NFL playoffs 2012: Quarterback play offers lessons Redskins should heed
By Jason Reid,
Hopefully, Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan has been watching the NFL playoffs. There’s definitely a lot for him to see. The Redskins are trying to get it figured out at quarterback, and the four still playing should remind Shanahan of what’s most important in this league.
More than ever, the NFL is all about quarterbacks, and having the right one is as much a necessity as a football. The Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers again provided proof while moving within a step of the Super Bowl.
The Patriots’ Tom Brady is the best of his generation. Soon, the Giants’ Eli Manning may be second to none in his family. And Alex Smith of the 49ers wasn’t a draft bust after all. Granted, Joe Flacco of the Ravens hasn’t had a spotlight moment, but Baltimore is better off at the position than most — and that’s the key. Teams begin a path to the postseason when they make wise choices in drafting quarterbacks, and the blueprint is on display for the Redskins.
Being lucky is the easiest route, though Washington probably shouldn’t count on experiencing good fortune similar to that of New England, which selected Brady in the sixth round (199th overall) of the 2000 draft.
The three-time Super Bowl winner is the biggest draft steal in league history. No one else is even close.
Brady tied an NFL postseason record with six touchdown passes in New England’s AFC divisional rout of Denver. Thing is, it wasn’t surprising. He played with an edge all season. It was almost as if he were angry. Perhaps it was the chatter about New England’s recent playoff flops.
Regardless, Brady’s determination was reflected in the Patriots’ gradual improvement while they closed the regular season with eight consecutive victories.
It’s fair to say no quarterback has played better than Brady did while dismantling the Broncos. He matched Steve Young’s record for touchdowns while performing at a ridiculously high level from the moment he touched the ball.
Like any great quarterback, Brady, even after all these years, is still driven to compete. Grown men follow him as much for his passion for the game as his skill at producing points. The Broncos had no chance.
The buzz was all about Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Brady wasn’t subtle in changing the conversation. No gimmicks. Just greatness.
Really, that’s what Washington — and especially Shanahan — needs. When he has worked with a superstar quarterback, he has been described as a coaching genius. He hasn’t seemed quite as smart without one.
Brady notwithstanding, the low-round approach rarely produces favorable results in drafting quarterbacks. Also, Shanahan has already tried the fading star (Donovan McNabb), the failed starter (Rex Grossman) and the unproven journeyman (John Beck).
We know how those moves turned out.
It’s time for Shanahan to put in all his chips. That’s what the Giants did to get Manning, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft. They drafted quarterback Philip Rivers and traded him to San Diego along with multiple picks (including a first-rounder the Chargers used to select linebacker Shawne Merriman) for Manning.
A former Super Bowl most valuable player, Manning is playing at the highest level of his career. He was spectacular in the NFC divisional round while outperforming Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, passing for 330 yards and three touchdowns in a 17-point victory at Lambeau Field.
Manning was the league’s seventh-rated passer, passing for nearly 5,000 yards with 29 touchdowns. He’s no longer best known for being Peyton’s kid brother and Archie’s youngest son. He’s a true star.
Often, the only way to get those guys is to take a gamble. Although it’s costly to move up in the draft to pick a potential franchise quarterback (Robert Griffin III?), it’s time for the Redskins to try.
Sure, the Redskins likely will struggle again next season as a rookie quarterback learns. But so what? They went 6-10 and 5-11 the past two seasons.
Eli Manning didn’t walk a straight line to the top. And success doesn’t happen for everyone the same way. The bottom line is the eventual payoff.
Just look at Smith. Another No. 1 overall pick, Smith didn’t play like one his first six seasons. He seemed to have one foot out of San Francisco, if not the league, before Coach Jim Harbaugh arrived.
In Harbaugh, Smith seems to have a coach capable of getting his best. The perception was that Smith simply “managed” games during the season, and the 49ers relied primarily on their running game and great defense.
But Smith was solid. Smith was efficient. In San Francisco’s divisional victory over New Orleans, Smith was the star.
Smith’s game-winner to tight end Vernon Davis was his most memorable moment. He also had a nifty 28-yard, go-ahead touchdown run in the fourth quarter and passed for 299 yards and three touchdowns.
Suddenly, the 49ers appear to have a capable quarterback. It took time. But it’s happening for Smith.
Defense and running back Ray Rice powered the Ravens all season. Nothing changed in their divisional victory over the Houston Texans.
Flacco wasn’t great against the Texans’ strong defense. Too often this season, he was inconsistent. The Ravens, however, made the right move in getting Flacco in the first round. He’s 5-3 in the playoffs. That’s something to build on.
Drafting and developing a quarterback is the best way to go. That much is clear. Now, the Redskins have to see it, too.
For Jason Reid’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/reid