Why you should care
Because even our favorite stars fade.
Last Thanksgiving, my fellow NFL fans had a lot to be grateful for. I’m not talking about the turkey, which frankly was pretty forgettable. Far more remarkable is the golden age of quarterbacking we’ve been so fortunate to witness, which has featured guys like future Hall of Famers Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. Many of the quarterbacks we watched have also won a Super Bowl. But while those might have been the best days of their lives, count Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, as one of the worst for these elite passers.
For the first time in NFL history, six quarterbacks who had previously started and won a Super Bowl lost on the same day.
That sobering stat is courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau and includes Brees, Manning and his brother Eli, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson. The previous high for a single day was four. It was the latest twist in an off-center season for QBs who’d had great success in the past — and not just the ones who have won Super Bowls. Consider briefly elite signal callers like Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III, whose stars seemingly faded overnight. Most striking, though, was the disappearing act of upper-echelon quarterbacks.
For some, injuries struck: Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck, who was sidelined by a lacerated kidney. Injury aside, Luck’s play in particular was surprisingly bad — remember, just last year he passed for 40 touchdowns and was an early favorite for MVP. Then you’ve got Wilson, who by mid-November hadn’t cracked the top 15 in passer rating, and the legendary but struggling Peyton Manning, who wasn’t in the top 25. In their place, journeymen like Carson Palmer and Tyrod Taylor emerged.
The cream of the crop has become the cream of the not, with a few notable exceptions (like Brady), and it’s easy to dismiss it as the vagaries of any NFL season. After all, injuries happen, despite the rules being rigged to protect quarterbacks more than ever. But Super Bowl–winning coach Brian Billick has a theory that goes past coincidence: As passers are forced to throw more than ever before in NFL history, fault lines emerge between the elite and nonelite. “We’re going to find out if they can become high-volume passers,” Billick tells OZY. “There has to be this evolution.”
That Thanksgiving weekend, there were 20 quarterbacks on pace to throw at least 500 passes — the year before, only 14 finished with that many, and this is the first time guys like Wilson came close to those totals. Some, naturally, were bound to falter. As for the old guns who, year after year, have led the league? It’s “a transition,” Billick told OZY. “They’re all going to the Hall of Fame, likely, but they’re not [in] the big five right now.”