NFL morning after: Teams win and lose, quarterbacks don’t
Colt McCoy is a winner. And so is Blake Bortles. Kyle Orton and Ryan Tannehill, too. And don’t forget Austin Davis, who made a loser of Russell Wilson. Drew Brees? Like Wilson, a loser. Philip Rivers is a loser, and so is Eli Manning. Cam Newton is a big loser.
That’s one way to look at yesterday’s NFL action. It’s an all too common way to look at the NFL. It’s a ridiculous way to look at the NFL.
There’s a tendency to say that a quarterback “won” a game or “lost” a game, and to diminish a great performance by a quarterback in a losing effort, or prop up a bad performance by a quarterback whose team won, by saying that all that matters is the scoreboard. That tendency should stop. Teams win and lose. Quarterbacks do not.
Colt McCoy played well yesterday in relief of Kirk Cousins as Washington beat Tennessee, but that doesn’t make McCoy a “winner.” It makes him a backup quarterback who did his job well. Blake Bortles played badly, with just 159 passing yards and three interceptions, but the rest of his team played well enough that Jacksonville beat Cleveland. We shouldn’t call Bortles a “winner” based on that performance.
There was a stat making the rounds earlier this season about how Russell Wilson was undefeated against Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. And it’s true. It’s also largely irrelevant to a question of who’s the best quarterback among that group. The quarterback who wins the most is usually the quarterback with the best teammates. Wilson is a good quarterback, but he has a Super Bowl ring more because he played for a team with a great defense last year than because of his own abilities.
And if you think Wilson’s record against Manning, Brady, Brees and Rodgers makes him better than those four quarterbacks, I’d love to know what you thought about Wilson “losing” to Austin Davis yesterday.
Andrew Luck, one of the winning quarterbacks yesterday, said it well after his Colts beat the Bengals: “It’s the greatest team game in the world because you rely on different phases of the game,” Luck said. “I’m just like a fan -- I might as well be a fan when our defense is out there. I don’t know what the calls are or anything, but they do a heck of a job and they certainly gave us a great lift today, and I’m glad they got that shutout.”
Luck played well, and the Colts’ defense played well, and Indianapolis won 27-0. But if Luck had played well, the Colts’ defense played badly, and Indianapolis lost 35-27, would that change how good a player Luck is? Of course not.
Tony Romo has taken plenty of heat when his team loses, and now he’s getting lots of credit because the Cowboys are winning, but the reality is Romo is the same quarterback he always was. The Cowboys’ offensive line is better than ever, DeMarco Murray is playing lights out and the Cowboys’ defense is much improved, and so the perennially .500 Cowboys are 6-1. Romo, who got too much blame when the Cowboys were 8-8, will get too much credit if the Cowboys keep winning.
For 55 minutes yesterday, Drew Brees played better against a good Lions defense than Matthew Stafford did against a bad Saints defense. Does the fact that the Saints’ lousy defense finally got exposed in the last five minutes, and Stafford’s Lions beat Brees’s Saints 24-23, make Brees a “loser” and Stafford a “winner”? Of course not.
The quarterback is the most important player on the field, but he is not the singular reason a team wins or loses. The quarterback is on the field for less than half of the game and is one of 11 players on his team when he is playing. Pretending he’s even half of the reason his team wins or loses is silly. A good quarterback might cost 10 percent of his team’s salary cap, so maybe a highly paid quarterback should get 10 percent of the credit when his team wins or 10 percent of the blame when his team loses. The bulk of the reason a team wins or loses is reflected in the 90 percent or more of the salary cap that the team spends on the other players on the roster.
A free safety isn’t judged by winning and losing, and neither is a guard or a linebacker or a tight end. A quarterback shouldn’t be judged by winning and losing, either. He should be judged by the quality of his own play. If that contributes to his team winning, great. If he plays great and his team loses anyway, he’s not a loser.
Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s action:
Hurry it up, refs. Few things are more aggravating while watching a game than waiting forever to hear the ref announce the result of a replay review. There was an absurdly long review in Dallas on Sunday to check the spot on a play that was initially ruled a first down but later overturned on replay. There’s just no good reason for the refs to delay the game any longer than the standard time it takes for a commercial break. Make the call and move the game along.
What ever happened to Michael Sam? Remember when Sam was supposed to be the dreaded “distraction” in Dallas? Now he’s totally disappeared. He’s just another anonymous guy on the practice squad, no different than any other practice squad player. I didn’t hear anyone mention him during the Giants-Cowboys game. I haven’t heard anyone mention him in weeks. It’s amazing how quickly something that’s supposed to be a big deal becomes ordinary.
DeMarco Murray could make history. The season Murray is having for the Cowboys is unbelievable. In Sunday’s win over the Giants he topped 100 yards, just as he’s done in every game this year, making him the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards in each of the first seven games of a season. Murray is on pace to finish this season with 2,087 yards, putting him within shouting distance of Eric Dickerson’s all-time record of 2,105 yards in a season.
Ahmad Bradshaw could make history, too. No running back in NFL history has ever had 10 receiving touchdowns in a season. Even great pass-catching running backs like Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig never did it. But Bradshaw, who caught his sixth touchdown pass of the season in Sunday’s win over the Bengals, has a real shot at it. The Colts’ passing game is excellent, and Bradshaw gets a lot of red zone targets, and I like his chances of scoring four more touchdowns in the next nine games, giving him the all-time receiving touchdown record for a running back.
Seattle’s far from done, but not in great shape either. At 3-3 after yesterday’s loss to the Rams, the Seahawks still have plenty of time to turn their season around. But this is two straight weeks in which Seattle has lost and looked bad doing it. It also hurts that the Seahawks are in a tough division (third place in the NFC West, behind both the Cardinals and the 49ers), and a conference in which the wild card race will be competitive (two good teams in the NFC North and two good teams in the NFC East). Seattle is certainly good enough to make the playoffs and to repeat as champions. But things need to get turned around soon.
One thing that can be said for the Seahawks is that Russell Wilson is playing outstanding football: On Sunday he became the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards and pass for 300 yards in the same game. Wilson is playing better football this year than he did last year. That’s clear to anyone who can see that assessing a quarterback is about more than just wins and losses.