Quarterback has been called the most difficult position in all of sports to succeed at. It is a position that requires athleticism, intelligence, resilience, and a bevy of leadership skills. If it isn't the most difficult position to master in sports, it is certainly the most important position on a football team, a fact that this season in the NFL has proven in spades.
When your QB is good, it covers up a lot of sins at other positions on the field and if he happens to be a world-beater, your QB can make your team a contender year-in and year-out, no matter how shaky your defense or the offensive weapons that surround him. Likewise, instability and inconsistent play from your quarterback is the surest road to failure and team-wide ineptitude you're likely to find.
All that said, let's take a quick trip around the league's most intriguing quarterback story lines and see why the guy behind center means so much to the fate of a franchise.
TOM BRADY AND PEYTON MANNING
If you're going to talk quarterbacks, these two are where you start. Statistically they're the best the league has to offer over the last decade or so, and the success of their respective teams is a direct result of their brilliance at the position. Lucky for sports fans, they have battled each other in a heated rivalry over the past ten-plus seasons and they also happened to meet on the field this past weekend, when the Indianapolis Colts fell to the New England Patriots 31 -28 in Foxboro Sunday afternoon.
Brady was his typical self - efficient, poised, and accurate - leading the Pats to victory over the Colts and keeping his team in a tie atop the AFC East division with the New York Jets. Brady has been incredible this season, which is typical (maybe he's channeling his inner Samson with that Beiber-like hairdo for even a little extra mojo in 2010...) and Manning has been equally stellar for the Colts, so it's no surprise that the game came down to the final minute as Indy came up just shy of yet another Manning come-back thriller.
Peyton threw an interception with the Colts in range for a game-tying field goal, but the fact that he pulled his team all the way back from a large deficit on the road with a shot to do so in the game's closing moments tells you all you need to know about the man as a quarterback. He was literally sickened as he spoke to reporters after the game and the match-up between New England and Indianapolis was a reminder to everyone around the league about how far your team can go with a great QB. The Pats and Colts have battled inexperience and injury respectively, yet both are among the few real contenders to have a shot at making the Superbowl this year.
The most controversial of any quarterback we will discuss here, Vick is a comeback story worthy of a Hollywood script. After his fall from grace following a conviction on funding an illegal dog-fighting ring, Vick took two years off to vacation at Leavenworth and spent a year as a back-up in Philly, but is now setting the league on fire and finds himself in the midst of MVP discussion. We've all got an opinion on Vick the person, which I've already been over myself, but you can't knock the man's hustle on the field of play.
His performance against the Redskins last Monday night was one of the greatest an NFL quarterback has ever produced, leading Hall of Fame QB and now ESPN analyst Steve Young to call it "the full fruition of the position", which is both a bit of unexpected poetry from an ESPN talking head and a telling assessment of Vick's abilities. Young is the hero quarterback hero of my youth as a 49ers fan and the absolute best when it comes to being a fantastic passer and a threat with your legs, so his praise carries a great deal of weight and goes to show just how far Vick has come from the guy who used to run first, pass second when he exploded out of Virginia Tech.
Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New York football Giants in Philly this weekend, taking over sole possession of first place in the NFC East and showing that Vick isn't all big plays and dazzling scrambles. He took a lot of tough hits and was limited to few of his signature big runs by the Giant defense, but was still able to use a new-found poise and control in the pocket to grind out a tough win. The victory over the Giants on Sunday says just as much about his ability as that fantasy football wet dream he dropped on the Redskins last week and has started even more murmuring about his MVP chances. Is he the league MVP? Not yet in my opinion, but if he keeps playing like this, he will be, and the Eagles will continue to fight with the Giants and the Atlanta Falcons in the discussion as to who is the class of the NFC.
Yep, I'm forced to give the ol' Gunslinger his time on this little piece of the internet, but while it should be in the same vein as Manning, Brady, and Vick, instead Favre is among the QB's who is helping to sink the hopes of his franchise in the 2010 campaign. It was supposed to be all good for Favre and the Minnesota Vikings this year. They were coming off a trip to the NFC championship game in 2009, with weapons on offense and a stout defense. But somewhere between Favre's aging bones and muscles giving out on him and a scandal having to do with pictures of Little Brett, things have completely derailed.
Today, the Vikings fired coach Brad Childress, who Favre has had a pretty much public feud with throughout this season. This comes on the heels of the Randy Moss Experiment going terribly wrong and Vikings players whispering to the media (anonymously and in my opinion completely cowardly) about how much they hated their coach. I'm guessing if Favre was playing like he was last year and the Vikings were 7-3 instead of an embarrassing 3-7, Chili would still have his job and Brett would be all smiles instead of completely devastated.
It proves that with great quarterback play, your team wins and your coach gets a contract extension and with bad quarterback play, your team shits the bed and your coach finds himself polishing up his resume. Favre may not deserve all of the blame in Minnesota, but the combination of his lackluster performance and his off the field drama has just about put the nail in the coffin for the Vikings' season and his career. I can't see Brett coming back for another year of this kind of BS and I can't say I feel bad for the arrogant old prick. I used to hold Favre in high regard, but all of that's gone now and trust me when I say I'm not the only one. Farewell 4, all over again.
ALEX SMITH/TROY SMITH/DAVID CARR/MATT MOORE/JIMMY CLAUSEN/BRIAN ST. PIERRE
The quarterback situation in San Francisco and Carolina is a lesson in what can go wrong when you don't really know who your starting quarterback is. In SF, they thought they had their guy in Alex Smith, but he underperformed and the 'Niners were winless through five games. Then he got hurt and Mike Singletary skipped right past his back-up David Carr (who is perhaps most famous as the Mickey Mouse of the NFL) and gave the keys to the car to former Heisman Trophy winner and Ohio State Buckeye Troy Smith.
Smith has had both ups and downs in his three starts, with a 2-1 record as the main man to show for it. He looked alright, then great, then confused - in that order - leaving head coach Mike Singletary steering what appears to be a steadily sinking ship in the 2010 season. He can't seem to decide who his man is and in the NFL that spells disaster. Just ask the fans in Carolina.
The Panthers haven't had any more luck than the 49ers when it comes to solidifying the QB position, dumping starter Matt Moore early in the season to give rookie Jimmy Clausen a shot at the job. Clausen has looked, how should I say, underwhelming at best and prompted head coach John Fox to bring in Brian St. Pierre to start Sunday's game against the Ravens. What's that? You haven't heard of Brian St. Pierre? That's because dood's been a stay at home dad for the last few years and has thrown about as many passes as I have in his short and unmemorable career as an NFL quarterback. St. Pierre got thrown to the wolves this past Sunday, and the results pretty much speak for themselves. The Ravens returned two St. Pierre interceptions for touchdowns, dominating the Panthers and proving once again that QB is king in the NFL.
Now here's a real doozy. Tennessee Titans' quarterback Vince Young has been through a lot in his short NFL career, going from Rookie of the Year to potential suicide victim to spoiled little brat in very short order. He looked like an NFL superstar in his first year in the league coming out of Texas, (something this skeptical writer didn't think was possible from jump street) but quickly lost his job to veteran Kerry Collins over the ensuing seasons. It's been an up and down road since then, with the two QB's trading the starting and back-up roles because of injury and performance issues.
Young seemed to have pulled himself together on and off the field this season, but the Titans have still underperformed. This all culminated in Young pretty much throwing his head coach under the bus after this week's loss to the Jaguars, a hissy fit that included (allegedly) throwing his jersey into the stands and skipping out on any post-game locker room or press activity and making for the door. He reportedly told his head coach Jeff Fisher that he was walking out on him because he refused to let Young back in the game after he injured his thumb during the Jaguars game.
Today the Titans announced Young has a torn ligament in his thumb, and this is what was told to Fisher on the sidelines. Young is now out for the season and likely wouldn't have been a very good option to go back into the game. The coach wasn't being a jerk and not letting his QB back in the game after an injury because of a poor performance, he was simply listening to what the training staff told him about Young's injury. But, big old baby that he is, VY decided Fisher was being a meanie and acted like a stubborn child. I'm guessing this spells the end for Young in Tennessee, and the end of the Titans' hope of a winning season. Did I mention that this is the team that just signed Randy Moss, too? Ugh.
So that finishes up a very cursory glance at the some of the NFL's quarterbacks, the good, the bad and the fugly. What it proves is that QB really is the most important position on the field in the NFL. Of the teams I talked about, guess which ones are looking at playoff berths and which ones are looking at a high draft pick in the 2011 draft? In ain't hard to tell who brings home the bacon for an NFL franchise, but to finish things up, let's look at the best teams in the NFL this season and check out who's throwing the ball around for them:
Baltimore Ravens - Joe Flacco
New York Jets - Mark Sanchez
New England Patriots - Tom Brady
New Orleans Saints - Drew Brees
Atlanta Falcons - Matt Ryan (Matty Ice if you're nasty)
Philadelphia Eagles - Michael Vick
New York Giants - Eli Manning
Pittsburgh Steelers - Ben Roethlisberger
Green Bay Packers - Aaron Rodgers
Chicago Bears - Jay Cutler
Indianapolis Colts - Peyton Manning
I think it's fair to say that from either their records, their pedigree, or both, these are the teams to beat right now in the NFL. If you run down the list, you're looking at 5 guys who already have at least one Superbowl ring (Brady has 3 and Big Ben has a pair) and a handful of young guys who were first round draft picks and are on the rise. Rodgers is perhaps the cream of the non-ring-having crop and it's no shock that the Packers just dismantled the Favre-led Vikings 31 - 3 on Sunday.
In summary, you need a guy at QB that can pick apart a secondary, make the big play when it must be made, and most importantly, be a leader. Football is a man's game and it requires an alpha-male at quarterback for the right things to happen for a football team.
There's just no way around it: if you want to win, you need a great QB.