Todd Hartley: The Friday morning QB
There are only a few positions in all of the major sports wherein one can truly dominate a game. Hockey and soccer goalies and baseball pitchers are good examples. If you do your job perfectly, given enough overtimes or extra innings, your team will eventually win the game. Thats the reason why people play goalie in the first place. Its not like people just enjoy having pucks and balls rifled at them. As a goalie, you have a chance to be a hero every night, and when you suck, you can just say your defense played poorly.As a pitcher, this excuse doesnt work so well. If youre giving up home runs, it kind of takes defense out of the equation. Luckily, in playoff baseball, if youre getting hit hard, you can at least rest assured that your manager will go to the bullpen early and take the ball out of your hands.In playoff football, however, starting quarterbacks dont share this same luxury. As a starting QB, youre basically a man on an island. That game is yours to win or lose whether you want that responsibility or not. If youre not injured and they go to your backup, the games already lost. Thats why there is no more pressure-packed vocation in all of sports than an NFL quarterback come playoff time.I bring this up, particularly the responsibility issue, because last weeks round of NFL playoff games was a study in quarterbacking at both its finest and most gruesome.Exhibit A was the clash between the Rams and the Panthers, which was won in overtime by Carolina. If there were any team in football that could be said to have a bullpen, it would be St. Louis. Their backup QB, ex-MVP Kurt Warner, was the starter at the beginning of the season. Then he fumbled six times in the season opener, got yanked in favor of Marc Bulger and didnt play again until the end of the last game of the regular season. Even so, Warner makes $11 million a year, so youd have to figure the Rams would be willing to use him in a pinch. At least thats what everyone in St. Louis, including Bulger, thought during last Sundays game when Bulger started to play poorly.Rams coach Mike Martz decided to leave Bulger in, however, showing confidence in his starter. Unfortunately, right when it mattered most that confidence faltered. With the Rams down three points at the end of the game, Martz opted to run the clock down and kick a field goal rather than letting Bulger take a couple of cracks at the end zone.Anyway, the Rams lost, Martzs job is in jeopardy, and Bulger will likely be supplanted at starting QB by Warner next season.Exhibit B would be the trio of stellar performances turned in by the Patriots Tom Brady, Peyton Manning of the Colts and the Eagles Donovan McNabb. All three, in different ways, showed what an impact a good quarterback can make.Brady, as usual, didnt put up any huge numbers against the Titans. All he did was make the right plays at the right times and win another ballgame. In the process, he outdueled league co-MVP Steve McNair and ran his career playoff record to 4-0. And if you think thats a fluke, bear in mind that he also never lost a bowl game in college, and he now has the NFLs all-time best winning percentage at quarterback.The other co-MVP, Peyton Manning, did put up huge numbers last weekend against the Chiefs, but the most impressive number was this: zero, as in the number of times the Colts have punted in two games this postseason.Mannings arm has been nearly flawless in leading the Colts to 41 points against Denver and 38 against Kansas City. Hes thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions, boasts an otherwordly quarterback rating of 156.9 and has finally shed the reputation that he cant win playoff games.McNabb, for his part, showed what a quarterback can do running the football when his arm isnt the greatest. He rushed for over 100 yards, and his legs were a big part of the Eagles win over the Packers. Well, his legs and the fact that he completed a 27-yard pass on fourth-and-26 in the games waning moments.And that brings us to Exhibit C, the best quarterback of the bunch, who showed just how horrible things can be for a QB when he screws up. In overtime of his Packers loss to the Eagles, Green Bays Brett Favre took a snap and then just heaved the ball up for grabs. It was intercepted and run back about 40 yards, and moments later Philadelphia kicked a field goal for the win.And as a result, Favre has millions of people, this columnist included, asking the same annoying question: Brett, what the hell were you thinking?[Todd “Exhibit F” Hartley writes this column on Fridays in The Aspen Times. E-mail at email@example.com]
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