Yep, It's A Quarterback's League
This week’s games showed just how much success depends on strong quarterbacking. In the modern NFL, being a game manager is usually not good enough. Bring your A game, guys, or just let us chalk up an L ahead of time.
Six quarterbacks – Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson in Thursday’s game -- logged three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Only one was a loser.
At the other end of the stick, defenses scored six touchdowns, five on interceptions and the sixth on a fumble return. (Oddly, three were at the beginning of three separate early games.)
Philly fans saw two of the team’s quarterbacks fail big time. Nick Foles was 11-for-29 for 80 yards, which comes out to 2.8 yards per pass attempt. Matt Barkley came in and completed 11-for-20 for 129 yards and three picks. Ouch.
Tom Brady had a mediocre game, with numbers that weren’t as good as those of his counterpart, Geno Smith. Both threw pick-sixes. To me, it just shows that a great quarterback can’t make up for deficiencies among receivers. On Sunday, Gronk was back, but his timing with Brady wasn’t always there.
But I think the day’s outstanding game was played in Detroit, where one young quarterback came of age, third-year man Dalton of the Bengals. He had to be good, since Stafford also had a strong game.
The Bengals, facing a rejuvenated Lions team, shut down the Detroit running game and played errorless ball. They’ve won two straight games with late Mike Nugent field goals.
Dalton had faltered of late. He’s had a problem with interceptions. On Sunday, he was errorless and made some great throws to win the game. This was a well-played game, unlike, say, the Eagles-Cowboys tilt.
The Lions made few of the mistakes they’ve been known for, but rookie punter Sam Martin’s 28-yard offering at the end led to the Bengals’ winning score. The Bengals, at 5-2, are atop the AFC North and in great shape. The Steelers did them a favor by beating the Ravens, and the Browns played poorly with Brandon Weeden at quarterback a second straight game.
Sunday’s games revived the hopes of two other teams and probably ruined the season of another.
The Redskins won a wild game with the Bears 45-41. Washington, now 2-4, is still in the NFC East race. They’re just a game behind Dallas in the loss column. The Bears fell another game behind the Packers and lost their starting quarterback, Jay Cutler, to injury. Josh McCown played well, which means … Well, who knows.
Washington showed the other side of the offensive coin: While you need strong quarterback play, there’s nothing like a great rushing game to provide balance, keep the defense guessing and avoid wear and tear on your main man. Teams with a balanced attack that won include the Redskins, Chiefs, Steelers, Seahawks and 49ers.
In addition to the Redskins, a second team propelled itself into the playoff picture, the Jets. Down 21-10 at halftime, their chances appeared dim. CBS announcer Dan Dierdorf made a prophetic statement: “The Jets need to play their best defensive half of the season to win.”
Guess what. They did just that. The Patriots got the ball to start the half. Pick-six by Antonio Allen. It was only the second interception all year for New York. Bam, the Jets are within 21-17. The Jets defense absolutely stoned New England the rest of the way. The Jets pulled out all the stops on offense, too. They used the wildcat. They didn’t sit on their small lead at the end. Geno Smith scored on a great run.
New York limited the Pats to a field goal in regulation and then won in overtime, thanks to an odd “pushing into the pile” call on a field-goal try. Bill Belichick was miffed. It led directly to the winning field goal.
Was it a bad call? Maybe it was borderline. Consider it karma for the tuck-rule nonsense way back when.
Houston played reasonably well but lost to a strong Kansas City team whose doubters are dwindling every minute. Case Keenum played well behind center for the Texans, but it wasn’t enough. (Texans’ quarterbacks had thrown a pick-six in five straight games until Sunday. Keenum had one TD and no picks.)
Houston, 2-5, now has to cope with Arian Foster out for a while and a season-ending injury to Brian Cushing. The Colts, riding hard at 5-2, are a speck in the distance for the Texans. Keenum played so well that the Texans might well have a dreaded quarterback controversy once Matt Schaub recovers from his injury. As if they needed any other trouble.
Don’t look now, but the only undefeated team is the Chiefs. I’m not sure if Vegas has a bet on which team will be the last to lose, but I doubt if many would’ve picked a team that was 2-14 last year.