We can slice up Donovan McNabb's numbers a lot of different ways. We can point out his passer rating (82.9) is at least decent and note that he has only thrown two interceptions this season (despite it feeling like more). We can remember the several first halves when the Vikings seemed unstoppable. We can also recall the second-half collapses, the many third-down failures and the almost complete lack of a vertical passing game.
We can talk about McNabb's accuracy or his mechanics. We can point out that he hasn't been as bad as the hyper-critical would like to point out -- that his errant passes, many of them low, are highlighted while his on-target completions are largely forgotten.
But coming off a flat-out startling 39-10 loss to the Bears -- a game which, going in, we really thought the Vikings would and should win based on matchups and strengths -- this much is clear: McNabb as the team's starting QB is just not working. He is far from the only thing on this team that isn't working. The offensive line was already a mess before two of its more functional members -- John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt -- left last night's game with injuries. The pass defense too often leaves receivers wide open, particularly when the pass rush disappears (as it did for long stretches last night). And the offensive play-calling, as a whole, appears to have no rhythm -- a fact reinforced again last night when the Blazer package with Joe Webb was dropped from the sky like a late romantic subplot killing the momentum of a good action movie. The offense vacillates between predictable and random, the latter being much different than surprising.
The offensive play-calling can be fixed. The offensive line and the pass defense will require more significant investments of bodies and time. The quarterback position can be changed, and should be changed immediately and permanently. Christian Ponder is the future, but the glimpse we received last night showed that he could very well be the present when it comes to giving the Vikings the best chance to win. He threw wildly a few times -- maybe nerves, maybe just part of his game we'll have to live with -- but he hardly looked overmatched. He was very accurate on slants. He kept plays alive with his feet (proving that, despite one of the arguments against playing him this early, he just might survive despite a leaky offensive line). And he at least seemed willing (and able) to get the ball downfield.
Starting McNabb next week against the Packers would create a purely toxic atmosphere at Mall of America Field. Fans would boo loudly, and even though this is hardly all Donovan's fault, it would be justified. Even those fickle, demanding patrons are correct at this point that it just isn't working. And even if they're in love with the new guy primarily because he's new, they would be correct in asserting that Ponder is the best choice as the starter. We wanted to see the switch two games ago. When it didn't happen, we tried to look objectively again at McNabb. And we're just not seeing it. If we're going to keep 2011 relevant and meaningful, at this point, Ponder needs to start.