Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Quarterback History Lesson

Here's a list of quarterbacks whose teams have beaten the Patriots in the postseason since Tom Brady became quarterback.

Peyton Manning: Three times
Eli Manning: two times
Joe Flacco: two times
Mark Sanchez: once
Jake Plummer (bet you forgot that one): once.

Not a long list is it? The list of quarterbacks whose teams LOST to Brady and the Pats in the postseason is much longer, and includes both Peyton and Flacco, as well as Hall of Famer Kurt Warner. This is because of two things. 1. Brady is a very great player. 2 (and most important) The rest of the Patriots have been pretty damn good players, too.

Here's the thing about quarterbacks, even the most historic greats of any era. They are the most important players on their team, but they do not and cannot win games by themselves alone. It is much more difficult to win any game, let alone a championship, with merely adequate quarterback play. But it can be done, and as the list shows, it has been done more often than you might guess from reading or listening to local commentary on the upcoming AFC Championship Game.

Peyton Manning is as surefire a Hall of Famer as is Brady. His brother is a marginal prospect for Canton whose main case is the two Super Bowls where his Giants beat the Pats. Flacco has been an average quarterback who sold his soul to Mr. Applegate for the 2012 postseason. Plummer was a forgettable journeyman. Sanchez became a national joke. But on four any given Sundays, the teams of those last three field generals were able to defeat Brady's team, quite handily, too, with no margin of victory less than 14 points.

Why? Well, in those four games, the winning quarterback didn't screw it up. They all made just enough plays to hold up the requirements of the position. They avoided turnovers. They allowed themselves to benefit from how well their teammates performed. The story of those four Pats' losses (and the basic story of Eli's two Super Bowls and Peyton's last win over the Pats as a Bronco) is that the winning TEAMS had defenses who made the big plays and were able to knock the snot out of Brady.

Which is to say, defenders were able to win their individual battles with Patriot blockers and pass catchers. Offense is timing and defense is destroying it, as New England demonstrated to perfection on both sides of the ball last Saturday night against the Titans. If Jacksonville's brash, strong and very fast defenders are able to dominate the 10 other guys on the Patriots' offense, if the Jags offensive line can allow it to run the ball, the talent disparity between Brady and Blake Bortles will still exist, it just won't be the be-all and end-all pregame commentary suggests.

Since he is a professional troll, it is pointless to criticize Michael Felger for football ignorance, but this one is too good (bad) to pass on. Before last weekend, Felger cited Brady, Matt Ryan of the Falcons, Drew Brees of the Saints and Ben Roethlisberger as the reason those men's four teams were lead pipe cinches to win their divisional round games. Felger's picks went 1-3. Good thing he's not a gambler.

Roethlisberger threw for 479 yards and five touchdowns. That'll win most games. Not the one the Jags and Steelers played though. Other stuff, oodles of other stuff, happened.

'Tis a far, far better thing to have Tom Brady than not to. The Patriots are 9 1/2 point favorites against Jacksonville and that doesn't seem too far off to me. But Brady's only about 3 1/2 points worth of that edge (that's an enormous figure for one player, Pats fans). The 44 other guys who'll be on the active roster Sunday afternoon account for the other six. They, not Brady, will determine whether the game will be the blowout expected by most of the civilized world, or if it's competitive. Or if it winds up adding Blake Bortles' name to the short list at the top of this piece.


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