For the second straight week, when we look at the most striking storyline of the upcoming game, we once again have to look at the quarterback position. Last week, the professional debuts of Jake Locker and Christian Ponder took center stage. Given the history that is involved, is seems only natural that the battle between Donovan McNabb and Tarvaris Jackson is this week's matchup to watch.
When it became clear that Brad Childress was out as Vikings coach, Leslie Frazier was in and Brett Favre was gone, many could have envisioned Jackson seeking to get his job back with the Vikings. Instead, the Vikings made him an unrestricted free agent when the lockout ended and made him no offer – punctuating that statement by giving away Jackson's number to Christian Ponder and leaving no doubt about his chances on returning after the lockout.
When the NFL did come back to business, the Vikings made a trade to acquire McNabb, which was a stroke of irony given the previous five years. When the Vikings drafted Jackson, Childress consistently drew comparisons between Jackson and McNabb. As one of the coaches that helped in the maturation of McNabb as a QB, Chilly was convinced that Jackson could become a similar quarterback.
Having that kind of pressure can be difficult on any young QB. After getting thrown into the mix late in his rookie season, Jackson started 12 games in 2007, posting an 8-4 record but being sidelined three different times due to injury. In 2008, when he got off to a 0-2 start, it was clear the Jackson Experiment was over. He came back late in the year and helped the Vikings win the NFC North. But, after a dismal playoff performance against McNabb and the Eagles, it again seemed obvious that the Vikings had the talent to be a Super Bowl contender with a better QB. Enter Favre and exit T-Jack's dream of being a starter in Minnesota.
McNabb said this week that he remains in close contact with Jackson. Childress introduced the two shortly after the Vikings drafted Jackson and asked McNabb to take him under his wing. Since then, the two have remained in contact and McNabb sung the praises of Jackson's ability.
Where things will get interesting is that Seahawks fans have no experience with Jackson and some of the things he does – like throw ill-advised jump passes that get an entire crowd to gasp in astonishment. He was good for one of two of those plays a game. More times than not, he got away with it, but, when he didn't, it could produce a game-changer in the wrong direction.
Jackson was effectively handed the starting job by Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll over incumbent Charlie Whitehurst, whom Carroll traded for paid low-end starter money to be a backup. Jackson has the Golden Ticket in his hand. All he has to do now is not mess it up.
That's where the Vikings come in. Jackson is likely to play most, if not all, of the first half and this will be his first real coming out party in front of his home fans. If he performs well, the 12th Man in Seattle will likely endorse the coach's decision. If he fails in a big way, the call will go out for change.
While McNabb is in a much different situation with the Vikings – new offense, no familiarity with his receivers, etc. – he is in a position that he needs to prove that he can lead the Vikings offense. His first appearance was a two-drive effort in which he converted a trio of third downs but didn't get the ball past midfield. He needs to show that things are different in Minnesota than they were when the team fell apart early and often last year.
Both players, one the mentor and the other his long-distance correspondence student, will get their first extended action with their new teams. Both have big shoes to fill and both need a strong performance to put the fans of their teams at ease that their team made the right decision on what quarterback to hook their short-term futures on. To date, that process has been in the form of talk and theoretical scenarios. Saturday night it gets real for most of the first half. The talking the talk will stop and, for both McNabb and Jackson, the walk will begin – making this another QB-centric key matchup.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Key matchup: QB mentor meets student
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