Crazy season even affecting NFL's best quarterbacks - NBC Sports

Crazy season even affecting NFL's best quarterbacks
How to explain four future Hall of Famers losing on same day? It's more than a fluke
AP file, Getty Images file, Reut
Sunday marked the first time Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees all lost on the same day.
September 25, 2012, 10:09 pm

Despite scoring being as high as ever - the average game has produced 47.6 points - something is not right with the 2012 NFL season. It is not just the replacement referees either, though they have been a big factor.

Taking a look at the season's statistical quarterback leaders, you see a lot of the usual suspects in the top 10: the demoted Kevin Kolb, second-year players Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder, rookie Robert Griffin III, and the Harbaugh brothers' fearless leaders Alex Smith and Joe Flacco.

Wait. Is that a list of preseason leaders? Surely it cannot be the real thing? But it is. The quarterbacks we have expected elite performance from based on years of past success are not leading their teams to wins so far.

On Sunday, for the first time ever, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger all lost.

These four future Hall of Fame quarterbacks that we have grown accustomed to seeing wins are a combined 3-9 this season. That is as many wins as Kolb has contributed to the undefeated Cardinals. On Monday night, Aaron Rodgers also lost to join the 1-2 club.

It all adds up to a very awkward season in progress, one that lacks a dominant team or elite offense led by a star quarterback. Should this continue, you would have to go back a solid decade (2000-2002 era) to find a similar season.

What are the chances they all would lose in the same week?
That fact of the week may not be as impressive as it sounds when you consider one of these four quarterbacks is usually on a quest to perfection late into the season, or missed an entire season with injury (Tom Brady in 2008; Peyton Manning in 2011).

But Sunday marked the 73rd time all four played in the same NFL week, and the first time they went 0-4. It was the 58th time they all played without playing each other, so the real number to admire is one 0-4 week in 58 opportunities.

Maybe even just as crazy is that Week 2 was the first time they combined to go 1-3; their first losing week ever. The last time all four of their teams, with or without them starting, lost in the same week was another Week 3, back in the 2008 season. That day Rodgers also suffered his first loss as a starter against Dallas.

The 2004 season makes for a good bookmark in NFL history, as it was the year a lot of history-shaping events happened at the quarterback position.

Here is the breakdown of how the four have done in the 73 weeks they all played (since 2004).

That season was when Manning took his game to an unprecedented level with 49 touchdown passes and a 121.1 passer rating. Brady had a breakout year statistically and won his third Super Bowl in four seasons. Brees finally rewarded San Diego with a career season to start an eight-year run of dominant play. Roethlisberger rewrote both the record books and expectations as the Steelers' rookie quarterback.

With respect to Rodgers and Eli Manning, these four have been the NFL's gold standard at quarterback the last eight years, as no one else has the long track record of both individual and team success. Either Brady, Manning or Roethlisberger has represented the AFC in the Super Bowl in nine straight seasons. Losing streaks are not common for these four, but historic winning streaks are.

Roethlisberger became the first quarterback in NFL history to have a 13-0 record in the regular season, and he did it as a rookie in 2004. Peyton Manning did the same a year later; starting 13-0 with the 2005 Indianapolis Colts (finished 14-2). Brady achieved the only 16-0 regular season in NFL history with the 2007 New England Patriots. While Manning did it again in 2009 with a 14-0 start, Brees was right there with a 13-0 start for the New Orleans Saints (finished 13-3), which would lead to a Saints' Super Bowl victory.

Rodgers became the fifth quarterback to post a 13-0 regular season record last year (finished 14-1). Currently, Rodgers is suffering the greatest scoring drought of his career. Excluding return scores, the Packers have been held to 12, 16 and 16 points in their three games this season. They also scored only 20 points in their playoff loss to the Giants, putting Rodgers at 1-3 in his last four starts.

Since the other four quarterbacks ended their last season (2010 for Manning) with a playoff loss as well, you have some really bad records in the last few games.

What is going wrong this season?
Each of the four quarterbacks has faced a different situation that has led to their losing start.

Manning has likely faced the toughest start of the four quarterbacks. Not only has he had to deal with adjusting to a whole new team, but there is the physical recovery from the neck surgeries, and it is debatable just how healthy Manning is at this point.

On the field, the Broncos won a thrilling game over Pittsburgh in Week 1, but have dropped consecutive games to two 3-0 teams in Atlanta and Houston. After trailing by 20 points in the fourth quarter of each, Manning led a late rally, but the defense was unable to get the ball back for a legit opportunity at a winning touchdown.

The Broncos are a work in progress, but more rehab to get healthier and better timing with his receivers could help Manning get back to his usual standards. He had a slow start before, recovering after injury in 2008 that led to a 3-4 start before reeling off nine straight wins.

When you consider the 40-point scoring differential the Falcons and Texans each had in their other two wins this season, Denver's 1-2 record with a pair of six-point losses does not look as bad. However, the schedule is still filled with challenges.

Brady could be sitting at 3-0 had field-goal attempts gone a little differently at the end of the game the last two weeks. First it was New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski missing on a 42-yard attempt that would have beat Arizona in Week 2, but he was wide left. It was the first failed clutch field goal in a loss for the Patriots since Dec. 26, 1999.

This time it was a blown 9-point lead in Baltimore in the fourth quarter. Brady was unsuccessful on the Patriots' last two drives, while the Ravens drove for the game-winning score. Rookie kicker Justin Tucker did not pull a Billy Cundiff this time, but he did barely make the 27-yard field goal with no time left.

Brady is trying to adjust to life without tight end Aaron Hernandez for the time being, and implementing vertical receiver Brandon Lloyd into an offense that's not known to stretch the field. Brady has been sacked seven times, and is on pace for his highest sack total since his first year as starter (41 times in 2001). The added pressure may explain why Brady has not looked as sharp this season.

The best news for New England is that they still play in the AFC East, and are the best team in the division. They have a good shot to notch a win over Buffalo this week, and now the New York Jets will be without Darrelle Revis the rest of the season. This is still New England's division, even if they are under .500 for the first time in 145 games, snapping that impressive NFL record.

Brees is in a world of trouble at 0-3, and not playing like the prolific quarterback we are so used to seeing in New Orleans since 2006. While the suspension of head coach Sean Payton is a real problem, there is no excuse for Brees to rank 26th in completion percentage (54.7 percent), 27th in yards per attempt (6.60), and 25th in passer rating (77.0).

Brees should be able to wear a blindfold and still hit 60 percent of his passes in this offense, which he knows so well. New Orleans has major problems defensively, but the offense has not met its standard in any of the three games.

Brees struggled against a Washington defense that has been shredded by Sam Bradford and Andy Dalton. He threw a poor interception when he had a chance to tie the game late, and had a rookie-esque pick six against Carolina that contributed to the Week 2 loss.

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Even the 24-6 lead over Kansas City was a bit of a sham. New Orleans had short touchdown drives of 19 and seven yards in the third quarter thanks to takeaways. The offense was not driving on long fields and putting points on the board.

After taking that 18-point lead, Brees finished the game two-of-nine passing for 40 yards, an underthrown interception in scoring territory, and two sacks, including one in the end zone for a safety that led to Kansas City's game-tying drive. He missed his last seven passes.

Even worse news for the Saints: Their three opponents are 0-6 against everyone else they have played, and they next have to play at Lambeau Field against a ticked off Green Bay team. It is already time to stick a fork in Brees and the Saints this year.

Roethlisberger is playing the best of these four quarterbacks, thriving in Todd Haley's offense. He ranks second in the league in passer rating (109.2), and has been incredible on third downs, converting 55 percent of his opportunities (56.4 percent when excluding a spike). Five of his touchdowns are on third down.

Roethlisberger has only one turnover this season, but it was a big one: Tracy Porter's game-clinching pick six in Denver in Week 1. It marred an otherwise very good performance, which was followed with a strong win over the Jets.

But in Oakland, the Steelers wasted one of the finest performances of Roethlisberger's career: 36 of 49 for 384 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 123.2 passer rating. Roethlisberger became the first quarterback in NFL history to have a rating over 120 on at least 45 attempts and lose the game. Oakland scored on five consecutive drives for a 34-31 shocker.

Roethlisberger has always played differently from the other three quarterbacks in his ability to buy time and take contact. This style of backyard football might help explain why he is doing better this season, as he does not rely purely on a well-timed offense.

With replacement officials being inconsistent on allowing contact in the secondary, some of the receivers are not getting as open as they used to in these offenses, which can explain why the quarterbacks are suffering a bit. Protection calls have also been spotty. Roethlisberger was hit low and late at the knees in Oakland, but no flag was thrown. Russell Wilson got a lesser hit while scrambling outside the pocket against Green Bay, and it drew the flag.

The struggles exist beyond just these older elite quarterbacks and Rodgers.

  • Matthew Stafford had huge numbers last year, but is also struggling with Detroit's 1-2 start and just three touchdown passes.
  • Cam Newton was expected to make a big leap, but has two touchdowns and five interceptions in a bad 1-2 start.
  • Michael Vick already has nine turnovers, yet the Eagles are still 2-1 after two fortunate wins.

Unexpected quarterback play and outcomes are what this season has been about. Just when you are ready to crown the San Francisco 49ers as the best team, they play their worst game yet in the Jim Harbaugh era and lose in Minnesota, falling behind the shocking Cardinals in the NFC West.

That is the kind of crazy season it has been. A total of 15 teams have started exactly 1-2; up from the total of nine in each of the last three seasons (2009-11).

Some will definitely rebound to make the playoffs, some will not. By season's end, we may have to look back on 2012 as the end of an era of dominance for these four signal callers who have been making history for at least the last eight years. Some call it a changing of the guard.

As always, the game will move on and a new era will emerge. Let's just hope for one that includes real referees.

Scott Kacsmar (@CaptainComeback) writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, Bleacher Report, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network.

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