For all the madness that took place in the opening round of the NFL playoffs, the enduring theme was experienced quarterback play still reigns supreme in the postseason.
For the first time in the league’s history, the Wild Card round was swept by the four road teams and it’s no coincidence each of those sides had the more tested quarterback.
The victorious signal callers – Kansas City’s Alex Smith, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers – boasted 37 postseason starts and four Super Bowl victories between them heading into the weekend, while the losing squads all featured quarterbacks making their first playoff start.
That said, Wilson and the Seahawks could have easily lost to Minnesota had Blair Walsh’s 27-yard chip shot field goal in the final seconds not shockingly missed, whereas the Steelers faced a back-up quarterback in Cincinnati’s A.J. McCarron.
Although experience at the quarterback position isn’t a prerequisite to win in the postseason, it can certainly make a difference.
It all starts with taking care of the ball. Especially in the playoffs, where the margin of error is razor thin, avoiding turnovers can’t be overstated. Turnovers influence field position and can swing games.
Unsurprisingly, the four losing quarterbacks over the weekend combined to turn the ball over (interceptions and lost fumbles) eight times, compared to two for the winning passers. Five of those eight turnovers came from Houston’s Brian Hoyer, but of the losing teams, only the Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater managed to be mistake-free.
Turnovers – or lack of – are critical, but taking inopportune sacks can be just as debilitating.
McCarron and Kirk Cousins particularly showed moments of unawareness, potentially costing their teams points.
With the Bengals at Pittsburgh’s 29-yard line in the third quarter, McCarron not only took a sack that pushed the offence out of field goal range, but fumbled the ball.
Cousins had a similar play in the second quarter of the Green Bay-Washington contest in which he took a sack and fumbled as the offence was entering field goal range.
He committed more egregious errors at the end of the fourth quarter when he took not one, but two sacks on fourth down when he literally could have had a better chance to convert by just heaving the ball in the air.
Compare Cousins’ mental blunders to Rodgers’ performance, which saw the Packers quarterback sacked only once as he continuously got the ball out of his hands quickly. Green Bay entered the match-up struggling to protect Rodgers, but he did his best to counteract the ineffectiveness of the offensive line by leaving the
opposing pass rush with little time.
Even though Cousins was by far the more in-form quarterback coming into the game, the last laugh not only went to the better player over his career, but the one who possessed more experience on grander stages.
We’ve seen the top quarterbacks come out on top so far and we’ve not even had Tom Brady or Peyton Manning take the field yet.
This year’s Super Bowl-winning signal-caller may not be a past champion, but whoever it is will be a veteran unflinching under the bright lights.
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