Webb proving to be no average Joe
LANDOVER, Md. - The ghost of playmakers past visited the Vikings on Saturday in time for a Christmas Eve miracle that cushioned the blow of losing two major offensive stars.
Joe Webb, who has spent two years as the forgotten quarterback on Minnesota's ever-shifting depth chart, made another spectacular relief appearance to drive a second-half stake through the Washington Redskins and salvage a 33-26 victory at FedEx Field.
Webb's three-touchdown performance gives him five in relief of rookie Christian Ponder in two December games this season, not to mention a Dec. 28, 2010, road victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in his first NFL start.
Of all the drama and despair surrounding the Vikings during this wretched season, no one should have imagined Webb, the former sixth-round draft pick out of unheralded Alabama-Birmingham, at the center of a potential quarterback controversy that has materialized out of thin air. Not the least of whom is Webb, who deftly declined to bite on any opportunity to stump for the starting job.
"That's up to the coaches. I'm just playing my role right now," said Webb. "Whenever my number's called, I need to step up and show the guys that I am able to play quarterback at this level."
Coach Leslie Frazier said the club must take a "harder look" at Webb's future.
"Some of the things he does, man, and what it does to the rest of our team, you can't ignore it," he said.
Webb completed 4 of 5 passes for 84 yards and rushed five times for 34 more yards in leading four scoring drives after Ponder left the game with a concussion early in the third quarter. Ponder went down one play after running back Adrian Peterson suffered a serious knee injury, a 1-2 punch that could have devastated the Vikings.
Instead, the "B" squad delivered. Toby Gerhart ripped off a 67-yard run to set up Webb's 9-yard scoring run. Webb also threw touchdown passes of 17 and 9 yards, respectively, to tight end Kyle Rudolph and Percy Harvin, the latter set up by a beautifully delivered 36-yard completion to Harvin that sheared off the top of Washington's secondary.
Webb's ability to challenge defenses with his arm and legs has confounded two teams. Two weeks ago in Detroit, he relieved an ineffective Ponder and orchestrated a pair of touchdown drives that included a team-record 65-yard touchdown run.
He almost completed a comeback victory by marching the Vikings 79 yards in the final minutes before the Lions stopped the surge by forcing Webb to fumble near the goal line.
"Magical. Magical," Harvin marveled about Webb's second-half theatrics. "He's gifted. You can't practice it. Not too many teams have quarterbacks that can do what he does. He's one of the best athletes on this team and, I think, in the league."
Harvin also refused to declare Webb a worthy challenger to Ponder, the rookie who ascended to No. 1 after season-opening starter Donovan McNabb flopped.
"I just told him to keep making plays and leave that up to the front office," Harvin said. "He's done a lot of good things, even back to last year beating the Eagles on the road. All he does is make plays."
Harvin described Webb as a "gunslinger" and said his command of the huddle reminded him of former teammate Brett Favre, a future hall of famer and the most fearless miracle worker of them all.
"If the guys see me come in with great confidence knowing that we can go down and score, they're going to rally around me," Webb said. "I just came in with great spirit, and it was a great win for us today."
Webb was drafted as a wide receiver and relegated to third-string quarterback last year behind Favre and Tarvaris Jackson. Injuries, however, forced Webb into action in Week 16, when he outplayed Michael Vick and the playoff-bound Eagles in snowbound Philadelphia to lead the Vikings to a 24-14 nationally televised victory.
Favre retired, and Jackson departed via free agency. The Vikings drafted Ponder to be the quarterback of the future and signed McNabb as a misguided short-term solution.
Ponder had regressed in his past three starts, and now his health is in question entering the Vikings' season finale Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
Perhaps the Webb era already has begun.