This year will prove to be a pivotal year in football. Each year has it’s own character and it’s own characters. Some are beloved and others reviled. Some burst on the scene while others maintain the scene from years gone by and yet to come.
This is the year of the Roethlisberger effect. Similar to the Marino effect, only without the big stats. Ben Roethlisberger, thought by many to have the highest ceiling of all the young quarterbacks drafted this year, may get the opportunity to do something Marino didn’t…win a Super Bowl. Certainly it is too early to tell, but already his legend has grown to prolific proportions. Nine straight wins to start a career, shattering former Steeler rookie Mike Kruczek’s record of six consecutive wins set in 1976, even though Rothy’s numbers are more like Trent Dilfer’s than Peyton Manning’s. Nine wins by a rookie quarterback in a season, which ties the current NFL record held by Joe Ferguson of the Buffalo Bills (1973) and Chris Chandler of the Indianapolis Colts (1988). Add to the mix a top-rated defense, an offense that doesn’t mind riding public transportation, and a gritty coach that always seems to turn a lemon into lemonade and you have a recipe for a Super Bowl championship.
Just a few short years ago there were several absolutes. Rookie wide receivers were non-contributors. That was before Randy Moss, Andre Johnson, Roy Williams, Anquan Boldin and Michael Clayton turned that logic into nonsense. Rookie quarterbacks can’t play and be expected to win. Ok, that’s still true for the most part, but they certainly are coming into their own faster than they used to. Two years ago David Carr set the ignominious record for most sacks, getting planted 76 times behind a porous Texan’s offensive line. This year he is among the league leaders in yardage. Michael Vick exploded on the scene his rookie year and continues to amaze. Carson Palmer has had some tough games, but responded to veiled threats of a benching to by having a career game against the Browns.
And while we look at quarterbacks, how can you not be completely astounded and amazed by the season Peyton Manning is having. 41 Touchdown passes, 3198 yards and only 7 interceptions. Manning was the second quarterback drafted in most fantasy leagues behind Daunte Culpepper, and is single-handedly making an argument for drafting a stud quarterback, especially if his name is Manning, in the first round. 24 touchdown passes in his last five games. If you don’t have him on your team and you are heading for the playoffs in your league, the things you hope happen to him would get you serious pennance in confession. Unless of course Father Mulcahy is a fantasy fan…then you might just slide with a “Bless you son”.
Willis McGahee comes back from what should have been a career-ending injury to lead the resurgent Bills. Julius Jones, a pre-season favorite by many for Rookie of the Year, seemingly in Parcell’s dog house, is ridden by the Cowboys in the last two games with 30 and 33 carries respectively and tallies 230 yards. In St. Louis the stud wide receivers aren’t Bruce and Holt…instead it’s a couple of second year guys, Shawn McDonald and Kevin Curtis. Denver takes three running backs to get it right, finally settling on another journeyman, Reuben “The Drone” Droughns. (Sorry sandwich lovers, but a Reuben is gross grub. Sauerkraut? Barf.) And the big news in San Diego continues to be converted basketball player Antonio Gates, who didn’t play a down of football in college at Kent State.
I feel like I’m drifting in the Twilight Zone. I keep waiting for that weird music to play and hear Rod Serling’s narrative. The only thing keeping me sane is watching Drew Henson prove a rookie is still a rookie. Tell that to Denny Green, who is getting ready to start rookie QB John Navarre in a desperate attempt to generate some offense in the desert heat of Phoenix. Rather than rise from the ashes, as the namesake suggests, expect Navarre to be hung in effigy and burned to ashes by a sparse Cardinal crowd.
But perhaps the biggest surprise is the old running back resurrection. Corey Dillon, Priest Holmes, Curtis Martin and Emmitt Smith are having productive seasons. In Holmes case that may be spoken in the past tense as he continues to miss games following a knee sprain suffered against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it sends another truism hurtling towards the trash bin of common wisdom, that running backs over 30 aren’t worth their weight in bling.
This sheds some light on the upheaval in league standings. How else do you explain the San Diego (Super) Chargers leading the AFC West after twelve weeks, the Steelers sitting on a league best (albeit tied with the Patriots and Eagles) 10-1 record, and the Atlanta Falcons lurking nearby at 9-2? Well, at least in the Falcon’s case they have a plausible excuse. They picked up one of the best personnel guys in the league when Rich McKay jumped a sinking Buc’s ship. Now Chucky is making faces again, but there’s no one to tell him to stop.
Come back Rich. Please come back.