NFC 'Easter

January 2, 2010 12:09 AM

A Tale of Two Quarterbacks: McNabb and Romo Fighting for their Legacy

Tony Romo.jpegThe Philadelphia Eagles-Dallas Cowboys game will obviously be compelling because the NFC East crown is on the line. Both teams have already clinched playoff berths.

All that said, one of the underlying story lines of this game is that it represents a crossroads for a pair of quarterbacks who have received constant criticism from their respective fan bases for not being good enough to lead their teams.

At the end of this game, one of these quarterbacks will be roundly criticized by their home fans because once again they have failed to lead their team to a win in a big game.

Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo are at the opposite ends of their career. In 11 years in Philadelphia, McNabb has been vilified by fans and the local media for not being good enough to lead his team to a Super Bowl title. Romo has been the whipping boy in Dallas for the last three years for not being able to get wins in December and January.

Never mind that he is the winningest quarterback in Eagles history and has led the Birds to five NFC Championship appearances in his 10 years, McNabb still has an 800-pound gorilla on his back since the day they booed him on draft day. For him, nothing less than a Super Bowl ring will endear McNabb to Philadelphia Eagles fans, many of whom have blamed him for the team's inability to bring the City of Brotherly Love its first NFL title since 1960.

In the aftermath of last year's NFC Championship loss to the Arizona Cardinals, McNabb was loudly blamed for the Eagles 32-25 loss. In a game in which he rallied his team back from a 24-6 halftime deficit to taking the lead midway through the fourth game, the local sports talk radio call-in shows were bombarded by fans who screamed for McNabb's head.

Meanwhile, in Dallas, Romo's brief career as the Cowboys quarterback has been defined by his teams failure to win in December in January. In 2006 playoffs, a fumbled snap by Romo on a field goal against the Seattle Seahawks ended the Cowboys season postseason run. In 2007, the heavily favored Cowboys were upset by the Giants who went onto win the Super Bowl.

Then there was last year's debacle at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia when the Eagles ended the Cowboys run for the postseason with a humiliating 44-6 in the season finale. The blame for that loss and for that season ending the way it did  was at the feet of both Romo and former Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens, who was ultimately sent packing.

Both the Eagles and the Cowboys got to Sunday's critical game on the strength of McNabb and Romo.
With the exception of 2004 when the Eagles had Terrell Owens, McNabb has not had that gamebreaking deep threat at the wide receiver spot. This season, second-year wide receiver DeSean Jackson has emerged as the Birds gamebreaker at the wide-out position. Seven of Jackson's nine touchdowns have been from  35 yards and deeper.

Four of McNabb's receivers have more 40 or more receptions for 500 yards or more. McNabb also has a reliable tight end in Brent Celek, who has a team-leading 69 catches for 875 yards with eight touchdowns.

Oddly, enough the always pass-happy Eagles have run the ball enough to keep teams off balance. The versatile fullback Leonard Weaver has been a pretty good go-to back on short yardage plays. Rookie LeSean McCoy is also having a good season with 633 yards rushing (4.1 average) and four touchdowns.

McNabb has guided the Eagles to six straight wins, including three come-from-behind wins, thanks to his offensive weapons and the wisdom of the Eagles coaching staff to show some balance on offense by occasionally running the football.

Meanwhile, Romo is beginning to mature as an NFL quarterback. He is the NFL's sixth rated passer with 24 touchdown passes against eight interceptions and has passed for over 4,000 yards. The Cowboys, thanks to running of Marion Barber, have the NFL's third best offense in total yardage. If anything, Romo has shown some mental toughness even when his team has struggled.

With the Cowboys recent history of falling apart in December, Romo has led his team to two straight wins last month including a huge road upset of the previously unbeaten New Orleans Saints. When Dallas lost their first two games in December, Romo was unfazed by all the talk of another Cowboys fade.

But something's going to give this Sunday. McNabb could be in the midst of what will probably be one last run for the Super Bowl in an Eagles uniform. If McNabb and the Eagles win they could possibly garner the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Whether it's fair or not, McNabb's legacy in Philadelphia will be judged on whether or not he takes his team to the Super Bowl and win it. The hard part of all this is that McNabb's window of opportunity is slowly closing. If he doesn't get it done this year, McNabb may never do it all.

While he is younger and may have more opportunities, Romo still has a lot to prove as well. After leading the Cowboys to two wins in December, Romo now has to show that he can do it in the playoffs, something he hasn't done since he became the Cowboys starting quarterback.

Although their careers going in different directions, the one common bond that McNabb and Romo have is that no matter how many wins regular-season wins they accumulate, they will be defined by what they do over the next four weeks.

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