Welcome back to the territory, dear readers, friends, admirers, haters, all of the above. Today, I put together a little medley that constitutes a partial state of affairs in the NFL before stuffing myself with food for Christmas. Hope you enjoy it. Good to have time to write a little.
The Falcons: why the skepticism?
As do many observers of football, in spite of the Atlanta Falcons’ impressive regular season, I find myself seriously doubting the birds in their quest to earn everyone’s respect. It’s not that their regular season form hasn’t been impressive. Matt Ryan has had an excellent season by any standards. Julio Jones, whose sometimes inconsistent hands at Alabama generated a less-than-enthusiastic impression on my part, has become one half of what is perhaps the most dominant downfield tandem in the NFL. Tight end Tony Gonzalez is ageless and still plays at a very high level. The defence, while not filled with household names, has mostly been solid. They have a few decent options at running back, though I’d like to see an in-form Michael Turner a bit more.
But the playoffs just seem to be this team’s kryptonite. It’s not simply that Mike Smith’s men haven’t gotten it done in the playoffs. It’s that they’ve done little more than crumble year after year in the playoffs. They dominate the regular season like nobody’s business, and then stink out the joint in the playoffs when only good teams are left.
You see some people (Roddy White most recently) get offended at the so-called lack of respect fans and media show the Falcons. First off, Roddy, that’s not quite true. Everybody respects the talent this team has. That’s precisely why fans and journalists alike have come to consider the Falcons to be a mentally weak team. You can’t spend your time putting on a clinic on “how to do less with more” and then complain that people are neither impressed nor interested, But secondly, and more importantly, what have the Falcons done, exactly, to earn this respect? Show, don’t tell, Roddy! Your lot have made many journalists look bad year after year. Do you really expect someone who gets burnt after trusting you to blindly trust you again the next time around? In other words, do you expect the next man who marries Kim Kardashian to be surprised when she wants a divorce three months after they get married? If he is, the joke is on him.
The Falcons are the football version of the boy who cried wolf. Maybe this is the year when everything comes together for them. But like the child crying wolf time and again in the story who gets ignored when the wolf really comes, nobody believes in the Falcons right now because we’ve heard it all before, and so far, the ending has always been the same.
I’ve heard someone compare them to the pre-championship Lebron James. The comparison, while imperfect, makes me laugh. But it’s not the one that comes to mind when I look at Atlanta. When I look at this Falcons’ team, I think of Jacques Martin’s Ottawa Senators. No one could touch them in the regular season for about 3-4 seasons. When playoff time came ’round, however, they would fold like a piece of origami artwork, usually against the Leafs. The Senators never got over the hump. They never won the Stanley Cup in those years, and by the end of that period, they would have surprised pretty much all Hockey fans had they pulled it off given how familiar the scenario of them choking in the playoffs had gotten.
Maybe this is the Falcons’ year, but I won’t believe in them before the final whistle of the Super Bowl. Right now, I’d pick the Packers, Niners and Seahawks to beat them in the playoffs. So to their offended fans who feel their team gets no respect, I’ll apologize when they put it all together. In other words, I probably won’t have to.
Elite QBs: have we allowed too many pretenders into this category?
In a word, yes. When I think of truly elite QBs, no more than four names come to mind: Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Brady and Brees (in that order, if you ask me). Last year, people such as myself took a lot of heat for saying no other QBs are truly elite in the NFL. The two names that kept coming up the most in that category were Eli Manning and Joe Flacco. Philip Rivers might once have earned a mention in this discussion, but then he started throwing enough passes to guys wearing a different coloured jersey to make us wonder whether he’d gone colourblind. And Ben Roethlisberger’s Steelers declined along with their aging defence, making Big Ben’s prestige lose shine under the dust of rape accusations and injuries.
Let’s deal with the easiest matter first. The notion that Flacco is an elite QB hits me like a Will Ferrell joke. I don’t find it that funny the first time, and it gets no funnier when Ferrell himself or someone else keeps screaming the joke at me again… and again… and again. And we, football fans, are bound to start hearing it a lot more from Ravens enthusiasts and media sugarcoating specialists after Flacco’s impressive performance in the Ravens’ beatdown of the Giants (a rather common trend these past few weeks).
The case for Flacco: he’s a prototypical strong-armed passer, throws as nice a deep ball as anyone when he’s on, and he’s made the playoffs in every year since coming into the NFL (including this one). Here’s the problem. The Ravens have had, for the larger part of Flacco’s NFL career, a dominant defence that only required that the offence not give the game away. And for the most part, Flacco has done just that.
Little more than that.
Flacco often gets credit for “getting the job done” or for “winning.” (I’ve discussed the inadequate substance of the winner’s argument in this piece about Alex Smith: https://turpterritory.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/alex-smith-and-our-uneven-discussion-about-quarterbacks-16/). The NFL specialists at the excellent web site grantland.com have come up with a calculation that shows that Flacco’s win totals are nothing to get excited about. They have calculated that with the defences Flacco has played with, he sat, at the beginning of the season, at exactly two wins above what an “average quarterback” would have achieved (44 of 64 wins vs 42 for this “average quarterback”). So there goes that argument.
Yet, you could also question why his stats, not to mention his overall impact, don’t compare to what a Brady or a Manning had done at that point in their careers. No need to bring up stats; there’s a reason why even the most convinced Flacco fanatic won’t dare mention the Ravens QB in the same sentence as the four names I started this section with. He’s not elite: stop it!
However, while I find the Flacco debate is a joke, the one about Eli Manning is one much more worthy of having. Former NFL QB Troy Aikman was getting worked up last year over people who dared say Eli is not elite. Far be it from me to claim I know more about quarterbacking than Aikman does, but in this case, I’ll stick to my opinion: Eli Manning is not an elite QB, at least not quite.
His record and his statistics are impressive, but there is one dimension of Eli’s play that sticks out like a sore thumb. The man throws far too many interceptions. Last year, he had 16, which is one per game. I cannot find that acceptable. The obvious reply to this is that he had the league’s worst running game last season and he had to do it all himself. True, but if you go beyond the stats, you’ll see too many ill-advised throws to covered receivers, too many errant passes and too many times when receivers have to make significant adjustments on the ball. This year, he’s had a fairly mediocre second half to the season (along with his team) and the same criticisms could be leveled at him.
He also has that deer-in-the-headlights demeanour that gets worse when he gets consistent pressure. No QB can claim to be totally calm under pressure, but many signal callers deal with it better than Eli, starting with the fantastic four who set the bar for everybody else.
There are those who still have the nerve to cite this stupid football sophism that says Eli is better than his brother because he has one more Super Bowl ring. My mind is on Christmas, so I don’t have the time or the energy to argue against this tripe. Let’s just say that when you submit both brothers to the same eyeball test, Peyton and the others are in another league. Eli may very well be the fifth best quarterback in the NFL, but that doesn’t make him elite, and no one should be afraid to say it, either.
Just when you thought it was safe to be a Jags fan…
Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter came out and declared it a virtual certainty that Tim Tebow will join the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013. Be still, my heart! It was a joyous day last March when I got two terrific pieces of news on the same day: 1. I was accepted in law school, and 2. Tim Tebow wasn’t joining the Jags but the New York Jets.
Between the re-signing of Mark Sanchez to a demented 3-year, $ 40 million contract, the drafting of Alabama game-managing QB Greg McElroy, and the acquisition of Tebow after his playoff heroics against the Steelers (though the egg he laid against the Patriots the week after went conspicuously unmentioned), no team had ever received so much hype, acclaim and congratulations for wheeling-and-dealing their way into the league’s worst QB situation. It did not take a football connaisseur to know this situation was untenable, and so, about eight months later, we’re back to where we were in March: with Tebow in search of a new club.
The Jags, Tebow’s hometown team, now appear interested in acquiring the NFL’s most famous backup and marginal player a few months after former head coach Jack Del Rio, who made his share of personnel and coaching mistakes, knew he shouldn’t touch Tebow with a 10-foot pole. Now, however, two facts have come out that have a rotten smell to them. The first is that Jags owner Shahid Khan has publicly stated he’s interested in acquiring Tebow. The second is that, at just about the same time, it was reported that general manager Gene Smith won’t be returning next season. That being said, details of Smith’s departure are not known at this time. While Smith’s decision-making as Jags GM has been mediocre at best, one can only hope this wasn’t decided over a disagreement about Tebow.
Regardless, it doesn’t really change anything. If Khan wants Tebow with the Jags, it will happen. Besides, the draft will not look appealing to the Jaguars. USC’s Matt Barkley has given additional substance to the “Matt Leinart rule,” which states that any quarterback who appears to be a lock to be picked in the top 5 as an underclassman should leave for the draft in a flash. Barkley’s stock has suffered tremendously due to USC’s subpar season, while West Virginia’s Geno Smith, who appeared to be the sure-fire first overall pick while WVU was undefeated and he was lighting up scoreboards like Christmas trees (remember the Baylor game?), also has lost some luster.
Therefore, if Tebow to the Jags is as done a deal as Schefter and Mortensen suggest, we’d just as well ready ourselves for the Jags to become the circus Khan apparently wants them to be. The talent on this Jags team is not nearly good enough to compensate for Tebow’s shortcomings like the Broncos’ defence did in 2011 (which raises the question of why a team would want a QB it needs to compensate for, but that’s a question many don’t seem to find important. Visibly, Khan doesn’t). Therefore, when Tebow resumes throwing more dirt balls than a fat kid forced by his parents to play little league baseball, the shameless exhibition of double standards from every Tebowmaniac in the media will also recommence. You see, Blaine Gabbert is just bad. Never mind that they flagrantly mishandled him, that the offensive line is riddled by injury and can’t protect him, that said O-Line wasn’t very good to begin with, that with Mo-Jo-Drew missing most of the year, they didn’t have much of a running game, that fifth overall pick receiver Justin Blackmon took half the season to figure things out and that the defence is more hard-working than it is good. Gabbert just doesn’t have what it takes.
Now, keep these arguments clear in your mind, because you’ll be hearing them with increasing regularity when Tebowmaniacs struggle to explain why their saviour is playing at a level that’ll have us all thinking Ryan Leaf could have made something of his career. Gabbert sucks; Tebow is badly surrounded. That’s how it works. Like I said, double standards. The worst thing is, everyone will go along with it, because Tebow equals ratings.
And you know what? At that point, it will not matter, because the Jags will have insulted my intelligence so obviously and stupidly that it will be impossible for me to cheer for them anymore. As the always entertaining Stephen A. Smith said about his hometown New York Knicks, “this isn’t show-friends, this is show-business. And right now, the Jags aren’t handling any of their business. There’s nothing about what the Jaguars do that resembles business.”
Jaguars fans deserve better than the ineptitude their administration has shown for the last decade. Like exasperated former Redskins fans who gave up and started cheering for the Steelers or the Ravens, when the Jags land Tebow, I’ll post a picture of myself wearing a New York Giants hat.
I’ve had it with this team. I can take mediocrity, I can take bad draft picks and bad free agent signings (no shortage of either of those things in Jags country), but I can’t take this. To me, this is a move that stinks both from a football perspective as well as from a personal one. To say Tebow “just wins” and that he did so with the Broncos is to frame the debate wrong. If every 2011 Bronco had played at the same level as Tim Tebow did, Denver would have been worse than the expansion Buccaneers. In two full games against the Chiefs, he completed a grand total of four passes. Four passes. 4!!! And some find ways to act as if it doesn’t matter. #FreeTebow? More like #FreeusfromTebow! The Broncos did the right thing when they decided to take Peyton Manning and run. Why the Jags, who are terrible enough as it is, would trust Tim Tebow with their future goes beyond any rational thinking.
Moreover, I must confess I can’t tolerate this from a personal standpoint. As a Florida State fan, Tebow frustrated me more than any other college player I have ever seen, or expect to see. The consequences of caring, I guess. It’d be like if the Lakers had traded Magic Johnson to the Celtics, and you asked any Celtic fan over 40 how he felt about it. It’s the same thing, except for the small part where, you know, Magic could play. And then you’ll have the Tebowmaniacs saying he’s back home or worse, back where he belongs, and then Tebow will give an interview to gatorzone.com and say how privileged he feels to be back home (just don’t tell him to play wildcat) and how he’s going to bring some of that Florida Gator magic to Jacksonville. And then, when he stinks out the joint and (eventually) leaves it in worst shape than he found it, the likes of Skip Bayless will be there defending him even if it means demeaning logic like an Abu-Graib prisoner… God, I hate Florida!
So if you read this for fun before getting ready for any Christmas party that might await you, allow me to wish you a merry Christmas and a wonderful new year with lots of memorable moments with you and yours. I myself am blessed enough to have a wonderful family whose company I’ll greatly enjoy over the holiday period. It is my hope that you, dear reader, will have the chance to do the same thing. Merry Christmas, and you’ll get a chance to revisit the Territory very soon, in 2013.