Football is a young man's game. Always has been. Always will be.
We tend to forget that sometimes, particularly at the quarterback position, given the gains that have been made there in recent years. We have seen guys holding off Father Time far longer than expected, or what could have been conceived of a generation ago. Modern science and diet and the evaluation of training regimens has made us no longer consider 35 a stop sign at this most critical position.
And I'm all for all of that. It was cool seeing Peyton Manning have a second act outside of Indianapolis and go get another ring with the Broncos. Brett Favre had a nice run with the Vikings. Teams want to keep guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh McCown around (even if on the practice squad for now in the case of McCown and the Eagles). But eventually, it all comes to an end; sometimes, it comes crashing down rapidly right before our eyes.
One minute you are vying for an MVP. The next you are trying to hold off Brock Osweiler from stealing your job, and you can't do it, and your body is breaking down and it's over. That's how it tends to go. Take a peek at the league leaders in passing right now. Yeah, I know it's really early in the season, but what do Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen and Russell Wilson and even a guy like Gardner Minshew have in common? Yeah, they all have legs, they can scoot when they need to or want to. They can run around and make plays and move the pocket and wear out defenses with their ability to keep things alive. Heck, that mobility and run threat had plenty to do with Justin Herbert's shocking debut for the Chargers under duress against the Super Bowl champs last week.
That's the way the game is going and it's not changing anytime soon. Get used to it. The days of drop-back, stand-tall pocket passers dominating the league are over (yeah, even Pete Prisco is starting to realize this). With that in mind, I can't help but watch guys like Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger and wonder just a bit about what the next 14 games have in store, and how their 2020 stories will be told. They definitely don't resemble the athletic skillset that is taking over the sport, and they all appear to be at varying degrees of creeping to the end. (Sure, Aaron Rodgers is on the other side of 35, too, but teams must still respect his ability to pick up critical yards downfield with his legs).
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It was hard to watch Brees, 41, Monday night and not have all of this flash through my mind. Hell, it was simply hard to watch Brees at all. Given what he has accomplished and how impeccable his accuracy and decision-making has been for so long, seeing him get taken down by a suspect Raiders defense in prime time was certainly out of the ordinary. And the truth is, he has limped down the stretch the past few years, and seemed slow and weary in the postseason, and for him to look like that again, so early in a season, would certainly give me pause.
Plenty of time to shake it off and all of that, but he wasn't himself in Week 1, either, and if he's still looking like this next month, personally, I would be revving up Jameis Winston. Anytime a player speaks as introspectively as Brees did after getting shut down by the Vikings in the playoffs, and asks for a month to make a decision on whether he's going to play again, it shouldn't shock anyone if the following season -- especially with no normal camp or preseason -- said QB starts to look like someone who might not be able to give you everything you need. My hunch is this becomes a thing. Nothing lasts forever.
My concerns with Rivers, 38, go back a few years now. He bounced back in Week 2, but the Vikings are playing a toothless style of defense right now and I'm not sure what to make of them. Rivers' tendencies to throw crippling interceptions early and late in games will be difficult to coax out of him. It's the best offensive line he's had in quite some time, but consider me among those who believes this offense could actually function better under Jacoby Brissett.
Big Ben is facing the most serious injury concerns, coming off season-ending elbow surgery from 2019. At age 38, with his body slowed from the accumulation of over 15 years worth of hits and with how physically he played the game for so long, he'd be a perfect candidate for Father Time's grip. A guy who might lose it all at once. He still throws a sweet deep ball, and has plenty of speed and talent around him, but the right side of the offensive line is suspect, at least for now, and the run game is hit or miss and the offense looks more like a big play here and a big play there than it does a well-oiled machine. More practice and games might change that, but it's fair to wonder if we've seen the best of this future Hall of Famer, too.
Brady, 43, was the guy people were freaking out about the most after one week, but he'll be fine. He's been on the wrong side of 40 for quite a while and I believe he is genuinely refreshed by his new surroundings and a different climate and challenge. He has the best cast around him in years, and it will take some time to ramp some things up, and I tend to think Gronk isn't going to have much to give him at all, but I still wouldn't bet against this guy being back in the playoffs, same as it ever was.
Again, it's early, but right now Brees is 21st in yards per attempt and Brady is 28th and Roethlisberger is 17th and Rivers is 10th. Right now, all sit outside the top 10 in passer rating. Through two weeks, these four older quarterbacks have completed 195 of 283 passes (69 percent) for 2,045 yards (7.22/attempt) with 13 TDs and 8 INTs (93.15 rating).
Not nearly as gaudy as we've come to expect. Still plenty of time to make me look foolish a few weeks from now, or even come January, for pointing out any of this. But, in their totality, they are also running out of time to keep Father Time at bay; they are outliers in the way they go about getting the job done and it stands to reason that some of them will never return to greatness. Some might even see the bench.