazes him. He and his teammates were supposed to be road kill in Carolina but played flawlessly and effectively. Warner believes this is happening for a reason ... and it is. He's playing as he did eight years ago.
Why You Should Not: Because he's 37 and hasn't been in a playoff game in nearly seven years. OK, so maybe that doesn't matter. This does: He has absorbed a lot of hits over his career and will absorb more when Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson unleashes his blitz packages. One thing I know about Warner is that if you can get to him you can force him into mistakes.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore
Pros: The first thing you can't help but notice is his arm. It's strong and it's live and it's a reason the Ravens first fell in love with the guy. They figured Flacco's arm would be an asset when the season faded into November and December in places like Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. But there is so much more to Flacco than just an arm. He has remarkable poise for a rookie and an unflappable demeanor. Nothing bothers him, and teammates on both sides of the ball admire him. In case you didn't notice, that hasn't been the case with some quarterbacks in Baltimore. He's not what you would call mobile, but he moves well enough in the pocket -- left and right, backward and forward -- to put himself in position to make throws, with his third-down delivery to Todd Heap last weekend an example. Extremely confident, he will only improve as a passer as he gains experience. For now he's a younger version of Trent Dilfer.
Cons: He's a rookie, so he can be prone to rookie mistakes. He threw a lot of interceptions early in the season but seems to have learned. Mistakes are few now; Flacco has thrown no interceptions in nine of his last 13 starts. But because he is asked to manage the Ravens offense he is not a quarterback you trust to rally you from two or three scores down. "The Ravens have not been more than one possession behind, and that's a good thing," said a scout, "because he's not equipped to lead them out of big holes." He's not all that accurate, either, and he has a long windup, which can allow defensive backs to anticipate where he's going with his delivery.
Why You Should Trust Him This Weekend: Because he has become Joe Cool. So he completes 44 percent of his passes in the playoffs. Big deal. He hasn't been sacked, he hasn't fumbled and he hasn't thrown an interception. Then there's this: In his last eight road games he has 10 touchdown passes, two interceptions and seven victories.
Why You Should Not: Because he's a rookie, and rookie quarterbacks don't make it to Super Bowls. Plus, the last time he faced Pittsburgh he produced a season-low 22.2 passer rating.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
Pros: I don't know that there's a tougher quarterback anywhere than Big Ben. I watched him get clobbered in a Sunday night game in Jacksonville only to rally his team to a 26-21 victory made possible by his resilience. He's big. He's physical. He's confident. And he makes huge plays in critical spots. So his numbers aren't overwhelming. Look at his performances down the stretch of big wins over San Diego, Jacksonville, Dallas and Baltimore (twice) -- with that 92-yard, last-minute march against the Ravens on Dec. 14 the most notable. When the Steelers needed him to respond he delivered. And that's what I like most about the guy. He's a winner. He's been here before and won, and he's been to a Super Bowl before and won. I don't care about his passer rating or completion percentage. He won. He's not a scrambler, but he does move well on his feet and buys time for throws with his legs. When he first joined the Steelers, he was a little like Flacco -- with the Steelers carrying him with their running game and defense. Now he's a weapon, capable of rallying the team to last-minute wins with his arm and his head.
Cons: He's taken a ton of hits the past three years, seasons where he was sacked 46, 47 and 46 times. He also suffered a spinal concussion in the season finale against Cleveland. But nobody is tougher. He sometimes trusts his arm too much and will make throws he should not. This is another quarterback who needs to start well. If he struggles early it could be the beginning of a long afternoon. Critics claim he holds the ball too long, and the observation is valid -- only one scout explained it this way: "He'd rather wait to make a play than give up on one." OK, I get it. Still, it can be a problem, with those 47 sacks the evidence.
Why You Should Trust Him This Weekend: Because he's done this before and because he's playing a team he beat twice this season.
Why You Should Not: Because neither he nor the Steelers is particularly good at home in these spots. Roethlisberger is 2-2 in home playoff games, with eight interceptions, while the Steelers are 1-4 in home conference championship games dating back to 1994.