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Updated: December 29th, 2010 3:54am
Pelissero: Joe Webb shows presence, poise beyond his years in upset

Pelissero: Joe Webb shows presence, poise beyond his years in upset

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- It was third-and-11 from the Philadelphia 47, and the Minnesota Vikings needed a conversion.

They led, improbably, by three points with a little more than 8 minutes to go against the playoff-bound Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

Rookie quarterback Joe Webb told coaches the play he wanted to run, dropped back against a six-man rush, spotted a mismatch and fired a bullet to Percy Harvin for a 19-yard gain, setting up the Adrian Peterson touchdown that all but sealed the Vikings' stunning 24-14 triumph on Tuesday night.

It was not an athletic play by an extraordinarily athletic player. It was not a safe play sent in by coaches for a first-time starter who was running the scout team less than a month ago.

It was a quarterback play, pure and simple. And it was the first sign -- perhaps of more to come -- the smiling sixth-round pick from UAB might be more than a sideshow in the Vikings' season-long circus.

"That third-down play at the end now, that's a huge play under a lot of pressure against a very good defense," interim coach Leslie Frazier said. "For (Webb) to step up in the pocket and make that throw -- that's a heck of a play, and one that you look at and say, 'This guy has a chance.'"

Webb finished 17-of-26 passing (65.4%) for 195 yards. His passer rating was 87.8. He added a weaving 9-yard touchdown run that drew gasps from an alleged crowd of 69,144 that expected their own quarterback to make plays like that.

On this night, Webb out-Vicked Michael Vick. He turned a simple game plan based on short drops, play-action and bootlegs into a dissection of an Eagles defense that thrives on takeaways -- but couldn't force any from a 24-year-old who knows he's not supposed to play this well, this soon.

"Yeah, I'm aware of that," Webb said. "The most (important) thing that coaches was putting in my ear was just take care of the ball. At the same time, I'm going to be aggressive."

Take the first play of the second half, which Webb entered with only 71 passing yards on nine completions. The Eagles stacked nine in the box with a single high safety and Webb took his shot, hitting Harvin for 46 yards to the post.

Or take the 17-yard completion to Harvin on the backside of a designed running play. Or even the fade to Sidney Rice for a 2-yard touchdown that was overturned on review.

These are intelligent, efficient plays from a guy who entered with 31 career pass attempts in two relief appearances and left with renewed expectations about his lot in the Vikings' plans.

"You have an indication of things to come with Joe," Frazier said. "He showed great composure ... and tremendous poise in the pocket, which you don't expect sometimes from a guy that can run the way he can run. But he shows the intangibles that you look for in that position for a guy who has tremendous athletic ability."

Webb's performance -- coupled with brilliant schemes on both sides of the ball, a gutty effort from Peterson and one game-changing play by cornerback Antoine Winfield -- was a jolt of life for a team that too often has limped along with 41-year-old Brett Favre during a 6-9 season.

The Vikings were 14-point underdogs before snow postponed kickoff and left them stranded in their downtown hotel an extra 48 hours. Yet even Favre was on his feet in the second half, as Webb did everything possible to make coaches consider keeping the veteran on the bench for Sunday's season finale at Detroit.

"If he want to play, he can play," Webb said of Favre, whom Frazier once again endorsed as the starter if he passes post-concussion tests.

"It's Brett Favre. Brett did a great job with me (Tuesday), too. He gave me tips on the sideline as he watched the game, and I took those tips and ran with it."

It'd be foolish to pass judgment on Webb's potential based on two remarkable quarters. The Eagles had virtually no useful film on him, he was relatively pedestrian on Tuesday before Winfield's strip-and-run score knotted the score at 7 just before halftime and he continues to work with a fraction of the playbook.

That third-and-11 throw will be the one in the minds of coaches and scouts when they're pondering the quarterback position in the coming months, though.

Not to mention the minds of a national TV audience that surely feels it might have gotten a glimpse of the Vikings' future.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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