As Joe Flacco threw his third touchdown against the Patriots, the single thought that rushed through my head was, “Here we go again.”
I mentioned (well, it was more than just a mention) last week that I have this unreasonable disgust for the Ravens quarterback. I’ve never called him “bad” at the quarterback position, but his playoff success – especially his recent accomplishments – have clouded the judgment of so many reputable football analysts. And to me, especially as a Steeler fan, it’s simply frustrating.
“He just wins,” they say.
You know who else wins? Mark Sanchez. He has a 4-2 playoff record (the same winning percentage as the now 8-4 Joe Flacco), but is looked upon as one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Can we use this same “he just wins” criteria for the Jets signal caller?
It’s time for us all to be rational. We can’t ignore the eye test, and we can’t disregard the other 21 positions on a football field. I beg you to start this movement with me.
This has nothing to do with Joe Flacco. The recency effect is the sole reason I’m using the Delaware quarterback as my example. I realize that the lateroundqb.com frequenter is going to see this introduction and be turned off. But I beg you to understand that I’m off my Joe Flacco soapbox. I’m now onto a much, much bigger one.
Individual players don’t win games in football – both real and fake. They never have, and they never will. Joe Montana? Sure, he won four Super Bowls, but so did the rest of his team. Ben Roethlisberger? He’s the winner of two Lombardi’s, but so were his teammates Hines Ward and Larry Foote.
The media puts quarterbacks on a pedestal because, of course, they’re quarterbacks. They touch the ball on every play, and are usually the face of a franchise. I get it. It’s how it is and how it will always be. When a team wins, their leader is going to be the reason why. And when they lose, it’s going to be because that same person failed miserably.
But it’s one thing for the media to say those things. They do it for ratings. It’s another for us to believe it and push the same agenda. The “Tom Brady lost to Joe Flacco” stuff needs to stop. And the “Joe Flacco went 6-1 against this list of quarterbacks” needs to as well.
Why? Because there’s no “I” in football. (What a stupid, stupid phrase, by the way.)
The quintessential example rests with the endearing Broncos quarterback, Peyton Manning. Scott Kacsmar wrote a brilliant piece on this very subject, stating that Peyton Manning’s 9-11 playoff record “is not an accident for Manning. It’s a misfortune of unbelievable events, and it’s a call for help in what is proven to be the ultimate team game.”
In the article, Kacsmar walks through Manning’s playoff career, pinpointing instances where non-Manning-related events went wrong. Whether it was Mike Vanderjagt’s shank against the Steelers in 2006, or Manning’s 402-yard loss to the Chargers, it’s completely evident that you need a perfect storm in order to consistently make playoff runs in an everchanging and evolving NFL.
It’s not just Manning’s fault. And when his team won the Super Bowl, it’s no coincidence that, during the Colts’ playoff run, Manning’s defense played the best they’d ever played while he was in Indianapolis. It’s the ultime team game.
We, as sport fans, love to identify the sexy, obvious choice when we make these types of generalizations. But it’s wrong. It’s logically, rationally and mathematically incorrect.
It happens in the fantasy world, too. When I pushed my literature about late-round quarterbacks, I knew there’d be fantasy owners making bold sweeping statements based on their individual team results. For every “Aaron Rodgers didn’t perform in 2012” tweet I’d send, I received at least one or two, “Well, he won me my fantasy championship!”
He didn’t win you your fantasy championship, Bradley. He was just on the team that won a fantasy championship. The guys who helped win your championship were the ones who performed off the waiver wire, and were the players that outperformed their position on a consistent basis.
When there are multiple variables that contribute to a desired outcome, especially with a limited sample size, it’s very difficult to draw precise conclusions about those individual variables. For example, we know that Joe Flacco has now won more road playoff games than any other quarterback in NFL history, but how do we know that it’s Joe Flacco winning them? Without any sort of comparison – like another quarterback playing for the Ravens during this time span, or seeing Joe Flacco play for another team – it becomes unreasonable to make such a crazy statement.
Again – I get it. Given the fact that it’s football, we’re never going to do experimental tests on individual games. We can’t say, “Hey, now let’s play that exact same AFC Championship game, but instead of Joe Flacco playing, we’ll play Cam Newton. Oh, and make sure each player performs at the exact ability they played at during the original AFC Championship game.”
There’s no controlled variable in football. There are simply outcomes.
That’s why win vs. loss generalities exist. But if we’re going to make these bold statements, can they at least be littered in some sort of truth? If we’re going to say that Joe Flacco is elite because of his win percentage in the playoffs, shouldn’t we say the same about Mark Sanchez? Or if we’re going to conclude that Peyton Manning is a choke artist in the playoffs, should we now say the same about nearly every quarterback of this era?
Let’s face it: If Peyton Manning’s secondary plays moderate defense against Jacoby Jones, Joe Flacco isn’t even remotely considered as elite. If Joe Flacco’s defense doesn’t hold the near-35 points per game Patriots to just 13 tallies, we’re not talking about a Harbaugh brother Super Bowl. If Tom Brady doesn’t get an incomplete pass call on a clear fumble against the Raiders in 2001, we’re looking at a completely different NFL history.
The many “ifs” can’t change, and they’re the sole source of game and performance results. But, if you look at the standard examples above, it’s not the quarterback making the difference. It’s the secondary. It’s the entire defense. It’s, in some cases, the referees.
Before we crown any quarterback elite, or before we say a particular player was the reason a team won, let’s take a step back. Breathe. Whether it’s real or pretend football, any one play – any one instant – is impacted by the many variables on a football field.
Joe Flacco is good, but he’s not elite. Why? Well, he has a pretty awful completion percentage, and has been wildly inconsistent throughout his career. He’s got some really reliable receivers and a defense that has been fantastic since his start in the league. He wins, and that’s hugely important. That absolutely makes him worthwhile as a quarterback. He, without a doubt, deserves to be a starter in the NFL.
He’s not better than Brady or Manning, though. Just because he beat them in the playoffs doesn’t mean he’s better than them. Deion Branch once caught 11 passes in a Super Bowl. Is he now better than Terrell Owens, his opponent in that Super Bowl?
That has a right answer, and it’s not “yes”.
Look, it’s not natural for a sports fan to think so rationally. I sure don’t all the time. But before you send out tweets, make declarative statements or write articles where the argument is only win/loss based – stop. That’s just part of the reality. You still need to think about individual performances, use the eye test and look at the real reasons why a team wins.
It’s not just because of the quarterback play. (Says the author of The Late Round Quarterback.)