Immortality doesn't come easy. Tom Brady averaged 6.26 passing yards per attempt in 2002, his second season as an NFL starter. That ranked him 25th in the league, behind guys like Tim Couch, Patrick Ramsey and Rodney Peete.
One spot behind Brady in yards per attempt during that campaign: Drew Brees. The following season, Brees' third in the league, coach Marty Schottenheimer started Doug Flutie over Brees -- then with the Chargers -- for the final five games. Flutie was 41 years old.
This season's 25-and-under quarterbacks have battled through their share of adversity, with Robert Griffin III about to get benched. It hasn't been all that smooth for young signal-callers who have played well, like Andrew Luck and Cam Newton.
Luck and Newton, who physically mirrored one another during their performances at the NFL Scouting Combine, share a similar burden this December. They have to carry offenses with plenty of flaws.
The Colts are tough to watch at this point, which is remarkable for a team with such an entertaining quarterback. The offensive line can barely operate for stretches. Indianapolis is counting on wide receivers like LaVon Brazill and Da'Rick Rogers to step up down the stretch.
Cam Newton is supported by an outstanding defense, but Carolina's offense is worse overall than a season ago. No team has fewer explosive plays in the passing game. Newton has limited his mistakes and is good for five to six incredible plays a game, but the Panthers' offense is methodical at best. (Schottenheimer would love it.)
We want these young quarterbacks to be top-five players right away, but that's usually not how it works. Newton and Luck's progress this season has been impressively steady, but not spectacular. The lack of offensive pieces around them don't help.
In praise of Flacco
Joe Flacco isn't going to land in my top-10 quarterbacks below -- a trend that will probably continue for the rest of the season. There were just too many ugly performances early in the season. Even when Flacco impresses, he seems to throw two to three interceptions.
I wouldn't want to face Flacco down the stretch, however. His play over the last three weeks has shown why he's special, and why he's better than the numbers indicate. He made a few huge mistakes, but also made a number of outrageous throws to lead the Ravens to two go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown drives. Like Matthew Stafford, Flacco is always capable of beating the right defensive call.
Please watch Ravens-Vikings on Game Rewind if you are into that sort of thing. The other games during a wild Week 14 were great, but no ending came close to this. There is a strong argument to be made it was the craziest ending in NFL history.
On to the rankings. The quarterbacks are ranked based on their play in 2013 alone.
Alone at the top
He's back in his own tier after quite possibly playing his best two games of the season following the Foxborough meltdown. Manning has picked apart opponents all season with short passes. In the past two games, the Broncos have been dropping bombs. It's like a completely different offense, and it has been a lot of fun to watch.
Aside from Wilson, this entire tier is coming off fantastic performances. Brady's ability to put points up in a hurry over the last six weeks rivals any run of Manning's this season. ... Don't be surprised if Rivers puts an exclamation point on his incredible season Thursday night in Denver. It will be tough for the Chargers' offense to keep up with Manning, but Denver's secondary looks rather vulnerable. Dueling 40-burgers wouldn't be a shock.
The next level after that
6. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
7. Chicago Bears quarterback
8. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
9. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
10. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
11. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
12. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Josh McCown is not a better quarterback than Tony Romo. But the Chicago Bears' offense is more impressive than any offense in the Jason Garrett Cowboys era. Chicago's offensive personnel is superior, and it's deployed more creatively.
McCown is not a better quarterback than Jay Cutler, either. Cutler was playing perhaps the best football of his career this season before getting hurt, which is too often ignored in the entire McCown-Cutler debate. Bears coach Marc Trestman can say that Cutler remains the starter because it's a top-five offense no matter which quarterback is behind center.
Romo is having a fine season, but Dallas' passing game is not nearly as explosive as previous seasons. Romo's career average in yards per attempt is 7.8. He's only topped that average twice in a game all season, and he hasn't come close since Week 5. The Cowboys' offense is solid. Monte Kiffin's defensive dumpster fire requires that Garrett and Romo both be great.