We're doing a season-long NFL roundtable with our friends at Slate. Check back here each week as a rotating cast of football watchers discusses the weekend's key plays, coaching decisions, and traumatic brain injuries.
From: Nate Jackson
To: Tommy Craggs, Josh Levin
Matt Flynn just screwed himself. Sure, he'll sign a multi-million-dollar deal, but the expectations he created will be hard to live up to. That game was not a fluke. He was great. But a quarterback is only as great as the offense he's working with. The Packers' current offense is full of powerful weapons, unlike whatever team manages to sign Flynn. Inevitably, he'll be given a pass-happy offense and asked to duplicate this past Sunday's performance every week. And after failing to do so, he'll be rolled by the masses and forced to answer questions daily about what it all means, until his coach is fired and a new one is brought in to steady the ship, and he in turn will dump Flynn in favor of next year's equivalent, Chase Daniel.
It's crazy how we talk about quarterbacks, even the ones who aren't Tim Tebow. Look at Trent Dilfer. You wouldn't know it by watching him as an analyst on ESPN, but Trent was once a shitty quarterback for a Super Bowl-winning team. Of course, he wasn't really a shitty quarterback. He was an NFL starter. But we—and, inexplicably, Dilfer himself—have decided to judge quarterbacks based on some impossible standard set by a hybrid Tom Brady-Michael Vick-Johnny Utah football robot of the imagination. A team can't win without an otherworldly quarterback, we're told. And when a team wins with an ordinary quarterback—Dilfer, for instance, or Tebow—we're told he has some ineffable quality, a high leadership quotient or something, that renders him at least partly otherworldly. He knows how to win, they say. Isn't that essentially what Trent Dilfer is saying about himself every time he holds up his hand and shows the audience his Super Bowl ring?
If analyst Trent Dilfer were assessing QB Trent Dilfer's chances of leading his team to the Super Bowl in a month, analyst Trent would have to admit it: QB Trent's screwed. He finished 33rd in the league in passing that year (136 yards per game, to go with 12 touchdowns); that's one slot ahead of Akili Smith and three behind Cade McNown. Trent Dilfer would absolutely rip Trent Dilfer.
I'll be watching the 13-3 49ers very closely, partly because of the Trent Dilfers of the world. They'll be relaxing this weekend and hosting a second-round playoff game at Candlestick Park the following weekend. Likely against the Saints. Stylistically, these two teams could not be more different. They have the same record, but they've done it in opposite ways. Drew Brees broke the all-time passing record. Alex Smith's name was hardly spoken. The Niners win by protecting the football and forcing turnovers. They run the ball, and they stop the run. The Saints win by dropping back and winging it. The Niners' horizontal passing attack is based solely on their run game. The Saints' running attack is based solely on their vertical passing game.
It's not inconceivable that the Niners could steamroll the Saints, Packers, and Patriots to win the Super Bowl, casting off three of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game along the way. I want to see Trent explain that one. Show 'em the ring, Trent. Show 'em the ring.