NEW YORK -- "What's up, Franchise?''
That's how Jets coach
"I honestly don't think this kid knows he's the quarterback of a New York football team,'' said teammate
Rhodes is not alone. What struck me about Sunday's games -- about the first two weeks, in fact -- is how lucky the NFL is to have so many neophyte quarterbacks playing so well so early in their careers. Twenty of the 30 quarterbacks who played Sunday entered the league in the past six years. I'm not sure if that's any sort of record, but I do think it's surprising that two-thirds of the quarterbacks we saw Sunday are in their 20s.
The quarterbacks in the last two drafts have been exceedingly precocious. Sanchez, drafted fifth overall last April, was 14 of 22 for 163 yards and a touchdown in the 16-9 win over New England. What made his performance more surprising was his poise. Watching him in the NBC studios,
I count six passers 25 or younger -- Ryan, Flacco, Sanchez, Stafford,
I can think of a few reasons. Colleges are a better incubator for pro quarterbacks today, in part because they're playing more pro-style spread schemes (and the NFL is copying some college spread stuff too); the NFL is using more shotgun snaps too, and that allows young passers to see the field more clearly on passing downs. There's also been a lot of cross-pollination between college and pro football recently.
Plus, several of the young players seem so much more able to handle the rigors of the job at a young age. Last year, I'll never forget the scene at Baltimore training camp when Flacco, a rookie, went to the line to call signals and watched and listened for four or five seconds while several defensive players on the Ravens, most notably
"Being at SC, in such a big program with such a good offensive attack, prepared me for this job well,'' Sanchez told me. "And just like SC prepared me for the football side of things, being in LA prepared me for the media side of it too. Here, on the field and off the field, everything is faster, but I feel like I'm ready for it. Like, Wednesday's my media day. I do a press conference, and the media guys here give me a list of everything I have to do, and I never feel overwhelmed.''
I said on NBC last night that Sanchez got a good piece of advice from
Aloud, I wondered to Sanchez whether his coach at USC,
Sanchez started slowly against New England, but, excluding a just-get-into-the-halftime-unscathed 17-second drive at the end of the first half, led scoring drives on four straight possessions -- starting in the second quarter. On the first play of the second half, from the Jet 44, he sent
All along, we figured Ryan would find a way to hold the opposition in the teens. That's his forte. He's actually doing better. New York has allowed just nine offensive points in eight quarters. The worry all along was how quickly Sanchez would come along. And he'll have his rocky moments. All young quarterbacks do, like the first play of the game, when a strip-sack resulted in a loss of 17 yards and put Sanchez back at his three-yard line. But time and again Sunday, he'd drop back, step nimbly out of any rush the Patriots threw at him (which wasn't much), and look very much like he belonged.
I could go back to 2003 (
1. Matt Ryan, Atlanta, age 24, 2: Started this season 2-0. Now 13-5 as a pro.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay, age 25, 2: Threw for 261 yards in loss to Cincinnati
3. Jay Cutler, Chicago, age 26, 4: Rebounded from opening nightmare to beat Pitt.
4. Joe Flacco, Baltimore, age 24, 2: Finally has Baltimore O on equal footing with D
5. Mark Sanchez, NY Jets, age 22, 1: Even Namath didn't start the '65 opener
6. Trent Edwards, Buffalo, age 25, 2: Masterful at NE in opener, and beat TB Sunday
7. Matthew Stafford, Detroit, age 21, 1: Lions know they can't rush the kid
8. Kevin Kolb, Philadelphia, age 25, 0: Could back up McNabb for 2 more years.
9. Brady Quinn, Cleveland, age 24, 1: He'll get too beat up in Cleveland to be judged fairly.
10. JaMarcus Russell, Oakland, age 24, 2: A 52% passer in 21 career outings.
A final note: Think of all the talent headed to the league in 2010: Oklahoma's
The odd thing -- especially considering the topic of this column -- is how well the older quarterbacks are playing. The three who have found the fountain of football youth:
What was all the more admirable about the performance by Favre -- who turns 40 in three weeks -- is that he got sacked three times by the Lions and hit hard on four other occasions, and still had one of the most accurate days of his NFL career, completing 23 of 27 throws. He came out of the game for the last series after banging his right hand in the process of throwing a touchdown pass to
Now, we all assume that no one will ever break this record of Favre's, but should we? Let's say Favre plays 16 games this regular-season, then retires. (For good.) That would give him 285 straight starts. Peyton Manning is now at 177. If he starts the rest of this year, he'd be at 192. So he'd need 94 starts to pass Favre; Manning would have to start every game 'til December 2015 to get to 286. By that time, like Favre, Manning would be 39. Now that Manning has started to have knee issues, my money's on Favre to keep the record, but it wouldn't stun me if Manning -- who is conscious of his place in history and loves football as much as he loves breathing -- worked tirelessly to stay healthy enough to play that long.
"I've had days where I felt like this before,'' he said. "The NFC Championship Game last year. The Super Bowl. Those weren't as accurate, but I felt like I was going to complete every ball. This was one of those days where you see things so quickly and feel comfortable about making the decisions so quickly. I knew where to go with the ball the second I got it. I haven't had many of those days, but this was one of them.''
Warner, 38, looks like he could play another three or four years. He's his typical immobile self, and maybe even a little moreso after offseason hip surgery, but since when did that matter? "The one thing I've learned about the game is you always have to figure out what you've lost and how to play with what you have left," he said. "If I'm slower, fine. But I think my feel for the game makes up for that.''
We can see.
"Every time we touch the ball, we think we're scoring,'' Brees said from the team bus in Philly, after the Saints routed the Eagles 48-22. "This game says a lot. We played in a hostile environment, played well in all three phases, and played a team that always makes the playoffs. It's big for us.''
I told him he reminded me of Warner a decade ago, where every game he played I thought he'd throw for 350. Well, he's got a way to go. He's averaging 334.5 yards a game. That'll do. If the Saints' D holds up its end, New Orleans will be play deep into January.
I can't let this column top pass without acknowledging the greatness of Ray Lewis.
On fourth-and-two in the final minute at San Diego, with the Ravens trying to protect a 31-26 lead, the Chargers had the ball at Baltimore's 15. With
"The greatest play of Ray Lewis' career,'' Rodney Harrison said on NBC's
I spoke with Baltimore offensive coordinator
I thought so too. And I bet the Ravens are pretty happy they re-signed Ray Lewis instead of lowballing him and pushing him to go elsewhere -- when he still, obviously, has some great football left.
Any doubt now the offense is an equal in Baltimore? The most impressive thing is the offense. At 34.5 points a game, the Ravens are second in the NFL to New Orleans.
"You played a great game. You're really a smart player."
"The vastness of the concourses, some of them 65 feet wide, can make you feel as if you are lost in an international airport terminal ... The four-sided video board over the field is so big, and hangs so low, that a Tennessee punter hit it during a preseason game. It's a nice irony that for all the space, there may not be enough room at Cowboys Stadium to play a game.''
"I don't have all the answers. If I did, I'd be a cab driver.''
Clark died Wednesday. He was
This is too good to pass up from
Of course that number is not as frightening as
"Sign in the stands to Kiffin: 'Even the Raiders don't want you.' ''
Others had better numbers than Manning's (25-38, 330 yards, two touchdowns), but he put 13 points on the board with three crisp scoring drives in the final 16 minutes Sunday night at Dallas.
In the process, he distributed the ball superbly -- 13 attempts to
His 24-of-26 passing day, 92.3 percent, is the best in the 90-year history of the league. He's getting older, but he might also be getting better.
The one thing the Packers were convinced they could do after an offseason adjusting to the 3-4 and a preseason in which they played it well and an opener in which they snuffed out the Bears is stop the run. And so here came a totally unimpressive running game, Cincinnati's, into Lambeau. Benson rushing 29 times for 141 yards (a 4.8-yard average) was the biggest reason the Bengals pulled the upset of the day.
Can't blame him for the Tennessee D collapsing. Johnson had 284 yards from scrimmage on 25 touches (16 carries for 197 yards rushing, nine catches for 87 yards). Every time I looked up Sunday he was running wild-- one a 57-yard touchdown run, a 69-yard pass play from
As I said up top, one of the great plays of Lewis' career capped the Ravens' 31-26 win at San Diego. For the day, he had 12 tackles and a forced fumble. At 34, Lewis continues to play at the high level he's played at since the day he entered the league in the first year in Ravens' history, 1996.
Before this season, Odom had played 60 NFL games and totaled 15.5 sacks. Guess who's the 2009 sack leader? Odom, the former bit-part Titan, who had five sacks, two additional tackles for loss, and five tackles in the Bengals' stunning upset at Green Bay. That gives Odom seven for the season, and it gives the Bengals a pass-rushing end they've been lacking for years, even when
With the Jaguars aiming to cut a seven-point deficit to four on a
Ryan said after the upset of the Patriots, in essence, that the Jets talk because they can back it up. Two games prove it -- the Jets haven't allowed an offensive touchdown in a two-game stretch for the first time since 1993. I love the varying defensive looks the Jets gave New England. On the final three snaps of the day for New England, Brady faced seven-, five- and six-man rushes coming at him. I think from the we-won't-kiss-Belichick's-rings comment to challenging his quarterback to be great right away to telling his team they won't back down to anyone no matter what ... Ryan has a formula that's pretty simple: Ryan is putting the chip on the shoulder of every opponent and backing up every word he's saying.
It came down to a battle of the kickers in the fourth quarter at Chicago. Reed missed wide left from 38 yards with 11:42 to play, then missed again from 43 yards out -- again wide left -- with 3:23 left. Meanwhile, Jay Cutler threw a game-tying touchdown, and then
Yes, I've written a book. It's a combo platter of MMQB classic (there's an oxymoron) and new stuff -- lists, opinions, forecasting the future. It'll be out in October, and
This week, I'm giving you my top 12 quarterbacks of all time. This comes in the wake of
By the way, number 100 on my best player ever list is a quarterback too. And he'll surprise you quite a bit. You'll have to buy the book to find that one out.
The Ravens scored 33 points in defeating the Cowboys in the final game at Texas Stadium. The Giants scored 33 points in defeating the Cowboys in the first game at Cowboys Stadium.
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 2:
a. I've had a number of Tweets and e-mails asking about
He still can't do his famous charting of the games, obviously. I can tell you Zim appreciates everyone keeping him in their thoughts.
d. Belichick-Ryan handshake: Mangini-esque.
e. Lions: 19 in a row, 1-25 in the last 26.
g. Good for
h. Changing of the Guard in Pittsburgh Dept.?
i. Exhale, Chicago. Jay Cutler was pretty good Sunday.
j. Not saying I can pick games or teams or anything, as my Detroit-over-Minnesota pick, and my 7-9 Saints prediction shows, but I did pick the Browns to go 2-14. And I'm not feeling too wrong about that right now.
k. Good story by buddy
2. I think I haven't seen a win that seemed so much like a loss as Washington's 9-7 snoozer over the Rams.
3. I think Brad Childress must be mad at me. He told me Sunday that my love for
4. I think the loss of
5. I think the one thing all you Eagle/
6. I think the weirdness of the
It's interesting how teams treat injured players.
It even got to the point last week that one of Andrews' friends on the team,
7. I think this is what I liked about Week 2:
b. Drew Brees: nine touchdowns in the first 92 minutes of the season.
f. If I lived in western New York, I'd be really excited about Trent Edwards. The presence, the poise, the accuracy and the playmaking in the first two games is one of the good stories of the early season.
g. Falcons ought to play with the old unis, the ones they wore Sunday against Carolina. Love the black and red.
h. Come to think of it, the Patriots' old uniforms are far, far better than the new ones. Love the red and whites from Monday night.
j. Loved how the Cincinnati offensive line made a shell around
k. Very good job by
8. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 2:
b. Mark Sanchez did not "have too much juice'' on his throw in the end zone to
c. When I saw
f. If I'm
g. If I'm
h. Poor star-crossed
i. There's something missing from the Cowboys. Don't know what it is. Something like discipline. How do the little mistakes keep happening from
9. I think
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. My best friend thinks Tony Dungy sounds like Cleveland in
b. Doesn't USC lose every year in some wild Pac-10 road game where the camera shakes throughout the fourth quarter because the stands are all quaking?
c. There is nothing like a beautiful Indian Summer Saturday in New York City, especially around Soho. The crowds are incredible. What recession?
d. My goal in life is to be a clue in the
e. Coffeenerdness: Try as I might to make a go of China Green Tips tea (that was Marino's tea of choice at Starbucks when we worked at HBO, and I always admired how good he was being to steer clear of the coffee), I can't see myself being a daily drinker. Starbucks Italian Roast is making a comeback in our kitchen in Boston.
f. Weird pennant race. Like, where is one?
g. All of a sudden, I'd be nervous about the playoffs if I loved the Yankees. After
h. Never, ever did I think I'd be saying this in midsummer, but I could see an Angels-Cards World Series. MVP:
i. Very good opening night for