Expect McNabb to have bounce-back season with Vikings

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Donovan McNabb insists he has nothing to prove this season, but I don't believe him. Neither does his head coach. I mean, after what he just went through why wouldn't he have something to demonstrate?

He does. And he will. Of both, I am certain.

First of all, he's a better quarterback -- a much better quarterback -- than he showed in 2010. Let's face it, McNabb and the Washington Redskins weren't a good fit, with McNabb finishing the season on the bench after throwing more interceptions than touchdowns for the first time in his career.

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Critics contend that was the beginning of the end for McNabb, but don't listen to them. McNabb will resurrect himself in Minnesota for all the right reasons, and here's why: Because now, more than ever, he has something to prove.

He also has more here than he did in Washington. The running game is better. The offensive line is solid. The defense is better. And the head coach and offensive coordinator understand and appreciate him. More than that, they believe in the guy, firm in their convictions that they can and will win with him.

"I promise you," head coach Leslie Frazier said, "that every defensive coordinator in our division is saying, 'Dang, we've got to defend the Vikings' passing game, too. It's not just Adrian Peterson.'

"[Having McNabb] changes the landscape for the Minnesota Vikings and the rest of our division. There's a certain amount of respect that we might not have gotten if Donovan were not our starting quarterback."

Only one problem: The Vikings just spent their first draft pick on another quarterback, Christian Ponder, and they didn't make him the 12th overall choice to have him sit forever. At some point, he's the team's starter. The only question is: when?

But that's where McNabb comes in. His situation today is not all that dissimilar from what he experienced in 2007 when Philadelphia exercised its first draft choice -- a second-rounder -- on quarterback Kevin Kolb. The idea then was that sooner or later Kolb would push McNabb out of a job, and it turned out to be later -- with Kolb taking over the Eagles in 2010 after McNabb was dealt to Washington.

Only it's hard to imagine Minnesota waiting long on a top-15 draft pick. Besides, McNabb isn't the incumbent. The Vikings acquired him last week. Plus, the Vikings aren't a winning team. Their 6-10 record last season had them tied for last in the NFC North.

Ponder is the future, and McNabb is ... well, we'll see. We know what he was, and we know what he can be. We just don't know what he will be.

McNabb, joking around with rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, says he doesn't look at himself 'as a security blanket.' (AP)  
McNabb, joking around with rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, says he doesn't look at himself 'as a security blanket.' (AP)  
Only I think we do. The quarterback who responded to the challenge of Kolb in 2007 will be the quarterback you see this autumn. Donovan McNabb is coming off a humiliating season, and, while he'll tell you he's here to assist Ponder with the nuances of the pro game he's also here to demonstrate what he can do in the right environment.

"I don't look at myself as a security blanket," he said. "I look at myself as a guy they want to help win this thing in the next three or four years."

He's talking, of course, about a Super Bowl, but the Vikings' concern isn't a Super Bowl; it's climbing back to the playoffs. That can be difficult when you live in the same division as the Packers and the same conference as Philadelphia, Atlanta and New Orleans.

That's why McNabb's addition is so intriguing. Do the Vikings use him as, say, the Giants did Kurt Warner when he was with New York in 2004 -- starting nine games until he was pulled in favor of then-rookie Eli Manning? Remember, the Giants were 5-4 when Warner sat down. Or do they use him as Philadelphia did after Kolb arrived, with McNabb holding the spot for years?

My guess is that it's somewhere in between, with McNabb -- not Ponder -- the determining factor. The better he plays, the longer he stays.

"The only thing I try to do with Donovan is just be honest," Frazier said. "I tell him that we need him for this time, and it's up to him to see how long it goes.

"We want to see him have success. It's not a thing where we're hoping that after this season or some point in this season he fails, and now we're ready to go with Christian. We want to see him be successful this entire season because that means our team is successful.

"Christian's time will come. We're not going into this saying, 'OK, Christian's going to be ready Week 6 or Week 8.' We're expecting success from Donovan."

So am I, which takes me back to our original premise. I believe McNabb succeeds because I believe Donovan McNabb is driven to prove he is not the quarterback who fizzled last season. I believed that in 2008, too, after he was benched in the second half of a game with Baltimore, and McNabb not only responded; he took the Eagles to their fifth conference championship game in eight years.

I know, McNabb is not young. He turns 35 in November. He's coming off his worst year as a starter, too. And he not only joins a bottom feeder desperate for help, he signs up after Washington surrendered him for next to nothing. So expectations are low, which, frankly, is just how you'd want it if you were in his position.

"It's no different than Kurt Warner's situation [in Arizona]," McNabb said. "When he went to New York, they had a young guy [Manning]. Washington didn't really have a young guy, but the whole thing about it is it just didn't work out. So you move on, build your niche again, get comfortable and good things happen."

When McNabb tells you that "I love playing this game, and I love playing this game when I can be myself," he's also telling you that he can be -- no, should be -- the quarterback he could not be in Washington because Frazier knows how to handle him.

Not only was he on Philadelphia's staff when McNabb starred with the Eagles, he quizzed Eagles' coach Andy Reid before signing off on the trade with Washington. It was Reid who drafted McNabb and stood by him when both were media targets, and it was Reid who reluctantly traded away McNabb when he knew his run in Philadelphia was over.

Reid and McNabb remain friends, and Reid still believes his former quarterback can help someone. Minnesota just became that someone.

"I talked to Andy in depth about Donovan and his experiences with him," Frazier said. "I wanted to know his opinion, even though I had some ideas from my time with him, and Andy gave him a strong endorsement.

"He was very positive about Donovan. He still feels Donovan can play, and that had a lot to do with some of my thoughts. It really encouraged me to hear some of the things he had to say about Donovan." It should, which is one reason I believe he succeeds in Minnesota. But there's another, and I'll hammer it one more time. Donovan McNabb is on a mission ... even if he tells you he's not ... and that mission is to restore his reputation as one of the game's most stable and successful quarterbacks.

"When you get in my situation," said McNabb, "where I've been to NFC Championship Games, Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl and where I've passed for almost 4,000 yards ... when you've had a resume like that and people know your background the thing you're shooting for and play hard to give your all for is that Super Bowl. You want to win that Super Bowl.

"Not to say if you don't win it it's not been a great career. But I want to win the Super Bowl, and I want to win it now. For me to say I have something to prove ... I don't see it."

I do. Which is why McNabb's addition just added victories to Minnesota.

The Vikings' quarterbacks stunk last season, throwing nearly twice as many interceptions (26) as touchdown passes (14), yet Minnesota still won six games. So what happens if McNabb looks more like the Donovan McNabb of 2009 than the Donovan McNabb of 2010? Pay attention. Donovan McNabb has something to prove, and he's about to do it.

"He may not say that," said Frazier, "but I know there's a chip on his shoulder. He's a very prideful guy, and he's had a lot of success in our league. What happened the last couple of years kind of stung a little bit, so I expect us to be the beneficiaries of that."

Me, too.

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