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News » Bob Ford: Playoff performance will be the factor in judging his career.

Bob Ford: Playoff performance will be the factor in judging his career.

Bob Ford: Playoff performance will be the factor in judging his career.
On third and 9 from his own 5-yard line, the quarterback took a shotgun snap and attempted a pass to his tight end. There were just 17 seconds left in the game and the team trailed by three points.

That dusty memory is the most recent playoff moment in the career of Donovan McNabb. It took place in Jacksonville's Alltel Stadium less than three weeks after the second inauguration of President Bush. The result, as was the case with two other McNabb passes that evening, was an interception and the final extinguishing of whatever flickering hope remained in Super Bowl XXXIX for the Eagles.

Rightly or wrongly, McNabb's decade-long career in

Philadelphia has become defined by that one Football game. The frustration that came with near-misses in the seasons leading up to the Super Bowl year could have been wiped away with a win. The frustrations since wouldn't have hurt so badly.

That Super Bowl was a fulcrum point of McNabb's career and, although he didn't lose it all by himself - far from it - neither did he win it all by himself. Far from it.

This afternoon, under the Teflon-coated fiberglass roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis, McNabb will take the field for another postseason try. He is 32 now, not 28, and the shadows of past failures have lengthened across his personal playing field. A career that contains as many accomplishments as his shouldn't need redemption, but that is how it feels.

McNabb is the best quarterback to ever play the position for the Eagles. When statistics, longevity and victories are bundled together, it isn't even a question. Ron Jaworski also played 10 years in Philadelphia, and McNabb has equaled or bettered everything Jaws got done. Randall Cunningham played all or part of 11 seasons, but never won a playoff game beyond the wild-card round.

If the Eagles were to reach the Super Bowl this season, McNabb would play his 150th overall game and surpass Jaworski for that mark among franchise quarterbacks.

McNabb reaches today's game at what could be a true crossroad not just for the team but for his whole career. When the Eagles were 5-5-1 after a tie to Cincinnati and a loss at Baltimore that saw McNabb benched for the first time, it seemed unlikely he would return for the 2009 season. After a 4-1 finish to the season - a run during which McNabb completed 64 percent of his passes and threw nine touchdowns and only one interception - it seems unlikely he won't be back.

But how he is received, and how he will eventually be remembered in Philadelphia, will be a product of the postseason appearances that still remain, however many that might be.

"You never get enough credit until you're gone, and I'm not looking for any credit right now," McNabb said.

That's a good thing, because this season has been a tense one between McNabb and his critics, despite production stats that are in line with or better than his career numbers here. He set a franchise record for attempts, completions and passing yards in 2008, marks that those critics would contend are merely a product of coach Andy Reid's unbalanced, pass-happy offense. He led the offense to 374 points, the most it has scored since the Super Bowl season. He did slump badly in several games - most notably when asked to throw 58 times into a full gale in Cincinnati - but that doesn't make him unique among quarterbacks.

The problem is that McNabb has also remained consistent in his inability to connect with the wide and occasionally shallow demands of the local fan base. The Philadelphia hero is best-loved when stoic, loyal and unquestioning. Failing that, it helps to win. Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels, two cool guys from California, got a pass on some intemperate statements in 2008 because they had the good fortune to be part of a championship team.

McNabb has not been so lucky and, in addition, he has had a tin ear for what sounds best to the populace. Maybe that makes him honest, but it doesn't make him smart.

"I've been kind of revived, I guess," McNabb said, referring to the last few weeks of the season. "They've thrown me out, they ran over me, spit on me, but...I just continue to prevail."

It would be best, of course, if he would do a little prevailing in the postseason, and that opportunity arrives this afternoon in Minneapolis. It is the first game of the rest of his career and could also be the first step toward the redemption that he shouldn't need, but still does.

Some of that is because of the things he says. Some of it is because of the injuries and the other factors beyond his control. Most of it, however, is because of his most recent playoff memory from four years ago, that final quarter that began with the score tied and a championship in the balance.

Unexpectedly, almost unbelievably, Donovan McNabb has gotten a chance to make a new memory this season, and we begin to find out today if he has truly been revived or has merely hung around for further disappointment.

Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 4, 2009

Scott Young Name: Scott Young
Position: OG
Age: 27
Experience: 4 years
College: Brigham Young
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