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Super Bowl Teams & The NFL Quarterback Fallacy

The San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens are set to meet in Super Bowl XLVII. Along the way, they have done some damage to the reputations of some quarterbacks that conventional wisdom said should have dominated them.

Jared Wickerham

The NFL is all about the quarterback. They are the only player on the team that is talked about as having won or lost games. Frequently, their records are cited as proof of how good or lousy they are. And many people, myself included, will predict a game based almost solely on how they think the guy taking the snaps will play.

This year's NFL playoffs have poked some serious holes in that concept. The NFC is represented by a young quarterback who did not even get the starting job until the ninth game of the season, and in the playoffs the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick outplayed Aaron Rodgers, who many consider the best or second best quarterback in the NFC. He followed that up with a defeat of Matt Ryan, considered one of the up and coming stars after the outstanding year the Falcons had. And Joe Flacco of the Ravens only went on the road in back to back weeks and beat two guaranteed first ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks who were having excellent years. But now Peyton Manning has to face another year knowing that his little brother has twice as many Super Bowl rings, and Tom Brady will have to take solace in the fact that, even though he is married to a supermodel, he is still the best looking person in his family.

All that is a heavily sarcastic (just in case you haven't figured that out) way of saying that it is not really all about the quarterbacks. In the conference championships, it may well have been about the defenses. A truly amazing stat came out of the two games, as one of my fellow FPWs noted.

There were some other interesting stats as well. In the divisional and conference rounds, the two less renowned quarterbacks were almost perfect in protecting the ball, with Kaepernick only throwing one interception and Flacco tossing none. Flacco's care with the ball was particularly impressive, since both Manning and Brady threw two picks that played a large part in their defeats. And he did this on the road, I remind you. Which seems to be something at which he is one of the best ever.

The argument can be made, especially in the AFC, that the big name, superstar quarterbacks basically choked. Just look at the passer rating for them. Manning had an 88.3 (vs 116.2 for Flacco) and Brady put up a lowly 62.3 (vs 106.2). Shockingly, I actually heard the comment made this week that Peyton Manning is not the quarterback you want to have when you are going into a big game, because he does not deliver. And since 2004, that can also be said about Tom Brady. They get to big games, but don't deliver when it counts.

So does this mean that Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco are the best quarterbacks in the league? Well, no. It says that they were the quarterbacks of the two teams that got into the playoffs and performed the best.

I bring this up because, of course, I follow a team with a certain Tony Romo playing quarterback. And he has been called every bad name you can call a quarterback because of his lack of success in "win or done" games. Fans and sportswriters alike decry the Dallas Cowboys' chances with him at the helm. I am sure that if you asked the many critics if they believe that the Cowboys would have a better chance with Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady behind center, most would answer yes. (Sorry, Matt Ryan fans, but I don't think his name has quite that kind of cachet.)

Really? Didn't all three of them pretty much choke this postseason? And you have to apply the same standards here. That argument is particularly strong for Manning and Brady, both of whom threw late picks that killed the chance for their teams to win (especially the OT interception by Manning). The fact is that any of those three may have had a worse year than Romo had they been in his place, since he is likely better than any of them at avoiding pass rushers who have blown past the offensive line.

What the three do have are Super Bowl championships. But the NFL is all about what you have done for me lately, and this year, all fell short. Meanwhile, a second year player and a quarterback that usually is not part of the "best in the game" conversation are going to New Orleans, and one of them is going to have as many rings as Rodgers and Manning at the end of the day.

My real point here is that the NFL has a huge myth about the supreme importance of the quarterback. A good quarterback is a great advantage to winning a championship, but remember that the list of Superbowl winning quarterbacks includes names like Jeff Hostetler, Mark Rypien, Trent Dilfer, and Brad Johnson. Oddly, while it is easy to find the list of quarterbacks who won rings, it is hard to find a list for any other position. You can find some for certain skill positions, but those often show a tandem or a grouping. Championships aren't won by quarterbacks, or coaches, or even general managers. They are won by football teams, each of which brings something different to the field. This year, it looks like a stout defense and an offense that can run as well as pass are key. (Yes, I, too, am shocked. Absolutely shocked.) Whether you have a quarterback that can run the read option or is a more traditional pocket passer seems to be optional, at least this year.

Those are two things (the defense and the running game) that the Cowboys need to improve drastically, and based on the coaching moves made so far, they intend to. Getting rid of Tony Romo is not going to improve the chances for getting back to the playoffs nearly as much as bolstering both lines. I am not saying that Romo is the best possible quarterback for the Cowboys. I am just saying that the resources the team has (especially draft picks) can be used much more effectively elsewhere, with a lot better return on the investment. And constantly bashing Romo really only makes people that don't like him feel good.

Everyone says the quarterback gets too much credit and too much blame. But they keep on doing it anyway. Unless you are named Rodgers, Manning, or Brady, of course, and then you usually just get the credit.


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