These NFL Playoffs have been entertaining on multiple levels. Tony Gonzalez and Ray Lewis are writing the final chapters of Hall of Fame careers. The Harbaughs are making history as coaches. And, most importantly, the games have (mostly) kept us on the edge of the couch.
Another development happened right in front of us: the NFL quarterback landscape shifted dramatically. Three rookie QB’s led their teams to the postseason, bumping playoff mainstays like Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning and showing they should be taken seriously. I couldn’t help but feel like an era ended for a class of quarterbacks on Sunday. The results of each game helped drive this home. Will Matt Ryan and Tom Brady still be true Super Bowl contenders in the near future? Their play this weekend did nothing to prove they will, and their losses should have them and some other QB’s worried.
Ryan had one huge, glaring question to answer heading into Sunday: was he ready to lead his team to the Super Bowl? After three postseason letdowns, Ryan risked being known as “the QB who isn’t ready for primetime.” This might be the worst possible fate for a star player. It defined LeBron James for almost a decade, and it has become the narrative for Tony Romo.
For Ryan, Sunday’s game against San Francisco had career-defining implications. Sadly, his performance was a microcosm for his career overall. Ryan lived up to his “Matty Ice” moniker in the first half: throwing for over 250 yards and three touchdowns. Things changed after halftime, though, with Ryan accounting for far less yards, one interception, and zero points. Welp.
Ryan will throw for 45,000 yards in his career, make a ton of money, and win lots of rings regular season games. But after this Sunday, I am convinced he is another player bound for the Hall of Very Good. LeBron was headed down a similar path, but he realized his potential as the best player in the world and re-shaped his image as a crunch time performer.
Sadly for Ryan, he isn’t that good.
He is caught between players in their prime who are better than he is (Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Eli Manning – it’s true) and younger players developing very quickly who could be championship-ready sooner than normal (Joe Flacco – it’s true, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, RG3). Where does that leave Matt Ryan? His postseason performances would suggest he’ll be on the outside looking in while the above quarterbacks are celebrating championships. He’ll be standing next to Romo of course.
Brady had a question similar to Ryan hanging over his head: could he lead his team to the Super Bowl…and win it this time? Any Brady/Patriots detractor will tell you that the team hasn’t won a championship since 2004 (and since they were busted for SpyGate in 2007). Now, I won’t pile on because Brady has enjoyed a post-2004 career that most quarterbacks would take for their entire careers. That includes two Super Bowl losses by a combined seven points, a 50-touchdown season, and a 16-0 regular season. The guy is a first-ballot Hall of Fame player and an all-time great. Period.
Now, how will the rest of Brady’s career pan out? I recently wrote that a Super Bowl win this season would vault Brady to the Mt. Rushmore of NFL quarterbacks alongside Joe Montana, John Elway, Dan Marino, and Johnny Unitas (probably bumping out Marino). With Sunday’s loss on his resume, it’s fair to wonder if Brady will ever make that leap. He seems to be on the same path as Ryan, only with three Super Bowl rings to fall back on. The rings will protect his legacy forever, but failing to crack Mt. Rushmore will be a disappointment after the amazing start to his career. In many ways, Tom Brady is a doppelganger for Ben Roethlisberger. Not good news for Big Ben.
Brady’s undoing has been the Patriots’ transition from an elite defensive team to one defined by its offense. Too much of Brady’s success has been out of necessity as the Patriots failed to adequately address the defensive liabilities that held the team back. How long has New England sought a consistent pass rusher and disruptive defensive back? Chandler Jones and Aqib Talib seemed like long awaited solutions, but the Patriots gave up lots of yards (again) and are gone fishing (again), still searching for another Super Bowl victory.
This game can’t be pinned completely on the defense, though. Brady, like Ryan earlier in the evening, was shut out in the second half. Adding emphasis to a larger point…
There is a new crop of quarterbacks who are ready to win now. Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Tony Romo are (varying levels of) great quarterbacks, but their championship window has closed.
Do you see the QB landscape shifting like I do? Is the new crop of young quarterbacks ready to take over the league? Will Ryan, Romo, Brady, or Ben win a ring in the future, or has their ship sailed?
Hit the comments and let me know what you think!