A similar fate in Philly??

By Phil Sheridan
Updated: December 5, 2010

PHILADELPHIA — It is all so familiar to those whose memories haven’t been warped by the backlash against Donovan McNabb.

The Eagles are 8-4, in first place in the NFC East, with a quarter of the season to play. Their offense is putting up big numbers, but their quarterback is paying the price by absorbing too much punishment.

Andy Reid is torn between the need to protect his QB and the lure of an ever-more-explosive passing game. He is gambling the quarterback stays upright long enough to reach the Super Bowl.

They talk about Michael Vick now the way previous Eagles talked about McNabb.

“He’s taking hits and spinning off tackles,” running back LeSean McCoy said after Thursday night’s 34-24 win over the Houston Texans. “He takes extra licks. That makes guys want to play with him.”

During the ascending part of his career, McNabb was that guy. He turned sacks into inventive scrambles, big losses into long gains. He endured hits to deliver the ball. His fearless style of play made it impossible for his teammates to give anything but their own best effort.

It became all too easy around here to dismiss McNabb’s achievements after those final few, disappointing seasons. The reality is, those final few, disappointing seasons were largely the result of McNabb’s breaking down after five or six years of playing the way Vick is playing right now.

Blown knees, sports hernia, sprained thumb, busted ankle. The cumulative effect of all that punishment turned McNabb into the less-dynamic, but still more-than-competent, quarterback he was at the end here.

That’s the lesson both Vick and Reid need to grasp now, before history repeats itself with the younger man.

Vick is faster than McNabb ever was. He has a very strong arm. In this, his back-from-the-abyss season, he has played the quarterback position with more awareness and maturity than in his first incarnation, in Atlanta.

“This young man is playing as good as anybody I’ve seen play in the National Football League,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “And I’ve been doing it for a while. He’s special.”

Kubiak was John Elway’s backup in Denver and Steve Young’s QB coach in San Francisco before returning to the Broncos as offensive coordinator for Elway’s two Super Bowl seasons.

He has seen some good quarterback play.

At his best this season, in that 59-28 fiesta against Washington, Vick looked like the perfect blend of system QB and dangerous freelancer. Since then, defenses clearly have made it their priority to hit him as often and as hard as possible.

“I’m used to taking hits,” Vick said. “It’s not that bad. They may look harder than what they seem, but it’s not that bad. If I take one and I lay down, then I took a good one. I’m a pretty tough guy, I feel like, for the most part – so I try to bounce back whenever I can.”

McNabb was the same way. He’d take a nasty hit and bounce right back. But these guys are human beings. Their bodies eventually give out. It is as inevitable as Reid and Mornhinweg calling a pass play on third and goal at the 2.

This conversation is not taking place in San Diego, where Philip Rivers is having a terrific season. It is not taking place in New Orleans or New England or Indianapolis. Other elite quarterbacks are not asked to take the physical punishment that Vick takes, or that McNabb took for so long.

On Friday, Reid acknowledged concern that officials don’t protect Vick the same way they protect other quarterbacks. It’s an issue that used to bother me during McNabb’s heyday.

He just seemed to be treated differently: The hit that knocked him out of the NFC title game against Carolina and some of the shots the Patriots took in the Super Bowl would have drawn flags if Tom Brady or Peyton Manning were the victims.

It is happening again with Vick. Ironically, I think the discrepancy has the same roots as Reid’s own mind-set in protecting these physically gifted and tough QBs.

Officials see players able to elude defenders, shake tacklers, and initiate contact, and they don’t feel the same need to protect them the way they do relatively immobile pocket passers.

“He does run,” Reid said, “but he’s still the quarterback, and you can’t treat him like he’s a running back there.”

The coach should heed his own words. With McNabb, it reached the point where the lust for passing yards led to some of the worst beatings in NFL history. The nadir was that 12-sack debacle in the Meadowlands a few years ago. With Vick, Reid has a rare chance for a do-over.

Players admire a tough QB. Coaches take extra risks with a tough QB. Defenders are frustrated by a tough QB.

And then, when he’s broken down and unable to deliver that final victory, everyone blames the QB.