Former quarterback and current NFL analyst Donovan McNabb made headlines this week on Chicago’s The Game 87.7 FM, calling Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler the ‘Tony Romo of the Midwest’ and criticizing both Cutler and Dallas’s Romo for their propensity to turn the ball over and inability to lead their teams to playoff success.
McNabb, who said in the interview that Cutler and Romo are “an accident waiting to happen,” later elaborated on his comparison: “We can talk about arm talent, we can talk about ‘can throw a ball through a wall’ or put up 280, 340 yards passing, but you look across the board, he’s got two interceptions in the game that cost him maybe 14 points or so. That hurts a football team. Now can he play in this league? Absolutely, he’s proven that. But … quarterbacks are measured by your body of work, meaning your win-loss record, your numbers that you put up, and then the end-all, be-all pretty much is: How many playoff wins do you have? How many playoff appearances do you have? If you only have one to show for almost a decade of play, that means you can’t lead your team to the playoffs and the question is why … they’ve had some talent around [Cutler], that has never been the issue. Now it’s just: Can you put it all together? To be honest … the answer is no.”
The former Eagles great’s pointed comments got us thinking: Which quarterback, Cutler or Romo, should be more offended by McNabb’s comments? Put simply, would you rather have the Bears QB or the Cowboys QB right now? Or, is it possible that both men should be rightly upset by such criticism about a lack of playoff success coming from a man without a Super Bowl ring?
We decided to break down Cutler versus Romo — and throw in McNabb for good measure — in several crucial categories for a quarterback to see how the players, past and present, measure up. (All stats and records are from Pro-Football-Reference.com.)
Both Romo and Cutler made their first starts as an NFL quarterback in 2006. Since then, Cutler has thrown for 25,613 yards between his time with the Broncos and now the Bears, while Romo has amassed 31,075. Going into 2014, that meant Cutler has averaged 2,992 yards per season through the air, well behind Romo’s 3,695 per year. To put the current quarterbacks’ numbers in perspective, let’s look at McNabb: During his 11 years with the Eagles (we’ll avoid the short-lived Washington/Minnesota era to be kind and fair), McNabb threw for 32,873 yards, or an average of 2,988 per seasons.
As Cutler and Romo prepare for this weekend’s games, the Dallas quarterback has a significant edge in career passer rating. Romo’s career rating is 96.0, with two different seasons over 100, while Cutler’s is just 85.4. As for Donovan McNabb, he checks in at 85.6 for his career (although 86.5 during his time in Philly), nearly identical to Cutler’s ranking.
Tony Romo has thrown for 219 touchdowns during his 8 1/2 years as a starter in the National Football League, or three more than McNabb threw in 11 seasons with the Eagles. (McNabb finished his career with 234.) Cutler is a bit off the pace with 168 touchdown passes in all: 54 for Denver, 114 — and counting — for ‘Da Bears.’
Moving on to interceptions, McNabb’s analysis finally seems to hold a little more water. The ex-Eagle threw 100 picks in 11 seasons for Philadelphia, finishing his career with 117, while Romo already has 106 and Cutler 118 (including a league-high 26 in 2009, Cutler’s first year in the Windy City).
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, McNabb led 17 fourth quarter comebacks and 25 game-winning drives during his time in the NFL. Those are nice numbers — until we look at Cutler/Romo, the so-called “accident waiting to happen.” At age 31, Cutler has matched McNabb’s 17 career comebacks and already owns 21 game-winning drives, while Romo’s late-game prowess includes 22 fourth quarter comebacks and 26 game-winning drives in all.
If you measure playoff success by how many times a quarterback leads his team to the postseason, McNabb easily has the edge over Cutler or Romo. The Eagles made eight playoff appearances during McNabb’s time in the City of Brotherly Love, with McNabb posting a 9-7 record as a starting quarterback in the postseason. Comparatively, Romo is just 1-3 and Cutler 1-1 in those win-or-go-home games. However, if you measure playoff success by how many times a quarterback leads his team to the promised land, McNabb has no room to talk. In five all time trips to the NFL’s final four, he managed just one Super Bowl appearance and zero rings.
If anyone should be insulted by what Donovan McNabb said on the radio this week, it’s Tony Romo. While Romo hasn’t had a great deal of postseason success, his owner masquerading as general manager, Jerry Jones, bears every bit — if not more — of the blame than Romo does. Yes, as McNabb said, Romo has put up great numbers, but the Cowboys quarterback also has led his team to plenty of wins. He doesn’t deserve to have his name used as an insult for another player. The other person that should feel — if not insulted — at least confused by what McNabb had to say is Cutler. Considering where McNabb ranks in comparison to the men he was discussing in every major statistical category, the former Eagle would have been just as accurate to say Cutler is the ‘McNabb of the Midwest’ as the ‘Romo of the Midwest.’ Doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? (Sorry, Donovan, we just had to mention that elusive ‘ring’ one more time.)
*Correction: An earlier version of this story referenced an incorrect date for when the Cowboys play the Bears. That game is December 4, 2014.