The Minnesota Vikings wanted the Donovan McNabb who led the Philadelphia Eagles to five NFC title games in 11 seasons, making plays with his arm and his legs while becoming one of the better quarterbacks in the league.
Through four games this season, it looks as if they acquired the Donovan McNabb who was benched twice in Washington last season after being unable to get the Redskins offense off the ground.
The Vikings rank 31st in the league in passing offense, with McNabb unable to find any consistency during an 0-4 start that has some wondering when he will be hitting the bench again.
First-round draft pick Christian Ponder is waiting in the wings, but for now coach Leslie Frazier seems to be sticking with the veteran he hand-picked to help the Vikings avoid a rebuilding phase.
”Based on these four games we’ve had this season, we’re not at a point where we’re making a quarterback change,” Frazier said Monday. ”I mean, there are a lot of things we need to correct on our football team based on the fact that we’re 0-4. But, at this point, quarterback change isn’t one of those changes.”
When pressed on the issue, Frazier did leave himself a little wiggle room heading into Sunday’s game against Arizona.
”I do expect him to be our starter, barring something happening between now and then that I don’t know about,” Frazier said.
While 15 quarterbacks in the league this year have passed for at least 1,000 yards already, McNabb has thrown for just 680, the fewest of any player to start all four games. He was a little better in Sunday’s 22-17 loss to Kansas City, completing 18 of 30 passes for 202 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. And it’s clear the Vikings’ troubles on the offensive line, and the receivers’ inability to create separation consistently, play a role in the offensive struggles as well.
So in the face of criticism and an impatient fan base, Frazier is preaching solidarity.
”Offensively, defensively, special teams, we have enough areas of concern that is not just the quarterback position,” he said. ”We really have to do a good job of supporting one another. If we do that, our quarterback play will improve, our defensive line play, our linebacker, our secondary, our offensive line, our running backs. We have a number of areas, besides our quarterback, we have to improve.”
The Vikings held halftime leads in their first three games and had the ball with a chance to win it in the closing minutes against the Chiefs, which led Frazier to say they ”are on the verge of getting things headed in the right direction.”
With proud veterans such as Adrian Peterson, Steve Hutchinson, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield, a move to the rookie Ponder could be a signal to the rest of the team that the focus has changed from this season to the long-term future of the team.
”I’m not ready to throw in the season,” defensive end Brian Robison said. ”There’s a lot of people out there saying our season’s over, we’ve got to get ready for 2012. I’m not ready to do that. And I’m not going to do that. I’m going to go out there and play and try to get us to 4-4 before the bye week and hopefully we can run things from there.”
Receiver Percy Harvin said the rest of the team still has faith in McNabb.
”Well he’s a vet, most importantly,” Harvin said. ”He’s led the Eagles to I don’t know how many conference championships. He’s a veteran that can come in and learn the system as quick as he did. We’re all learning. We’re just going to keep plugging and working hard and trying to get this thing right.”
McNabb was unavailable for comment Monday, but he’s been through quarterback controversies before.
”Everybody loves the backup,” McNabb said last week. ”But that’s for every team. When things go well, the quarterback is the one who sees all the attention. When things go wrong, they are the ones who get criticized the most.
”But it’s a team game no matter what, whether you’re winning or losing.”