A Nickel and a Nail
It’s five topics for conversation today and a jab for someone deserving:
There’s Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Roethlisberger and the rest. For now Flacco is part of the rest. He’s also just four seasons into a long career, entrusted to manage but not command the offense of a team that doesn’t need him to be a star and is somehow being held to a standard commensurate with those on pace for or already all but in the Hall of Fame. It seems a bit unfair. Maybe he finds that path and maybe he doesn’t, but for now it’s impossible to say, as it was with all of those quarterbacks just four years in to their careers.
Ben Roethlisberger is probably the exception, but not completely. He won it all as a second year player, but was and remains (at his best) a quintessential game manager. Roethlisberger’s stats have been mostly pedestrian, especially when the Steelers are winning. His best statistical year came as the Steelers went 9-6 behind him in 2009. Roethlisberger’s individual efforts have certainly been impressive and game saving at times, but more on a play-by-play basis than a game-by-game one. His greatest strength is simply that his team doesn’t need him to be spectacular in order to win and that he understands and embraces that realization. Lastly as a guy who likely always thought of himself as “pro-caliber”, landing at Miami of Ohio was probably a bit humbling, three years as a MAC starter beneficial and the chilly welcome the beginning of his tenure starting as a rookie for the Steelers from his teammates all are likely factors in his drive and ethic, and his two titles in Pittsburg certainly serve as validation of stardom even in weeks or seasons where he hasn’t played up to that level of esteem.
Aaron Rodgers is an impossible and unprecedented standard too. He was humbled to begin his college career starting at a JUCO, humbled again on draft day and for the three years that followed in waiting to succeed Brett Favre, so his drive is clearly understandable, and the two years he spent running the Tedford offense at Cal likely cemented a nice foundation under him too. He also inherited a team full of veteran receivers adept at being where they were supposed to be, winning fights for the ball and at bailing out their quarterbacks more ambitious attempts (which were bound to be plentiful under Favre). By comparison, Rodgers’ clear gift for accuracy must have been quite refreshing for the gifted Packers’ receivers. Still, Rodgers stumbled in 2008 after inheriting the helm of a team fresh off of a loss in the NFC title game and struggled. Younger members of the receiving corps (James Jones and Jordy Nelson) took time to get regular looks in the offense and Randall Cobb while clearly gifted athletically is and will continue to be an afterthought in the offense until chemistry can be refined, a luxury the Packers have that most NFL teams don’t enjoy.
Drew Brees struggled through the early part of his career, struggled to hold off Doug Flutie on the depth chart and had his ticket punched out of San Diego long before the infamous shoulder injury that hampered his free agency. That the Chargers were contented to let him walk for nothing, again before the shoulder injury and that no one had an offer that would have prevented it, we can fairly say that a full five years into his NFL career no one thought Brees to be particularly special. Clearly the perception of Brees has changed a bit as his career has wound on.
And lastly there’s Tom Brady. Brady the young and efficient game manager won 3 Super Bowls in his first 4 seasons at the helm of the Patriots. His stats were unspectacular (3600 or so yards, mid twenties in TDs, low teens in interceptions) but the Patriots were winning with no other discernable stars either. As Brady replacing Drew Bledsoe was the obvious catalyst to the team’s success the media fell all over themselves apologizing before evoking comparisons to Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and other low key, workmanlike, unlikely stars. Somewhere along the way it also became evident that Brady threw a really nice deep ball, and the Patriots began furnishing him with real weapons and counting on him to win games instead of simply not losing them. They also stopped winning Super Bowls at the same time, and since being derailed from their undefeated season in the Super Bowl to end the 2007 season have failed to win a single playoff game despite the continued accolades and expectations with Brady in the role of the superstar quarterback.
Whether Flacco or any quarterback current or future merits mention in that bunch remains to be seen. Their paths to and levels of success are about as disparate as you could imagine. Which you’d like your QB (and team) to resemble most is debatable…so we’ll debate it.