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Heroes & Villains: No-name QBs rise, MVP-types fall

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Each week, Around The NFL's Marc Sessler offers up his laundry list of heroes and villains from the week that was.

And what a week it was, with a slew of Sunday upsets that jolted the playoff picture and shone the spotlight on a handful of unlikely saviors under center.

Let's get down to it:

Heroes: Long-Picked-On Passers Turning Week 16 Into A Carnival Of Anti-Logic


There was a time when the name Brandon Weeden exclusively conjured images of a beguiled 30-something ginger trapped under our nation's flag:

Three years later, the oft-ridiculed Weeden is the toast of Houston after guiding the Texans to the brink of an AFC South title with Sunday's nearly perfect performance in a 34-6 wipeout of the Titans. Coming into the game with 11 straight losing starts, Weeden won his first tilt in 1,113 days, putting on ice the slings and arrows he's endured since entering the league as an aged rookie. It was especially intriguing to see Weeden become the first player in Texans history to throw for two scores and rush for a touchdown in a single start while Dallas -- the team that released him in November -- floundered with Kellen Moore under center:

Then again, it was the Texans who sent Ryan Mallett packing after one-too-many broken alarm clocks, only to see the enigmatic passer lead the lowly Ravens to a stunning win over the Steelers, a loss that put Pittsburgh into potential playoff oblivion. The well-rested Mallett threw the ball a whopping 41 times for 274 yards and a score against a bewildered Steelers defense still wondering what hit them.

The soon-to-be-dead Colts are an impossible watch, but who predicted in August that old-as-the-woods Matt Hasselbeck would join forces with Clipboard Jesus to win a game in December? Probably the same group of all-knowing seers who put their money on Case Keenum slaughtering the previously white-hot 'Hawks.

And we'll close with Ryan Fitzpatrick, who deserves all the credit in the world for leading the upstart Jets to five straight wins, shedding his journeyman tag in the process. Sunday brought the most glorious victory of all, as the Amish Rifle fearlessly clipped the rival Patriots to lift Gang Green into prime position for an AFC wild-card berth.

Fitzy's been a respected veteran for years, but few expected him to shine this way so late in his career. He's been a great story for New York and another reminder that the quarterback position in today's NFL is more unpredictable than ever before.

Villains: MVP-Caliber Quarterbacks Crumbling In A Massive Spot


You can't have all these from-the-wilderness passers lobbying for glory without a few household names taking a Sunday dirt nap.

That's exactly what happened in Week 16, with a rash of typically pristine signal-callers falling to pieces when it mattered most.

On the losing end of Mallett's handiwork was a less-than-stellar Ben Roethlisberger, who tossed a pair of killer picks in the loss to Baltimore, leaving one of the AFC's most explosive offenses looking lost two days after Christmas. The Steelers now need plenty of help to even make the playoffs, one week after the Around the NFL Podcast called them the key to the AFC's postseason chase.

We said the same about the Seahawks in the NFC, but that looks dodgy after Seattle's collection of fill-in running backs gained just 21 yards on the ground against St. Louis, snapping their streak of 25 straight games with 100-plus yards rushing. After a month of glowing box scores, Russell Wilson played his worst game since Week 10 behind an offensive line that was dominated by the Rams.

Both Wilson and Big Ben are MVP-level passers who stumbled into trouble on Sunday, but they weren't alone. Aaron Rodgers looked like he'd been hypnotized by a band of wandering evil magicians in Sunday's grim collapse to the Cardinals, while even Cam Newton fell short against the wayward Falcons, a defeat that buried Carolina's shot at a perfect season.

We're discussing human beings here, so the frailty is real, but Week 16 felt more like a slate of games played out by a gaggle of half-hammered Madden enthusiasts instead of living, breathing football teams.

Let's hope everyone gets their act together in time for January.

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