Donovan McNabb, and the “Clutch” Conversation

I spent a lot of time going through Donovan McNabb’s game logs, trying to decipher whether or not it was fair that McNabb is often described as a “choker.”


And it was a truly silly endeavor.

See, losing is so damn easy. An example: week two against Washington in 2007. Eagles trail the ‘Skins 20-12, and march down the field. On fourth and six, McNabb throws a rocket to Kevin Curtis at the first down marker, who gets absolutely drilled by LaRon Landry and drops the pass. Game over.

Now tell me – whose fault was that?

McNabb? Well, he put that last pass on the money. Did it have to come to the fourth down play? Probably not, and if I recall correctly, he did miss an open receiver on the play before. That being said, he still made the throw he needed to, and Curtis dropped it.

Sweet, so we can blame Curtis. Awesome. But wait – Curtis got shellshocked by Landry. He hit him harder than Michael Phelps hits a bong. (Editor’s note: Wow, never saw that one coming…) I mean, Landry literally jarred the ball loose from his body. Hard to pin the blame on that guy.

Which is why the whole clutch thing is an all-or-nothing affair. Just think of Santonio Holmes. The play before he made what is now being deemed “THE GREATEST CATCH EVER IN THE GREATEST GAME EVER WHICH LIKELY WAS THE MOST SPECTACULAR MOMENT IN THE HISTORY OF MAN,” he dropped a pass from Roethlisberger that was probably an easier play for him to make. In that moment, he was not clutch.

In the next, he became historically clutch. Of course, he never has that opportunity if Roethlisberger doesn’t make two beautiful throws in a row. And, on the other hand, he never gets that chance if he already doesn’t have a slew of catches on their final drive, for a ton of yards. He was pretty clutch the entire drive, as was Big Ben.

So, for a second, imagine that Big Ben drives them down the field, let’s say to the five. But what if he throws a perfect strike to a receiver, who lets it slip through his hands, off a shoulder pad, and into the arms of a defender?

Certainly, we wouldn’t say that Big Ben had choked. But we wouldn’t call him clutch, either, despite the fact that he did everything in his power to win the game, and another guy let him down. Clutch is tricky like that – you might do everything right, but if another guy screws up and you lose the game, you’re forgotten, irrelevant, just another loser. (Editor’s note: Life sure is a bitch). Clutch is fairly circumstantial; if David Tyree doesn’t make that circus catch on his helmet, would Eli Manning and clutch have ever ended up in the same breath? Sure, he did play some pretty good football down the stretch that year, but if not for that play, and subsequent victory, Eli’s name kind of disappears from football tales of yore, right?

Which makes it hard to properly designate a player as clutch . It’s like that old cliche – it’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it. The problem with cliches isn’t that they aren’t true, but rather that people use them way, way too much. But when talking about clutch, I’ll succumb to the cliche, because the cliche just gets it right. I don’t know what it is, but he’s got it, blah blah blah. Joe Montana was clutch. Tom Brady is clutch.  Ben Roethlisberger is becoming clutch.

This article is clutch. How do I know. Because with the point on the line, I pause and ask you, "Hey - isn't that a picture of John Candy over there?" And now, I'm a legend.

This article is clutch. How do I know? Because, with the point of the article hanging in the balance, I pause and ask you, "Hey - isn't that a picture of John Candy above this?" And now, I'm a legend.

Donovan McNabb is not clutch. Which is not to say that, in the near future, he can’t deliver a clutch performance. He is a talented guy, and I still think he has the ability to lead a team down the field and win the game for them. But if McNabb was clutch, we’re not even having this discussion. Clutch isn’t really disputable – you’re clutch, or you ain’t.

Think about the Phillies run this year, specifically the playoffs – what guys were consistently clutch? I’ll bet two names come to mind instantly – Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels. Didn’t even have to think about it, right? But the reason they popped into your head, if they did, was because each time they had the ball in their hands, you just kind of knew they were going to deliver. (Editor’s note: For once, no pun intended). As stressful as the last inning was against the Rays, I don’t think it was because anyone doubted Lidge. Rather, I think it was just 25 years of anticipation bursting from the fraying seams of that long-awaited moment.

When someone is clutch, you don’t really doubt him/her. When Micheal Jordan took a last-second shot, did you think he was going to miss? Nah, because he rarely did in that scenario. But when Donovan McNabb has the ball, late in the game, do you feel confident that the Eagles are going to win?

Probably not.

Now, I’m sure this somehow makes me an angry, bitter, negative McNabb hater. Surely, I must be ready to usher in the Kevin Kolb era. “To hell with McNabb,” I must be thinking. “That guy’s a bum – I miss Rodney Peete!” (Editor’s note: And I miss Holly Robinson Peete).

She could hang with my Mr. Cooper...

She could hang with my Mr. Cooper...

Couldn’t be further from the truth. But the fact is, the debate about McNabb rages on in this town. Some say he’s a choker, and some don’t think that’s fair. They don’t think his supporting cast does him any favors. I can’t argue with that. But the next time the Eagles have the ball late in the game, with the chance to win, check your gut. My guess will be it’s saying, “Uh oh – I kind of have a bad feeling about this.”

That doesn’t make Donovan a bad quarterback, and it doesn’t mean he can’t be clutch. He’s a pretty damn good QB, and I still have faith that he’s got a bit of clutch in him, somewhere. But it does mean he’s gotta let it out, and soon.

Because it would really be a damn shame if his legacy was that he couldn’t win the big one, couldn’t lead the team with the game on the line. Tragic, really. But when you think of Jim Kelly, four empty Super Bowl trips do come to mind. And he’s in the Hall of Fame, for God’s sake. That’s how these things works, unfortunately.

So put it out of our minds, Donovan. Win the big one – I promise we’ll forget the rest.


Filed under Eagles, NFL

2 responses to “Donovan McNabb, and the “Clutch” Conversation

  1. philcali

    Good stuff.

    However, if I may suggest, please lose the “Editor’s note” blurbs. They are annoying.

  2. See, I’m not the only one who thinks the Editor’s notes are annoying. Hah.

    That said, I think it’s hard to come up with a definition of choke artist that doesn’t pretty accurately describe the past 5-6 years of McNabb’s career. But then, you know what I think.

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