What Wentz can learn from McNabb's 2003 start


Donovan McNabb was worse. Way worse.

Carson Wentz has been one of the NFL’s worst quarterbacks these first two weeks, but 17 years ago, McNabb was even worse the first two weeks of the 2003 season.

Carson this year: 59% completion, 512 passing yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs, 64.4 passer rating.

Donovan in 2003: 45% completion, 334 passing yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs, 41.4 passer rating.

The similarities are striking.

McNabb was in his 5th season, Wentz is in his 5th season. They were both 27 years old. The 2003 Eagles were coming off a playoff appearance, and so are the 2020 Eagles. McNabb finished the previous year very strong and so did Wentz. The Eagles didn’t just lose their first two games, they got killed. McNabb had never had worse back-to-back games and neither has Carson. Another curious similarity – McNabb and Wentz were each sacked eight times in one of those early losses.

That 2003 Eagles team had a bye week after opening the season with a 17-0 loss to the Buccaneers and a 31-10 loss to the Patriots, both at the Linc.

Like McNabb or not, you have to admire the way he bounced back from that miserable start in 2003. 

He had the perfect attitude as the Eagles prepared to return to action.

And it paid off.

“It’s not like we haven’t lost games before,” McNabb told reporters after that 0-2 start. “It’s something you go through as a player. Every player has been through it before or is going through it right now. Just when things were hot, things are not. It’s not like I can’t change anything or that I haven’t shown that I can change. It’s not a problem.”


There are a couple differences.

McNabb had more of a proven track record at that point. He was already a three-time Pro Bowler, had been to the playoffs three times, and reached two NFC Championship Games.

Wentz did make the Pro Bowl in 2016, but his playoff resume consists of three passes against the Seahawks last year before he suffered a concussion.

But they were both proven veterans trying to work through the worst slump of their life.

McNabb was asked what his approach would be when the Eagles returned to action against the Bills at Rich Stadium the following week.

“Going out there and making plays and having fun doing it - that’s something that just didn’t happen the first two weeks,” he said. “You get back and watch some of the old games, getting out of the pocket and making plays or dropping back in the pocket, hitting receivers and watching them run downfield. Delivering it, and if nothing’s there, checking down to the backs or right ends. You’re seeing things like that happen and you know what you’re capable of doing. All you have to do is go out and do it.”

The references to getting out of the pocket and not forcing the ball if there’s nothing there are uncanny. That quote could have been Wentz this week, but it’s McNabb 17 years ago.

Same with this one:

“There is no time for panic,” McNabb said in September of 2003. “There is no time to hang your head. You stay positive and before you know it, we’ll be back in this thing. What’s more exciting is the NFC East is wide open. If we focus on one game at a time, we’ll be fine.”

McNabb was right.

The Eagles went into Buffalo and beat the Bills, then beat Washington at the Linc. After a loss in Dallas, they won nine straight, finished 12-4, won the division, earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs and reached a third straight NFC title game.

McNabb finished strong, with 13 TDs and 4 INTs over the final nine games and made his fourth straight Pro Bowl. A year later, the Eagles went to the Super Bowl.

None of this means Wentz will bounce back and it doesn’t mean the Eagles will bounce back. 

But it does mean you really never know. 

We learned a lot about McNabb the rest of that 2003 season, and whatever happens, there’s no doubt we’ll learn a lot about Wentz the rest of this season.