Shaun King reminds Philadelphia defenders of Donovan McNabb, the quarterback the Eagles face every day in practice.
King has more in common with McNabb than being a fellow member of the quarterback class of ’99. Neither is a typical pocket passer, both are considered playmakers and they’re good friends.
That friendship will be put aside when the Eagles play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers today in an NFC wild-card game.
"[King] and Donovan have some of the same abilities,” Eagle linebacker Barry Gardner said. “You just have to be disciplined. Our defensive line has to be conscious of him running the ball. The secondary and the linebackers know we have to play the run as well as the pass.”
King, drafted 50th overall in 1999, started the final seven games last season, became the second rookie quarterback to win a playoff game and nearly led the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl. The St. Louis Rams beat Tampa Bay, 11-6, in the NFC championship game.
Meanwhile, McNabb, the No. 2 pick overall, struggled in six 1999 starts as the Eagles finished 5-11. But McNabb returned this year to lead Philadelphia to the playoffs for the first time in four years and finished second to Marshall Faulk in voting for league most valuable player.
“They’re similar-type guys,” Tampa Bay Coach Tony Dungy said. “They are guys who have been winners. They’ve been leaders throughout college. They’re used to winning. They’re used to making plays.”
Both quarterbacks can beat teams with their legs or arms. McNabb led all quarterbacks with 629 yards rushing and had six touchdowns. King ran for 353 yards and five scores.
“It’s like another running back in there,” Gardner said. “If things break down, then he’s the kind of guy who can get you out of trouble.”
Even King admits that McNabb is the better runner, though.
“No way can I run like he does,” King said. “I can’t get to that level.”
King has a knack for big plays. In a 38-35 Monday night victory over the Rams two weeks ago, King took a pitch from Warrick Dunn and ran 29 yards to keep a fourth-quarter drive alive. He was 11 of 16 passing for 133 yards and one touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 17-14 loss to Green Bay last week.
“I think in years to come when they begin to develop that chemistry with the guys they have over there, I think a lot of people will be very excited about having Shaun King,” McNabb said. “When we were drafted, there were a lot of questions that flared up if we could be the one that leads the team. Well, we haven’t had any problems lately, but we are definitely growing into the quarterbacks in which we prepared ourselves to be.”
McNabb threw for 3,365 yards, 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season. King had 2,769 yards passing, 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
McNabb lost star running back Duce Staley in Week 5 and has an average group of receivers. King has a solid running game with Dunn and Mike Alstott and a top receiving threat in Keyshawn Johnson.
The turning point for the Eagles may have been losing Staley. Philadelphia was 8-3 without Staley, who accounted for 38% of the Eagles’ offense the previous two seasons.
“Maybe when Duce went down, I think a lot of the guys sort of questioned themselves and asked themselves whether they are really doing their job to the best of their ability,” McNabb said. “That was an opportunity for guys to really step up and make a name for themselves. I think we just continued to get better as the weeks went by.”