Couch was top pick, but McNabb is on brink of playoffs
CLEVELAND (AP) -- They were once No. 1 and No. 2, the first two players selected in the 1999 NFL draft. Since then, the pecking order has reversed for Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb.
So have their fortunes.
While Couch has missed most of his second season as quarterback of the Cleveland Browns with a broken thumb, McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles are one win away from making the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
That victory will likely come Sunday when the Eagles (9-5), 14-point favorites, visit the Browns (3-11), who can hardly wait for their disappointing and injury-riddled season to end.
"You know how when you're driving on 'E' and you're worried about running out of gas before you get to the station," said Browns cornerback Corey Fuller. "I think we can make it to the station. We know the finish to the season is right around the corner."
McNabb has had Philadelphia on cruise control and is the single biggest reason the Eagles have turned it around after going 5-11 in '99.
"We all know in the NFL it's an up-and-down situation," said McNabb, who has accounted for 74 percent of the Eagles' net yards on offense. "You may be on top one year and the next year fall a little bit."
McNabb's comments apply for teams and quarterbacks.
Unlike Couch, who spent his rookie season learning on the fly along with the rest of the expansion Browns, McNabb was groomed slowly by the Eagles.
He began the season as Doug Pederson's understudy, watching from the sideline before taking over as the starter in Week 10. All McNabb has done in his second season is lead the Eagles to nine wins, passed for 2,777 yards and 16 TDs and rushed for 597 yards and six scores.
"He's unbelievable," said Browns head coach Chris Palmer. "He's a highlight show every time you turn on the film."
McNabb has been grouped along with Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart, Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper and Tampa Bay's Shaun King as part of the NFL's new wave of quarterbacks -- so-so passers who may be more dangerous when they run with the ball.
McNabb, though, dismisses the idea that he's one-dimensional.
"Watch the film," he said when asked what he would tell critics who say he's simply a running quarterback.
Palmer said McNabb, one of five QBs taken in the first round, was on the Browns' short list as they prepared for the '99 draft. However, when it came down choosing the finalists, Palmer was looking for a pure, drop-back passer.
McNabb said he never looked at not being taken by the Browns as the No. 1 overall pick as a slight.
"Maybe they liked Tim Couch," he said.
McNabb said the time he spent on the sideline was an invaluable teaching tool, and that once the Eagles were turned over to him for good he knew what to expect.
"It prepared me for all the blitzes that I may be facing and the way teams want to attack the quarterback," he said. "I got a good feel of all that, and once I was able to get out there a couple times I was able to get adjusted to the speed of the game."
Couch, through no fault of his own, had his development slowed to a crawl during his second season.
After struggling through training camp, Couch had seemingly hit his stride and began the season by throwing five TD passes in the first three games as the Browns got off to a shocking 2-1 start.
He threw eight interceptions in his next four games and had his season ended when he fractured his right thumb on the final play of practice on Oct. 19. Couch was following through on a pass when his hand crashed into linebacker Ryan Taylor's arm.
The Browns' season crashed that day, too.
"When we lost Couch, we went right down the tubes," Palmer said.
After surgery, Couch suddenly found himself in the same position McNabb was in last year as a cheerleader and student.
"I wanted to be out there playing as soon as I could and learn on the run," said Couch, who will start throwing again in three weeks. "Now I've had a chance to learn on the run, and now I've had a chance to sit back and watch things. So hopefully, that will help next season when I get back on the field."
Couch, whose 63.7 completion percentage still ranks him No. 2 in the AFC, said his thumb hasn't hurt as much as his heart. It's been tough to see his teammates get pounded week after week.
"I want to be out there and I want to compete," he said. "I want to play no matter how bad things are. It's been a frustrating time. Hopefully, I'll never have to go through it again."
An injury has temporarily put Couch behind McNabb and Culpepper, a position he wants to improve.
"I want to be better than all those guys," he said. "That's definitely one of my goals."