This morning, my boss was talking about the Broncos’ playoff loss before our weekly programming meeting. During the course of the conversation, he brought up Peyton Manning’s postseason failures. Knowing that I’m a Giants fan, he turned to me and said, “I wish Peyton could be clutch like Eli.”
I just shook my head.
We have all of these perceptions, most of which aren't necessarily true, about individual quarterbacks based on their team's success/failure, and we develop narratives based on those successes/failures.
Let's examine a few of them:
Narrative #1: "Eli Manning is clutch!"
Sure, Eli Manning has won two Super Bowl MVPs. He also owns the NFL record for the most road playoff wins (five) by a starting quarterback. But, Eli’s Giants have missed the playoffs entirely in three of the last four seasons. During that span, he’s turned the ball over 88 times. If he was so “clutch” during last year’s Super Bowl run, why couldn’t his “clutchness” lift the underachieving Giants to the postseason in 2009, 2010, or 2012? Everyone says Eli is a “winner”, but he didn't rise to the occassion in the Giants' do-or-die late December games (see: 2009, 2010, 2012) in three of those four seasons. I guess Eli's "clutch" ability is sort of like my cold these past few weeks - it comes and goes.
Narrative #2: "Joe Flacco is a winner!"
Yesterday, I heard Joe Flacco described as a “winner” because the Ravens always seem to make a playoff run. Flacco’s Ravens have made the postseason in each of his first five seasons, winning at least one game, and he sports a 7-4 mark in those contests. Let’s compare that to Donovan McNabb, who was lambasted in Philly for not being a “winner”. McNabb, who helped lead the Eagles to the postseason in nine of his eleven seasons, was 10-8 in eighteen playoff starts. Philadelphia was one-and-done just once (2009), and reached the Conference Title Game five times. McNabb’s postseason QB rating is 80. Flacco’s is 79.7. The narratives say that one is a “choker” and the other is a “winner”, but in reality, they couldn’t be more similar.
Narrative #3: "Matt Ryan is a choker in the playoffs!"
Ryan was under heavy criticism entering this postseason, despite the fact that his teams had won 56 regular season games, and he’s led sixteen career fourth quarter comebacks (h/t @CaptainComeback). Following Atlanta's come-from-ahead win yesterday, sportswriters claimed that Ryan “exorcised his playoff demons”. I wonder what would’ve happened if Matt Bryant’s 49-yard game-winning field goal sailed wide left. Would that mean Matt Ryan still has “playoff demons” and that he’s still a “choker”? The continuation or dissolution of the “Matt Ryan: playoff failure” narrative wasn’t dependent on Ryan. Instead, it was solely reliant on Matt Bryant’s foot. Can’t you see the ridiculousness in that?
Frankly, I'm tired of perceptions and I'm tired of narratives. It disgusts me that football analysis has devolved to “this guy <the winning team’s quarterback> won it, and the other guy <the losing team’s quarterback> lost it!” I can’t even begin to describe how wrong that viewpoint is. While there is no doubt that a quarterback has a large impact on the outcome of a game (<cough> Joe Webb <cough>), there are so many other things that go into who wins and who loses. Any football coach will tell you that 53 players determine the outcome of a game, so why are we – media and fans – so obsessed with just one, single part of that equation?
For the Pro-QB Wins backers, the blanket counterargument is that winning games is “all that matters”. Really? Mark Sanchez just wins games. Tim Tebow just wins games. Vince Young just wins games. Those three quarterbacks are a combined 77-58 as starters (including playoffs), and have a winning (5-4) postseason record. One just lost his starting job, one is a third-string sideshow, and the last may never take another NFL snap. Clearly, evaluating a quaterback goes beyond what their team’s record is with them under center.
Young's limitations were obvious, despite his teams' successful records
Instead of participating in narratives and lazy groupthink, let's evaluate each quarterback on their entire body of work: MVPs, All-Pro selections, yards, completion percentage, TD-INT ratio, and equally, playoff success, all matter. Dig deeper. For every Dan Marino, there is a Terry Bradshaw - the fact that one has zero rings and the other has four does not tell the whole story.
I’m not asking a quarterback’s team success/failure to be completely ignored, but it can’t be the sole basis of evaluation. Teams can win despite poor play from their quarterback and teams can lose despite great play from their quarterback. It's unfair to lose sight of that.