By Dennis J. Freeman
The rust of a lockout didn’t seem to bother the play of the NFL first week. It sure didn’t seem to have any impact on the San Diego Chargers’ defense. However, the long offseason holdover may have bothered Minnesota Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb.
McNabb, once a perennial Pro Bowl quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles, could not get untracked against a Bob Sanders-led Chargers’ defense in a first game matchup of the regular season. What it looked like was McNabb performing as if he is still recovering from the shock of being traded away last year to the Washington Redskins.
Now the starting signal-caller for the Vikings now that Brett Farve has decided to stay home in Mississippi, McNabb didn’t get the start he and his team desired that he would have, completing just 7-of-15 passes for a grand total of 39 yards and one touchdown in a 24-17 defeat to the San Diego Chargers.
McNabb’s first official throw in his first game as a Viking turned into an interception.
Not a good omen. But McNabb, who took the Eagles to five NFC championship games and one Super Bowl appearance, has a knack of bouncing back when all seem to be lost and all the haters begin to pile on. Afterwards, in a postgame conference, McNabb was upset about the productivity the Vikings’ passing attack had on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“We had our opportunities today,” McNabb said. “They’re a tough team. That was embarrassing.[ But] we’ll get it corrected. We’ll get this thing going. Offensively, we could have did a whole lot better.“
This was not the Donovan McNabb people are used to seeing. Sure, he broke through with a couple of his vintage runs here and there. But there were no real conscious effort to throw the ball deep. There were no innovative passing schemes, no adaptations or adjustments made. A lot of that had to do with Minnesota’s play-calling, not so much with McNabb.
His ineffectiveness on the day also had a lot to do with the Chargers, led by Sanders and linebacker Takeo Spikes, bent on sending a defensive message to the team that wear the same colors as the famed Purple People Eaters.
“We’re a bunch of new guys, so we were really just focused on playing together, playing fast and playing smart,” Sanders said. “For the most part, we did that. I felt like we all did a great job. It’s a team game. You don’t want to point one guy out specifically, but I think all-around, we did a great job today.”
Sanders, one of the more feared, hard-hitting players in the league, signed with the Chargers in the offseason, a move that paid off immediately, judging from the way he and the rest of the Charger’s defense contained McNabb and Minnesota’s offense.
“I can get better,” said Sanders. “I felt like there were a few plays that I could have made that I probably didn’t make, so I just have to keep working. We got a win, so just have to keep going.”
Still, McNabb’s presence on the game went MIA. And there are some people who are ready to throw McNabb overboard after his first game performance. But Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson and head coach Leslie Frasier are not in that group. Peterson went to bat for his quarterback after the game, saying the team still believes in their starting quarterback.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence,” Peterson said.
By no means is McNabb finished. Peterson said he would call it an abbreviation for a player who has a history of coming up big in big games. Frasier wasn’t putting the loss solely on McNabb’s massive shoulders, saying he would have to evaluate what the team did wrong overall before the assessment on what went misfired from the passing game against the Chargers.
“We came out in the first half, moved the football,” Frasier said. “Our expectations weren’t that we were not going to move the football. As a football team we have to rebound.”