Behind star trio, rookie QB class playing beyond its years; mail
Seven rookie QBs started in W13; Andrew Luck, RGIII and Russell Wilson starred
No one in that trio is surprised by the immediate success they've had as NFL QB
Offenses are mimicking the college game, making the adjustment for rookies easier
LANDOVER, Md. -- "It's all being ready to play at a younger age,'' Robert Griffin III said early this morning, putting those crazy striped socks on at his locker at FedEx Field. "I mean, look at how [South Carolina defensive end] Jadeveon Clowney rushes the passer. He could have played in the NFL coming out of high school. We're just better prepared entering the league now."
But we're talking rookie quarterbacks now. In Week 13 of this NFL season, seven rookies started at the most important position on the field. The three best -- Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson -- had games ranging from clutch to incredible, all leading fourth-quarterback comebacks with playoff meaning:
Wilson, the 75th pick in the April draft, took the Seahawks 97 yards to a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, and then 80 yards for an overtime touchdown -- against the Bears, at Soldier Field -- in a 23-17 upset of Chicago.
Luck, the first pick in the draft, and his Colts were down 33-21 at Detroit with four minutes left. He took Indianapolis 85 yards for one touchdown, then 75 yards for the game-winning touchdown, all in a combined two minutes and 30 seconds. Colts 35, Lions 33.
Griffin, the second pick in the draft, was down 16-10 to the Super Bowl champion Giants early in the fourth quarter Monday night. He led Washington on a 12-play, 86-yard drive, finishing it by rolling right and drilling the winning eight-yard touchdown pass into the gut of Pierre Garcon. Washington 17, New York 16.
Rookie Ryan Lindley's a debacle for Arizona, but Nick Foles of the Eagles went to Dallas and put up 33 points on the Cowboys, Brandon Weeden broke a 13-game road losing streak for Cleveland by winning at Oakland, and Ryan Tannehill continued his respectable freshman year for Miami in a loss to the Patriots.
"You want to be that class that people think of when you talk about rookie quarterback classes,'' Griffin told me, "and right now we're being that class. Our class has been awesome.''
In the last three weeks, I've spoken to all three of the star rookies, and the one similarity is that none is surprised with his success. They are similarly humble, but ... well, here's an example: When I was in Indianapolis the week before the Colts played New England, I asked Luck if he was looking forward to playing Bill Belichick for the first time, and being matched up against a great quarterback like Tom Brady. "I'm looking forward to playing the New England Patriots and trying to get this team a win.'' Pause. That was it. What that said to me was, I'm not in this to get Bill Belichick's autograph. I'm in it to beat him, and I belong.
After the Seattle win Sunday, Wilson said, "I'm really not surprised by what's happening. It's our time, to be honest with you. The way Andrew goes about his business, the confidence Robert has when he takes the field, you can just see how well they've been trained for this opportunity.''
That's part of it. "The college game is becoming the pro game,'' Washington tight end Logan Paulsen said succinctly Monday night. "What we're seeing speaks to the evolution of the college game. Look at how ready Robert was. He's out there against the Giants tonight, spitting nails."
Perfect example: Griffin played both the shotgun (seven yards behind center) and Pistol (four yards) at Baylor, so when offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan saw how quickly he adapted to the preferred mode of the Pistol, he began piling it on him. Washington played it sparingly in the opener against New Orleans. "But Kyle saw how well it worked on our zone-read plays, so he started piling it on us, and now we're pretty much ready to use it all the time if we want.''
This Pistol is going to be a real problem for defenses, particularly with Griffin playing it. I'd say at least 30 of the 51 offensive plays Washington played Monday night looked similar: Pistol formation, a back or tight end, or both, alongside Griffin; receivers split to varying widths.
The Pistol is better than the Shotgun for Washington for a couple of reasons. A quarterback gets the ball quicker from center than if he were seven yards away, which is good for the running game because a back either in play action, on a customary handoff or the option game doesn't have to stand so far back from the line of scrimmage. "It's more natural for the running game,'' linebacker London Fletcher said. "It looks like you actually might run instead of just having the back in for protection."
Plus, for a quarterback who's going to run as much as Griffin -- still a danger, in my opinion, for a 218-pound quarterback in a league of Giants, and giants -- starting four yards behind the line instead of seven is an advantage. You get the ball faster, and you can read the defense while moving laterally and looking upfield. Griffin looked so natural running it (five rushes, 72 yards) Monday that I won't be surprised to see offensive coordinators who have quarterbacks with some running ability study the Pistol this offseason. It's a copycat league.
"If you look at what teams are doing,'' Griffin said, "we all have help. I've got great weapons on the outside and a great back, and a great playcaller. Andrew, he's got an offense that has faith in him to throw it 50 times a game if he has to. Russell's got Marshawn Lynch.''
But it all starts with the quarterback, and these three young ones: Wilson, who just turned 24 last week; Luck, 23; and Griffin, the baby of the lot at 22.
Paulsen, nodding over at Griffin in the Washington locker room after the win Monday night, said: "He's the key cog in the machine. We can't run any of this offense unless the defense has respect for him and all he can do.''
Respect? That's a given at this point. "Awe" might be next.
An overwhelming number of you wrote after Monday's column with strong opinions of the Jovan Belcher story, and of my reporting on it. So I'm going to let you have the floor.
BELCHER IS A MONSTER. "Did Belcher go to the Arrowhead complex with one overriding intention? Yes, he didn't want to die alone. It is absurd how the media as a whole is treating what this monster did. This monster murdered one person, shooting her 9 times and then took the cowardly way out by killing himself. But even worse he had to make sure that his former co-workers witnessed his cowardice. The media needs to stop treating this monster as some victim of society; everyone has problems, and they deal with them by asking for help from friends or counselors. Just because he is an NFL player doesn't make his act a tragic victim of society, he was a murdering monster.''
-- From Mike, of Baltimore
Mike, the majority of emailers feel that way.
HIS FRIENDS COULD HAVE DONE NOTHING. "You say that professional counselors will tell Chiefs players, "Jovan made a decision by himself, having nothing to do with any of you. To Jovan, personal business had to be taken care of, and there was nothing that you could have done, so you can't punish yourself." But then you congratulate Brady Quinn for the wisdom of saying: 'We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that's fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us. Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.'
The counselors have it right. Quinn's implication -- emotional and understandable -- that they could have done something more is probably wrong, and probably destructive. I've been through this. A friend shot himself when he was no farther away from me than Belcher apparently was from Pioli. We all had seen it coming for months, and we all had tried to help. In the end, it was his personal decision, and it had nothing to do with us. Counselors fight against the irrational guilt of those left behind. I hope Quinn can be counseled out of his heartfelt but problematic wisdom.''
-- From Tom, of Macon, Ga.
You're right. I think it will be shown when the facts have been presented that Quinn and his teammates couldn't have helped Belcher, but let's see how it all plays out in the next few days.
TOO EARLY TO TELL. "Romeo Crennel's post-game comments Sunday showed the type of leader, coach and man he is. Similar leadership from Crennel was obvious at the end of last season (when he became interim coach) and during his time in Cleveland. Before Saturday, most people thought Crennel (and GM Scott Pioli) would likely be fired at the end of the year. In light of this weekend, does Crennel get at least another year -- given the lack of talent in KC and that, just maybe, the coach is the right "man" to lead this team?''
-- From Robb Paulson, of Bel Air, Md.
My gut feeling is no, but I can't tell what the next month will bring. What we don't know is whether owner Clark Hunt is going to want a new general manager, and if he does, it's highly unlikely a new man, unless he's very close to Crennel, would want a lame-duck coach to start his franchise makeover.
PERKINS IS THE STORY TOO. "I have a problem with you spending so much of the MMQB column talking about Jovan Belcher, and only once mentioning Kasandra Perkins, and then only tangentially as being involved in a murder-suicide with him. You should have just come out and said it: Jovan Belcher murdered Kasandra Perkins and orphaned their 3-month old child. Jovan Belcher was not a victim.''
-- From Steve
I never said he was. The vast majority of you who wrote about my column were critical that I seemed to make a sympathetic figure out of Belcher. I don't think I did that. I think what I did, even as I read the column over a second time, is present the facts of a promising life gone tragically wrong, and how through his agent and the general manager he signed with and the coach he played for, how all the elements intertwined. There's never a right or wrong way to write stories like this, but when I sat down Sunday night to consider what I knew about the story, I thought what I knew about Belcher and his background and what happened Saturday morning was the best stuff I had.
Re Kasandra Perkins, I didn't know much about her, and the job I have -- on Saturday and Sunday of a football weekend -- is to find out as much as I can about the football player and the football team. My editors at the magazine and the website and bosses at NBC are not asking me for a long story or inside information on the life of Kasandra Perkins. Now, as to me not castigating Belcher and throwing stones at him for murdering Perkins, many of you may be right with your opinion that I should have ripped him harshly. My column was about getting you as much information as I knew Sunday night and Monday morning.
THE MEDIA IS TOO SYMPATHETIC TO BELCHER. "I have spent the last three days watching and reading coverage of the Belcher murder-suicide and I have to say that I am extremely disappointed in the media's lack of factual reporting and the almost kind light they have pained on the murderer Jovan Belcher. Article after article, including yours, paints this light of some poor hard-working kid coming up and reaching his dream then tragedy falling on him. I have to hear an incredibly ludicrous argument about how if guns where illegal this wouldn't have happened (three people tragically died this weekend via bow and arrow/knife attacks this weekend; should we outlaw those too?). Not once I have I read the brutal and honest truth of this matter. Belcher was a murderer.''
-- From Cory, of Pittsburgh
I AM WRONG. "I thoroughly enjoy reading your column every Monday, but I think your handling of the tragedy regarding Javon Belcher is all wrong. Frankly, I was horrified to read what almost felt like an ode to Jovan Belcher as a talented free agent, rather than treating him as the murderer he became. What seems to be forgotten in all of this is that he not only killed a young woman, but that this young woman was also the mother of his 3 month old daughter, a daughter who will now never know either of her parents. Dissect the courage it took for Romeo Crennel to continue to coach his team, or the fortitude of the Chiefs players to keep playing, but analyzing the plays Belcher was involved in against the Broncos? Outrageous. This goes beyond football, and while I'm sure it was not your intention, it appears you may have forgotten that.''
-- From Laura Diaz, of Sausalito, Cal.
Thanks for writing, Laura.
I AM WRONG II. "I'm writing with a little sadness and puzzlement today. A man murdered his wife, orphaned his daughter, and then killed himself. It was a tragedy, yes and I understand the outpouring of sympathy but shouldn't most of it have been directed towards his wife and child? The man seems to be almost gaining martyr status for murdering another human being. I have to wonder if it was just some poor Joe working at an auto plant if we would be showing the same degree of sympathy towards a murderer. I realize that murders like this are not as black and white as they seem, but a man made a conscious decision to kill his wife, no one forced him to. Shouldn't we be condemning that a little more strongly and saving the majority of our sympathy for a murdered woman and her family?''
-- From Ross Buskard, of Ottawa
As I said earlier, I could have been more judgmental about the vicious murder, but it's not what my column was about.
MATT IS DISGUSTED. "You will probably ignore this email along with many other similar ones, but I hope that you understand that many of us are disgusted by the reverence for this murderer. No one cares how much heart and character he had or what a team player he was. There are millions of us out there in regular jobs with heart and character and we don't go around killing people. Erase his memory from the earth.''
-- From Matt, of New York
If we erase Jovan Belcher from all memory, would we learn anything from what he did?
BOB COSTAS IS OPINIONATED, AND HE HAS THE RIGHT TO HIS OPINIONS. "Let me preface by saying I love the column. Wanted to take a second and comment on the Bob Costas statement during halftime of the Sunday night game. While I can understand the gravity of the moment concerning the tragedy of Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins, I cannot help but have serious issue with Bob Costas taking it beyond acknowledgment of the loss of two lives and using NFL programming as (what I believe) a personal soundboard for his opinion on a political matter such as gun control. I have no issue with his opinion on the matter, or anyone else who might share it, my issue is with the platform he chose to use to voice his opinion. Should Jon Gruden spend halftime of the Monday night game giving his opinion on the issue of abortion?''
-- From Don Whitney, of Evansville, Ind.
An NFL player took two lives with a handgun. He didn't take two lives with an abortion. I support Costas, and not just because I believe in what he said. But because strong commentators in our society, on all issues, should never be muzzled.
WHAT WAS I THINKING? "Wow, as someone who normally handles difficult stories with tact and sensitivity, this week's MMQB column was as tone deaf on the Kasandra Perkins murder as CBS' The NFL Today show. You write about Belcher wanting to thank Pioli and Crennel like it was some sort of noble gesture. Then you proceed to devote column space to a segment on what type of player Belcher was? Who cares about his football ability when he murdered someone? The worst offense, however, was repeating the disgusting quote from Brady Quinn that Belcher somehow helped him play better from beyond the grave. Excuse me? This supposedly religious man is drawing inspiration from someone who murdered his girlfriend then committed suicide? If that is what Quinn needs to play better, maybe he should start taking inspiration from Ted Bundy or O.J. Simpson. Good grief Mr. King, didn't this quote raise your eyebrows just a little? I know it's late when you finish this column, but what were you thinking?''
-- From Robert Brown, of Austin, Tx.
I was thinking about being a reporter, which is a big part of my job. Thanks to all for writing.