Vikings' Jackson, like Eagles' McNabb, had issues of his own

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. _ The text message came across Tarvaris Jackson's phone just after news of his demotion broke. "Stay confident. Keep working. It happens. You'll get another shot. Make sure you're ready.' The sender? Donovan McNabb. Jackson fo...

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. _ The text message came across Tarvaris Jackson's phone just after news of his demotion broke.

"Stay confident. Keep working. It happens. You'll get another shot. Make sure you're ready.'

The sender? Donovan McNabb.

Jackson followed McNabb's instructions and today, after enduring a 10 1/2-game benching, will start the first playoff game of his three-year career against a 10-year veteran with a 7-5 postseason record. Is it a coincidence? Not likely.

While McNabb has had his own tumultuous season, highlighted during the second half of the Eagles' loss at Baltimore when McNabb watched from the sideline, this season has been a trying one for the 25-year-old Jackson. Ever since he emerged as a highly-rated prospect at Alabama State, Jackson has been compared to McNabb _ strong arm, able to run when necessary, a likable teammate and fun guy _ but early in his third season, the comparisons stopped.


When the Vikings started this season 0-2 after two shaky starts by Jackson, Brad Childress benched Jackson. Childress had selected Jackson in the second round of the 2006 draft in part because Jackson reminded him of McNabb. Jackson was his guy. Demoting him was tough, but the decision was defensible.

In losses to the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts, Jackson had been erratic, clumsy and careless with the football. His numbers: 30 of 59 (.508 completion percentage) for 308 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. With the fans howling and his job likely on the line, Childress made the decision to go with 15-year veteran Gus Frerotte.

At the time, Childress said Frerotte would be the starter for the rest of the season, a decision that Jackson didn't agree with or like.

"At the time it happened so early, I was surprised," Jackson said. "I wasn't happy about it, but you know, now you look at it, it kind of helped. It helped a lot.

"I never want to be in that position again, but you've got to think about it from coach's point of view. We were supposed to be one of best teams in the NFC, and when you start off 0-2. ... He did what he felt was best for the team. I didn't agree at the time, but it worked out."

Frerotte steadied the Vikings, and during the next 10 games, he led Minnesota to seven wins, including three when the Vikings trailed in the fourth quarter. In 10 starts, Frerotte had 17 passes of 25 yards or longer, and he engaged wide receiver Bernard Berrian, a free agent acquisition who has scored a touchdown in six of the Vikings' last nine games and has four 100-yard receiving games this season. Like Jackson, Frerotte had his issues protecting the football _ 15 interceptions and 12 touchdowns - but he won games.

All the while, Jackson watched. He had put so much pressure on himself early in the season that he used the time to retrench, to continue working out, to learn how to manage a game.

"He took it hard at first," Minnesota offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "But, to his credit, after whatever you want to call it, the madness, the opportunity to sulk and those kinds of things, I thought he came back and he rebounded. He started preparing himself again like, 'there's still an opportunity, one thing happens to Gus and I'm back in there.'


"(Jackson) put that on himself. He studied. He watched, and that was probably the biggest thing for him. I think he just learned how to manage the game, what we're trying to do with the offense, take care of the football as the No. 1 thing, and just go play and not have the weight of Minnesota on his shoulders."

In his 11th start against Detroit in Week 14, Frerotte broke a bone in his lower back, and just like that, Jackson was back in the game. The Vikings beat the Lions, 20-16, and the next week whipped Arizona on the road, with Jackson completing 11 of 17 passes for 163 yards and four touchdowns, including three in the first half.

The next week, Frerotte was ready to play against Atlanta, but Childress stuck with Jackson.

In the Vikings' last 3{ games of the season -- three wins and one loss -- Jackson completed 64 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and one pick. That was what Childress wanted to see.

Jackson said he is more comfortable and had more fun in these last few weeks. He also took note when McNabb was benched, but he couldn't return the courtesy and text McNabb. Jackson lost McNabb's number when he inadvertently submerged his phone in water.

"I was actually watching TV (Wednesday) night, and they had his stats from the first nine games," Jackson said. "I guess they expected him to be better, but 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, that's not just horrible. Quarterbacks get pretty much all the blame when they're losing and all the credit when you're winning, but sometimes it don't always work out like that. Sometimes you need help.

"I'm not real sure what was going on because I didn't watch him a lot, but I'm just happy he got back in there and got another chance. They've been good, so I guess it was good for him, too."

-- Copyright(c) 2009, The Philadelphia Inquirer/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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