Until someone proves otherwise, quarterback will remain the most important position in team sports.
Washington fans and coaches got to see what might have been Sunday, when Justin Herbert (the No. 6 selection in the 2020 draft) had his way against a defense led by No. 2 pick Chase Young. On the other side, an aging veteran (Ryan Fitzpatrick) gave way to journeyman (Taylor Heinicke) in a losing effort for a team that hasn’t had a franchise quarterback in decades.
Meanwhile, a couple of teams that dearly missed their gruesomely injured signal-callers a year ago saw just what a difference they can make when healthy. Another quarterback showed why he was the No. 1 overall pick six years and one team ago.
And Tom Brady wasn’t the only geezer to show he still has something left in the tank--while Aaron Rodgers showed that off-season distractions might not be turned off so easily with the flip of a switch.
We’ll start with the medical miracles. When last we saw Dak Prescott, his foot was facing the wrong way against the Giants last October. A month later, Joe Burrow was carted off the turf at FedEx Field--the quarterbacks’ equivalent of Charlie Brown’s kite-eating tree--with a severe knee injury. Their teams plummeted without them.
Flash forward past top-notch surgeons and months of rehab, and there was Prescott last Thursday night, matching throws with Brady until the Buccaneers legend got the ball last. Prescott’s 403 yards and four touchdown passes weren’t enough to pull out a victory, but his return to form makes Dallas the new favorite in the NFL’s weakest division.
Burrow looked just as fit, completing 20 of 27 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns as Cincinnati outlasted Minnesota in overtime. His Bengals are still underdogs in a rugged AFC North, but the longtime kittens haven’t seem overwhelmed once when the 2020 No. 1 overall pick has been in their lineup.
Speaking of No. 1 picks, Jameis Winston showed exactly why Tampa Bay looked past his frequent on- and off-field immaturity and chose him first in 2015. The Buccaneers tired of his antics and upgraded the position with Brady a year ago, leaving Winston to find a backup role in New Orleans.
After Drew Brees retired, Winston beat out Taysom Hill for the starting job this summer and blitzed Green Bay’s stunned defense for five touchdown passes Sunday. Perhaps he benefitted from returning to Florida after Hurricane Ida displaced the Saints, but Winston completely outplayed Rodgers, who, when he wasn’t guest-hosting Jeopardy!, spent most of the spring ignoring the Packers’ phone calls.
Those quarterbacks (like Brady) seem to have many years left to shine. Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t. If this is his final season in Pittsburgh, he certainly started it on a high note, outdueling the newly minted Josh Allen and quieting Buffalo’s Super Bowl buzz with a surprising 23–16 road victory.
And after a decade in the Detroit wilderness, Matthew Stafford showed exactly why the Rams wanted him in his West Coast début.
Rookies Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Mac Jones all put up big numbers in losing causes. Their challenge, like the one Burrow faced a year ago and the one Winston struggled with in Tampa, is to pull a reverse play with struggling franchises.
It won’t be easy, and not all will succeed. But as last weekend proved, if you have a franchise quarterback, you have a chance.
Steve DeShazo: 374-5443