By DERON SNYDER
The adage about quarterbacks receiving too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses doesn’t fully explain weekend results in the NFL playoffs.
Four quarterbacks who played in a Super Bowl took the field. Three had won a Super Bowl and two had enjoyed multiple victories. All were former league MVPs.
The other half of the QB field was a motley crew of mediocrity, a quartet of pedestrian passers. Their careers were either long enough to be typecast as so-so, or short-and-not-sweet enough to lean in that direction.
Either Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Dew Brees or Matt Ryan have participated in nine of the last 14 Super Bowls. Entering the weekend Case Keenum, Blake Bortles, Nick Foles and Marcus Mariota combined had one game of playoff experience.
That proved to be irrelevant. The quarterbacks in Sunday’s conference championships will form history’s all-time easiest, “Which of these don’t belong?”
Brady leading New England to another AFC title match is as surprising as your next breath. This marks his seventh consecutive appearance and 12th overall, which is more than 29 franchises. In beating Tennessee and Mariota, Brady generated a 102.5 passer rating and extended his own postseason record with a 13th 300-yard passing game.
“I just try to be consistent, show up and do the best I can do every week for the team,” Brady told reporters Saturday after the 35-14 victory. “And regardless of whether I’m the worst quarterback in the league or the best quarterback in the league or somewhere in between, it’s just my job is to do the best I can do for us every week.”
His presence on the Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks is chiseled in stone.
But what do we make of his counterpart next week, Jacksonville’s Bortles, or the signal-callers in the NFC championship game, Minnesota’s Keenum and Philadelphia’s Foles?
Does their success in reaching the penultimate round mean teams don’t need franchise QBs to win? Does it mean great quarterbacks are overrated and not as valuable as we presume in today’s pass-happy NFL?
There’s no doubt that offensive systems and coaching matter. Rams QB Jared Goff looked like a different player in his first season under former Washington offensive coordinator and likely NFL Coach of the Year Sean McVay. (Former Rams coach Jeff Fisher must be a special kind of quarterback whisperer; he inspired Goff AND Keenum to play like corpses in 2016.)
But don’t get carried away with events in the divisional round. Forty-eight hours shouldn’t be the basis for replacing years’ worth of data and theory. Using the “any given Sunday” approach is a great recipe for 4-12.
Brees played one of his worst games this season but still rallied the Saints from a 17-point halftime deficit to within 10 seconds of victory against the Vikings. New Orleans would’ve advanced if safety Marcus Williams made a simple tackle instead of whiffing and obliterating a fellow DB in the process.
Ryan had a subpar performance against the Eagles but engineered a 14-play, 74-yard drive in the closing minutes that left the Falcons with 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line. If not for wideout Julio Jones slipping and stumbling, Atlanta’s quest for back-to-back Super Bowl appearances might still be alive.
Roethlisberger was absolutely amazing, shredding the Jaguars for 469 yards and five touchdowns. No NFL QB ever threw that many scoring passes in a postseason defeat. But a costly scoop-and-score fumble, along with some highly questionable play calls by Pittsburgh, doomed the anticipated Steelers-Patriots match-up
I’m sure Kirk Cousins’ detractors point to Bortles, Keenum and Foles, and say, “See? Let him go! We’ll be fine with Colt McCoy!” But here’s what can’t be overlooked if you suggest average QBs are fine:
They better max out their ability while playing on teams that are exceptional in other aspects of the game.
Minnesota, Jacksonville and Philadelphia finished first, second and fourth, respectively, in scoring defense and yards allowed this season. The Jags and Eagles were second and fourth in takeaways; they also were first and third in rushing (the Vikings were seventh).
Look, the whole notion of judging quarterbacks by their won-loss record is flawed at best, asinine at worst. A clone comprised of Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Montana and John Elway wouldn’t make Cleveland much better than 0-16. The other 21 starters just aren’t good enough, no matter who’s slinging the ball.
Nonetheless, I’d rather lock up a high-quality passer whose market value commands a greater percentage of my salary cap. Granted, that approach requires astute scouting and development to secure gems who go late in the draft or unclaimed altogether (Minnesota’s Adam Thielen).
But I don’t care what just happened. Give me one of those Top-10 passers who lost to one of those QBs who aren’t guaranteed to start next season.
Besides, if the front office is terrible, the money they save with a journeyman under center will go to waste anyway.