We never saw this from Tanner McKee. We never saw anything close to this.
Perfect back-shoulder passes? Accurate deep balls with mustard on them? A vertical passing game?
Sometimes it takes a game for a young player to do what he hasn’t been doing at practice. The crowd. The bright lights. The intensity.
And McKee, who has had a middling preseason – not unexpected from a rookie 6th-round quarterback – made a series of eye-opening throws Saturday evening in his first preseason game.
Throws he hasn’t even hinted at at practice.
“He was really calm, poised and just operated really well for a young guy,” Marcus Mariota said.
“I think that’s kind of like all of us. Jalen (Hurts) has been in the system for a couple of years, three seasons. The rest of us are kind of learning, and it’s awesome that we have a great example in Jalen. It was really cool tonight to see Tanner play well and to kind of operate and just feel more and more comfortable in the system.”
It’s not like McKee has been terrible this summer. But he certainly hasn’t driven the ball down the field like he did Saturday in the Eagles’ 20-19 loss to the Ravens in Baltimore.
The longest completion we’ve seen him throw was a 15-yard touchdown to newcomer Johnny King at the Linc on Wednesday.
On Saturday? He had completions of 17, 18, 19, 27 and 33 yards.
“Yeah, I would say we were pretty aggressive and I'm all for that,” McKee said. “So I was pretty excited.”
His very first NFL snap – early in the second quarter — the Stanford product completed a perfect 27-yard back-shoulder to Tyrie Cleveland. He added a 33-yard strike to King on a 3rd-and-11, a 17-yarder to Greg Ward on a 4th-and-1 and an 18-yarder to Cleveland before the second quarter was over. And in the third quarter he found Jadon Haselwood for 19 yards on a 3rd-and-2.
McKee averaged 14.8 yards per completion, which is nuts for a late-round rookie in his first preseason game playing with a group of backups.
“I was obviously pretty excited when we came out, we saw that kind of coverage,” he said. “Just let them go up and attack the ball. I feel like on a lot of those deep balls, they weren’t even necessarily perfect throws, but we have really good athletes and really good ballhawks. And if you give them a chance nine times out of 10, they're going to come down with the ball. So that was what we did a lot of the time.”
McKee’s final numbers don’t jump out at you, but a couple drops, a botched route and some shaky o-line play in the third quarter didn’t do him any favors. He finished 10-for-20 for 148 yards with no TD passes and no turnovers with a field goal drive and an 11-play 73-yard TD drive.
“He makes good, quick decisions, usually goes to the right place with the football and is an accurate passer, and that’s what we saw in college,” Nick Sirianni said. “We’re really excited to work with him. I thought he did well.
“His stats might not look great. … You always want that completion percentage to be up a little bit, but I thought he did a lot of nice things and operated at a high level.”
If you’re comparing McKee and Ian Book, it’s not pretty.
Book was 1-for-4 for 11 yards, took a 21-yard sack when he should have thrown the ball away and scrambled more than he threw.
There are a lot of practices and two preseason games to go, but McKee seems to already have a nearly insurmountable lead over the former Saints 4th-round pick in the competition for that No. 3 QB spot.
“Honestly, before the game, I was talking to our quarterback coach, Alex Tanny, and I was like this is pretty surreal right now just putting on an Eagles uniform,” McKee said. “But once you get out there, it's football.
“The crowd and everything, you can just block out and it's just like practice. The plays that we ran, we've run them hundreds of times in practice and repped them so many times. …
“Pre-game and especially these night games when you're sitting in a hotel thinking about it all the time. You're like, ‘Man, what different looks could they give us?’ But then once you get out there, you really feel prepared for everything that they can do.”