Josh Freeman's epic meltdown Monday night in the Meadowlands was just the latest, and perhaps most ghastly, miscalculation at quarterback this season. Freeman's play was almost mesmerizingly ugly in the 23-7 loss to the previously winless Giants, and most of the blame for his primetime implosion in MetLife Stadium seemed to stick to the desperate Vikings, who started the controversial ex-Bucs passer just 12 days after he was signed as a free agent.
Let's put aside for the moment that before the game nobody among the vast array of NFL talking heads seemed to be screaming that rushing Freeman onto the field against New York was a bad idea, doomed to fail. But you heard quite a bit of that from all directions once Freeman started unraveling before our eyes, completing just 20 of a whopping 53 passes, a brutal 37.7 completion percentage that probably made Minnesota fans pine for even the Christian Ponder of September.
Going against a defense that ranked dead last in the league and was allowing 34.8 points per game, Freeman led a Vikings offense that didn't score, and threw for 190 yards, with an interception and a 40.6 passer rating. And those anemic numbers don't even begin to tell the story of how bad he really looked. Consistently misfiring high, low and wide, Freeman sprayed the ball around the field like he was trying to knock down milk bottles at the county fair, to impress a first date. Unofficially, the 40-yard-line led the Vikings in targets.
Many rushed to excuse his performance, saying he was set up to fail by the panicked Vikings in being put on the field so soon, and there's some truth to that. But Freeman is a fifth-year veteran and a former first-round pick, and you'd think he'd be able to hit a few wide-open receivers in stride, even if he still doesn't know all the names on the backs of those white and purple jerseys. Yes, he could have used more preparation time and entered play against New York with a better grasp of the Minnesota offense, but 33 incompletions? C'mon. That's about four games worth for the Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees of the football world.
Nobody's quarterback situation has been quite the muddled mess of Minnesota's this season, what with the injured and ineffective Ponder going 0-3 before giving way to veteran backup Matt Cassel, who went 1-1 before being quickly replaced by Freeman.
While reality dictated Freeman was going to play and play soon after being signed to a pro-rated slice of a $3 million contract in a rent-a-player deal, the Vikings at the moment are 0-for-3 on quarterback calls, and look more lost at the position than they would have if they had just decided to ride this season out with Ponder, a 2011 first-round pick, or stick with Cassel once they made the move to him in Week 4. Where are they now, other than being 1-5, entrenched in last place in the NFC North, and facing a rough stretch of schedule that includes two games against Green Bay and trips to Dallas and Seattle over the coming five weeks? All three of Minnesota's starters have been devalued to some degree by their association with the 2013 Vikings.
But the Vikings this season are not alone in their glaring misjudgments at the game's most pivotal position. Far from it. There has been a bevy of missteps and mistakes made on the quarterback front, and it's been a recurring theme from the offseason on. To wit:
• Oakland -- The Raiders clearly didn't know they had their best starting QB option under their nose all along in the untested Terrelle Pryor, the most promising playmaker they've featured since the days of Rich Gannon. Why else would they have shipped a fifth-round pick to Seattle to acquire the plummeting fortunes of one Matt Flynn, or spend a valuable fourth-round pick on Arkansas' Tyler Wilson? (On the plus side, Oakland did manage to unload Carson Palmer on Arizona.)
The Raiders (3-4) cut Wilson before the start of the regular season, but at least they were able to re-sign him to the practice squad and retain the hope of getting some return on their investment. Flynn, by comparison, was a total swing and a miss. He was beaten out by Pryor in the preseason, started once in place of the injured Pryor with disastrous results, demoted to third-team and eventually released in early October.
Thanks for stopping by, Matt.
• Arizona -- For the life of me, I can't figure out why the Cardinals sounded so excited to acquire the erratic Carson Palmer from the Raiders for next to nothing this offseason. Maybe that's what the dismal John Skelton-Kevin Kolb-Ryan Lindley era will do to a team, making everyone view Palmer as the savior and an answer to prayers. But through the first seven games of his stint in Arizona (3-4), Palmer has been positively dreadful, showing no signs of recapturing the Pro Bowl form he once displayed in Cincinnati (a long, long, long time ago).
Palmer, 33, is working on a string of five consecutive games with at least two interceptions, and his passer rating over that span is a microscopic 62.4. His 13 picks and eight touchdowns overall have to be making Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians itchy to play backup Drew Stanton, who he brought with him from Indianapolis. But there is that little matter of Arizona having unwisely committed $10 million in guaranteed money to Palmer over this year and next, so the Cardinals probably don't want to admit their mistake too soon, knowing full well that Palmer's history is to play anything but the good solider.
• Cleveland -- Brandon Weeden has played his way back onto the endangered list in Cleveland, and the man has richly earned that designation with his backhanded, ill-advised interceptions. In a loss to the Packers on Sunday, Weeden completed just 17-of-42 pass attempts, giving Josh Freeman something to shoot for when it comes to inefficiency. It looks like Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski is about to go to backup Jason Campbell, and that just means Cleveland (3-4) has arrived back at square one at quarterback, with next year's draft the only goal in sight.
That's not entirely accurate, though. Neither Weeden nor Campbell are likely to be Browns in 2014, but Brian Hoyer almost certainly will. The Browns signed him in May after his release from Arizona (see Cardinals quarterback mistakes, above), and he probably should have replaced Weeden atop the team's depth chart later that day. Hoyer played very well in his three-game starting stint with the Browns, but he blew out his ACL in Week 6 and underwent season-ending surgery.
In reality, Cleveland just wasted more time this year in trying to make its first-round investment in Weeden pay off, when Hoyer was the best the Browns had. I could foresee him starting the season at No. 1 next year, while Cleveland tries to slowly bring along whichever first-round passer it lands in the draft.
• Jacksonville -- Everything I just said about wasting time on Weeden probably applies in the same way to the Jaguars' Blaine Gabbert. The new management team in Jacksonville tried to give Gabbert one last chance, but the injuries and the ineffectiveness have not abated and his days as a Jaguar are essentially over. Veteran Chad Henne isn't the team's long-term answer either, but somebody has to play until next May's draft rolls around and Jacksonville (0-7) starts over at quarterback. And at least Henne does own the Jaguars' only 300-yard passing game of the season, at Denver.
• New York Jets -- The Jets are a surprising 4-3 AFC contender with rookie quarterback Geno Smith under center, and their success only makes it more obvious that keeping Mark Sanchez in the mix all preseason only complicated the situation needlessly for a while. It would have been far cleaner for all concerned to have parted ways with Sanchez when the decision to draft Smith was made, but that's not the way the Jets roll.
Throw in the on-again, off-again presence of veteran backup David Garrard, and the specifics of Sanchez's Week 3 preseason shoulder injury, and New York has certainly taken a curious and circuitous route to its current quarterback situation. Putting Sanchez on the short-term IR list, only to then see him submit to season-ending surgery a few weeks later, served as the perfect capper to the Jets' series of miscalculations. New York spent it's one valuable eight-week IR designation on a player who likely played his last snap as a Jet in the fourth quarter of a meaningless preseason game. The Jets are winning, but it may be in spite of themselves.