Reborn Kolb gets major step-up opportunity when Eagles come calling

by | Senior NFL Columnist

Will Kevin Kolb face performance anxiety against the Eagles? (AP)  
Will Kevin Kolb face performance anxiety against the Eagles? (AP)  

Say what you will about Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb, but this week belongs to him. It doesn't matter if the Cardinals win or lose; Kolb is the story, and here's why:


The Eagles are next on the schedule, with critics ready to rehash the deal that sent Kolb to Arizona last summer. But they may not stop there, continuing on to regurgitate the events of this March when the Cards pulled out of the Peyton Manning Sweepstakes to make a $7 million commitment to Kolb.

So he better be good Sunday. Otherwise, get ready for a tsunami of I-told-you-so's.

Of course, that's often the drill with NFL quarterbacks, but it's not often you have one game to prove yourself to detractors. Kolb had one season last year, but injuries and uninspiring play (and a 3-6 record) put him in a competition a year later -- a competition he lost. But when John Skelton bowed out in the season opener, Kolb stepped in, and you know the rest of the story.

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Arizona hasn't lost.

So there's a feeling that maybe, just maybe, Kolb has woken up and that Arizona might have found its quarterback to challenge San Francisco in the NFC West. I mean, the Cards have the defense to do it. They have the receivers, too. And they may finally have a running game. What they don't have is a reliable quarterback.

Until now ... maybe.

While it's too early to say Kolb has arrived, you look at his past four games with Arizona and the signs are encouraging. In that time, he has completed 62 percent of his passes for 455 yards, with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 101.5. He also beat Tom Brady in New England's home opener -- something nobody else has accomplished.

But beating the Patriots on the road might be easier than overcoming his former team and teammates at home. I know, Arizona has won its past six there and nine of its past 11 overall, but I remember what Brett Favre said about facing the Packers for the first time. He said he seldom was more nervous.

Then he beat them twice with stellar performances, throwing seven touchdown passes and no interceptions.

I imagine jitters will kick in with Kolb, too, though let's be honest: He didn't have the career in Philadelphia that Favre had in Green Bay. Nowhere close. Favre was an All-Pro, three-time MVP and Super Bowl winner with the Packers. He also was the face of the franchise. Kolb was the quarterback who was supposed to replace Donovan McNabb ... but didn't. Michael Vick did, replacing Kolb after he was hurt in the 2010 season opener vs. Green Bay.

Nevertheless, there must be an anxiety for Kolb that might be absent if he were playing, say, Cleveland or Washington. He knows Philadelphia fans will be tuned in, and I imagine he would like them to know that he's good enough to beat their team. But first things first, and first Kolb must prove to his own teammates, coaches and fans that what they've seen the past six quarters is the quarterback he is.

That sounds easy. I mean, just go out and be yourself, right? Except he's facing a lot of familiar faces Sunday, and I assume that would jack up anyone.

"I'm sure," said one NFC coach, "in the back of his mind he'd like to show them something. It's only natural to be excited. There's not a guy in this league who doesn't get geared up to play his former team. But it's not like he was driven out or they didn't respect the guy."

He's right about that. Eagles coach Andy Reid still talks fondly of Kolb and insists he wouldn't have parted with him if Vick didn't come along. Given the choice, Reid picked Vick and moved Kolb to Arizona. It's not unlike what happened to Philadelphia the year before when Reid moved McNabb to Washington and chose Kolb as his starter.

When McNabb returned, Eagles fans gave him a standing ovation in pregame introductions. Then the contest started and he was booed. McNabb wasn't particularly effective that afternoon (8 of 19 for 125 yards and a touchdown), but he got the job done under duress. Final score: Washington 17, Philadelphia 12.

Kolb isn't returning to Philadelphia. He's home, where he was booed at the team's annual "Fan Fest" in June. That was then, this is now, and now Kevin Kolb has a chance to show people everywhere that he and the Arizona Cardinals are a whole lot better than they thought.

"There's a lot of hidden talent on this team," Kolb told me last month. "I think there are a lot of guys people don't know about. We have weapons all over the place. We have three or four good running backs, and our receiving corps is as stacked as I've seen -- and that's coming from a very talented group in Philadelphia. And, obviously, our defense played well last year. If they can pick up where they were, I don't see why we couldn't win the division and more."

I do. The Cardinals must find a quarterback, and maybe they just did. This weekend will offer more clues, and it's hard not to root for Kolb. So much has been expected of him for so long, and now he holds center stage, with a chance to excel.

"You have the feeling that the time is right for you to emerge?" I asked him last month.

"It is," he said. "I feel that way. I feel the urgency, and I look forward to getting it done."

So does everyone in Arizona.


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