McNabb vs. Culpepper proves no contest

Eagles QB gets best of Vikings star in clash of '99 draftees

November 13, 2001|By Bill Conlin | Bill Conlin,PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS

PHILADELPHIA - Every NFL game develops a theme. Six long days are wedged between kickoffs. In many places, the buildup and the game are the biggest event of the week, transcending even crime and local politics.

Last week was a no-brainer here. Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper, the second and fourth quarterbacks selected in the deep 1999 draft, would go mano a mano for the first time. Or QB-o a QB-o, if you prefer.

McNabb played less than half a season for Andy Reid's doormat '99 Eagles. Culpepper, inactive in 14 games, didn't throw a pass. Last year, both young men took their teams to the playoffs.

This would be a great game for comparisons, right? Culpepper is a huge young man who runs like a fullback. McNagg is a large young man who runs like a halfback. One batters, the other flits like a 225-pound hummingbird. Each has a rocket launcher attached to his right shoulder.

You saw it for yourself. Maybe now you even believe ...

Duel of the '99 QBs was as lopsided as Bernard Hopkins vs. Felix Trinidad.

And if the NFL played by the rules of boxing, McNabb would have TKO'd Culpepper in the second quarter. Everybody head home at halftime.

McNabb began the quarter with a 10-play, 91-yard drive that ended with his 12-yard scamper up the middle, a piece of footwork that left the area around the 5-yard line littered with jockstraps. After a Vikings field goal, McNabb engineered three more scoring drives that left the frauds who showed up impersonating the Vikings trailing by 31-3.

"As a young offense, we took a big step," said Duce Staley, who showed up for the game disguised as Marshall Faulk and performed accordingly.

With McNabb making the much-maligned West Coast offense look like the sleek, infallible engine of destruction Reid told us it would be, Culpepper was pretty much reduced to running for his life.

There were valuable football lessons to be learned watching the poised execution of McNabb juxtaposed against the rat-in-a-maze scrambling of Culpepper.

One lesson was that it doesn't matter if your receiving corps is led by near-certain future Hall of Famer Cris Carter and Randy Moss, still considered by some to be the best player in the NFL.

Nope, if Culpepper is 90 percent of the running game with his best feature back injured and an offensive line that couldn't hold out a blitzing Girl Scout troop, the kid could have Don Hutson and Jerry Rice and it wouldn't matter. Nor is he McNabb's equal in red-zone decision-making. There, he tends to fade it up and hope Carter or Moss can outleap the coverage.

On the other hand, when McNabb found James Thrash all alone in the back of the end zone for a 14-yard, first-quarter score, he could have counted all the way to "six Mississippi." Then he could have recited the 50 states in alphabetical order and read a few chapters of "War and Peace."

But if the Vikings' pass rush was more polite than Tokyo subway commuters, their defense against the run pulsed between soft and nonexistent. There will be a lot of guys visiting their manicurists today after sitting through the horror of the game film. Fingernails torn and split while trying to make arm tackles need immediate care.

While the Vikings recovered from whiplash, windburn and other injuries traditionally suffered by men intent on living to fight another day, Staley spent an amazing amount of time cavorting in the open field, a rare delight for a man accustomed to painful, 3-yard advances through a swarm of muggers.

Riverboat Andy got on an early playbook roll. Everything he selected from that data base he lugs on the sideline - he looks like a 1955 accountant doing a field audit - worked. When Staley ran up the gut for 5 yards on the Eagles' first play, followed by four consecutive passes and a punt, it looked like more of the same-old, same-old. Another deadly dull evening of 3 yards and a cloud of rust.

But Reid changed up more than Omar Daal, unleashing McNabb and Staley from every formation but shotgun, spreading the field, even getting a pair of first downs from gadget reverses run by Thrash and Freddie Mitchell.

Renowned for poor clock management, false starts in critical situations, or too many men (or not enough) on the field, the Eagles were penalized just twice for 8 yards. They turned the ball over only once. And when McNabb suffered his only sack for minus-1 yard, the game was deep into garbage time.

Culpepper showed brief flashes of his enormous talent. But he was in escape mode, not aggressively attacking a defense that was in his face like a Bud Selig contraction edict.

On the Eagles' side of the football, it was confirmed once again that when McNabb was announced as the draft's second pick through a chorus of boos, Reid made the right choice. If a book or a film should ever come out of that infamous day in New York, the title should be: "Angelo's Ashes."

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