Quarterbacks run the show in the playoffs

Posted Jan 15, 2017

If you hang around football coaches long enough, you will hear certain words being used over and again.

Teamwork. Discipline. Focus. Finish. There are plenty more. Essentially, they preach two things. You have to be prepared and you have to work as a unit if you want to succeed.

Football is often described as the ultimate team sport. Different players bring different individual skill sets but one superstar can’t get the job done unless dozens of others have done the necessary preparation.

What use is a stud quarterback if his left tackle is beaten out of his stance one play after another? How many yards will your first-round running back gain inside if his interior linemen are going backwards at the snap? And what use is your blitzing defense if a cornerback blows his coverage?

Once in a while however, you are left to question this ‘one for and all for one’ concept, especially when you witness a guy like Aaron Rodgers in recent weeks.

Sunday night’s playoff game in Dallas was something of a classic, a true game for the ages. Two teams with immense talent, hammering away at each other, and going right to the last kick before declaring a winner.

But the performance of Rodgers was the sort of thing movie scripts are written about. There was no way he could top his outing from the previous week, surely, when his scrambling, incredible arm, and another Hail Mary had put the New York Giants to the sword. Somehow or other, he raised the bar against the Cowboys.

And at no point was his X-factor better illustrated than on the second last play of the game when he shunned all the technology and gadgets, all the hours of planning and study that go into a game plan and decided to go back to the days of kids playing in a park.

With overtime looming, Rodgers ‘drew one up in the dirt’ so to speak. You know the sort of thing - “you go there, you go there, I’ll run around a bit, somebody get open.”

It sounds laughable in this day and age but what unfolded, with Rodgers running around and firing a pass down the sideline that most people assumed was him just throwing the ball away, was astounding to watch. As was the footwork and catch on that sideline by Jared Cook, falling out of bounds to stop the clock with three seconds left to set up the winning field goal.

It occurred to me however, that Rodgers is not alone in this regard. As he goes, so go Green Bay but the same maxim could be applied to New England. Despite their decent start to the season under two quarterbacks not called Tom Brady, there was still no doubt that the end of his four-game suspension could not come quickly enough for Patriots fans. Seventeen years after he was drafted, Brady is still the difference between success and failure for Bill Belichick’s team, regardless of other talent.

And Oakland’s Super Bowl hopes were broken along with Derek Carr’s leg late in the regular season. With Carr, they probably would have won the division, had a bye and would have been trouble in the playoffs. Without him, they were simply in trouble and didn’t last long in the playoffs.

The same likely applies to Atlanta, who will start favourites against Green Bay on Sunday but whose hopes would sink without trace if Matt Ryan went down in practice this week.

Quarterbacks have always been an important part of a football team. The focal point of any offense has been looked to for leadership, intelligence, game management and that little bit of the unknown that can turn a game, but has the position ever been more important than it is now?

There was a period at the turn of the century where it appeared as though less was being asked of a lot of quarterbacks. Many of them were not flashy and were more just game managers who would not lose you a game rather than being the sort who would win it.

Kurt Warner was a lot better than people realised but he came off the bench as an unknown to win Super Bowl XXXIV.

The following year, the unspectacular Trent Dilfer led Baltimore to victory in Super Bowl XXXV against a Giants team whose quarterback was the equally-underwhelming Kerry Collins.

And the safe pair of hands that was Brad Johnson triumphed in Super Bowl XXXVII with Tampa Bay.

The superstar quarterback is very much the order of the day this season, with Brady, Rodgers and Ryan still in the playoffs and joined by Ben Roethlisberger at Pittsburgh as we head into the Conference Championship games on Sunday.

I suppose a neutral would probably like to see Brady versus Rodgers in the Super Bowl, reminiscent of previous match-ups on Super Sunday, like Joe Montana-Dan Marino, Troy Aikman-Jim Kelly or John Elway-Brett Favre. It would be like watching Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo go head to head in the Champions League final.

With the ages of Rodgers and Brady, there certainly won’t be too many more opportunities to make that one happen but a Super Bowl trip for Matt Ryan and the Falcons could promise fireworks as well.

Whatever happens on Sunday, this Super Bowl match-up is beginning to look like a classic and, unless I’m very much mistaken, in this season more than most, a quarterback is likely to be the most important factor, regardless of how much of a team game we all know this really is.

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