November 20, 2012, 11:35 am
Two years ago this week, same two teams, same stadium, same coaches, the Eagles beat the Redskins by 31 points.
This past weekend, the Redskins beat the Eagles by 25 points.
Did Mike Shanahan really get 56 points better as a head coach from since Nov. 15, 2010, to Nov. 18, 2012?
Did Andy Reid really get 56 points worse as a head coach over the past two years?
Of course not.
When the Eagles beat the Redskins 59-28 at FedEx Field in 2010, Michael Vick was at the absolute peak of his game. He passed for over 300 yards and became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw four touchdown passes, rush for 80 yards and complete 70 percent of his passes in a game.
Meanwhile, Redskins QB Donovan McNabb was near the end of his terrific career. He threw three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Dimitri Patterson, and would only win two more games in his career, one later that year with the Redskins and another in 2011 with the Vikings.
Fast forward two years.
When the Redskins beat the Eagles 31-6 Sunday, it was Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III at the absolute peak of his game. He completed all but one of 15 passes in the sixth-most accurate passing performance in NFL history, and became the second quarterback ever to throw four touchdowns, rush for 80 yards and complete 70 percent of his passes in a game. Obviously joining Vick, who did it on the same field two years earlier.
Meanwhile, the Eagles ran out a quarterback in Nick Foles making his first NFL start and clearly overmatched. He committed three turnovers, was sacked four times, didn’t complete a pass longer than five yards to a starting wide receiver and never did get the Eagles into the end zone.
What does it all mean?
Simply that whoever winds up coaching the Eagles over the next few years – whether it’s Dirk Koetter or David Shaw or Chip Kelly or Brian Kelly or Vic Fangio – it won’t matter if he doesn’t have an elite quarterback behind center.
The Colts were 2-14 last year with Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins. With virtually the same team and Andrew Luck at QB, they’re 6-4.
The Saints won 11 or more games three times in their first 40 years of existence. Then they acquired Drew Brees and have averaged 11 wins per year since with a Super Bowl title.
The Cowboys won a Super Bowl with Barry Switzer, since they had Troy Aikman.
Look at Shanahan. Won a couple Super Bowls and averaged 12 wins a year with John Elway. In 13 seasons without Elway, he’s won one playoff game.
Bill Belichick was a buffoon in Cleveland when his QB was Vinny Testaverde. Give him Tom Brady and he’s maybe the best ever.
Heck, the Eagles had five playoff win in the 40 years before McNabb took over. McNabb then won nine in the next nine years.
Since he left? Yeah, nothing.
Let’s take a deeper look at Eagles history for a moment.
In the franchise’s entire 80-year history, only three quarterbacks have won more than one playoff game. One was Tommy Thompson in the 1940s, and he doesn’t even really count, since quarterbacks back then weren’t the centerpiece of football teams like they are now. Thompson completed a total of 19 passes in his three postseason wins, including NFL Championship Games in 1948 and 1949.
The other two are Ron Jaworski, who won three postseason games, and McNabb, who won nine.
And that’s it.
Just two quarterbacks have guided the Eagles to a deep playoff run in the last 60 years.
You can steal a postseason win here and there with a functional quarterback – Rodney Peete in 1995, Jeff Garcia in 2006 – if you do a few other things well, like run the ball with authority or defend exceptionally well.
But if you’re going to make a deep run, a legit run at a Super Bowl, let’s face it. Unless you have a historic defense, you better have a special quarterback.
No matter who your coach is.
So even if Jeff Lurie does fire Reid and replace him with the sharpest, brightest coaching mind available, it’s no guarantee of anything.
Because if the Eagles don’t find a quarterback, it won’t matter.
Think about it. In modern NFL history – since 1950 – the Eagles have really had three successful quarterbacks. Randall, Jaws and Donovan. Since 1950, the rest have been temporary fill-ins, veterans on their last legs, young guys who weren’t ready. Nobody else since Norm Snead has won 20 games.
In franchise history, only four QBs – Thompson (1947-49), Jaworski (1978-81), Cunningham (1988-90, 1992) and McNabb (2000-04, 2o08-09) – have led the Eagles to the postseason more than once.
And consider this: The last time the Eagles won 11 games in a season with a quarterback other than Donovan, Randall or Jaws was 1949. Last time they reached the postseason in consecutive years with a quarterback other than Donovan, Randall or Jaws? Also 1949.
So let’s face it. Unless the Eagles find another Jaws or a McNabb, they’re not going to find their way back to the NFL’s elite. They just won’t. They can’t.
And no matter what you think of McNabb, only eight quarterbacks in NFL history have won more postseason games. And every one either is a Hall of Famer or will be: Elway, Aikman, Brady, Joe Montana, Brett Favre, Terry Bradshaw, Ben Roethlisberger, Roger Staubach.
So let’s put the coaching replacement talk on the backburner for a moment and look at a potentially more important question: Who’s the quarterback going to be?
The Eagles have a few routes they can take, but realistically, none of them appears very encouraging.
They could stick with Michael Vick, who turns 33, has lost a step, hasn’t won a playoff game since 2004 and is 10-13 in 23 starts since going 8-2 in his first 10 starts as an Eagle.
They could turn the team over to Nick Foles, whose performances so far in relief of an injured Vick have been unremarkable, although in his defense, he’s playing behind a woefully inept offensive line on a team mired in a two-month losing streak with a lame-duck coach.
They could go with one of the projected free agents, although assuming the Ravens keep Joe Flacco, there’s not a whole lot out there (Jason Campbell? Matt Moore? Tarvaris Jackson? No, didn’t think so).
They could try to trade for somebody like Colin Kaepernick or Matt Flynn, but that would come at a very high price in draft picks if you’re even able to pry a guy away from his current team.
And they could draft a guy, although even as bad as they’ve been, they’ll miss out on the two projected big-time QBs available – West Virginia’s Geno Smith and USC’s Matt Barkley. And anybody else would likely be a reach where they’re going to pick. Could they be so desperate they reach (or trade down) for a guy like Tyler Wilson out of Arkansas? They may have to.
There’s no easy answer, no simple solution. But keep all this in mind this offseason when the Eagles go through their anticipated offseason transformation.
Finding the right person to replace Andy Reid might not even be the most important challenge facing the franchise over the next eight months.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org