I don't understand all the shock being expressed over the first three weeks of the NFL season. I don't get all this angst over who's 3-0 and who's 0-3. I'm confused as to why people are searching their souls for answers why the Redskins, Patriots and Titans are ahead right now of teams such as the Falcons, Jets and Broncos. I'm perplexed because there's nothing perplexing about this. It's the quarterback, silly.
If you've got a really good quarterback and he's still healthy, chances are overwhelming you've got a legitimate shot at contending this season. If your No. 1 quarterback is already on the shelf and you didn't have the foresight or the resources to acquire a good No. 2 guy, you're done.
The Washington Redskins are 2-1 because their starting quarterback, Brad Johnson, may be the player of the month in the NFL. His stats (64 percent completion rate, five touchdowns, no interceptions) are a fantasy league player's dream. The only way you overcome a defense ranked 31st in a 31-team league is to have your quarterback in a zone where he thinks he's Joe Montana.
I asked a veteran NFL player this week if by giving all the credit for the Redskins' 2-1 start to Johnson it means shortchanging Stephen Davis, who has only been the league's best running back the first three weeks. The veteran player, a defensive back, said, "Davis is better than anybody thought, I'll give you that. But Brad is throwing the ball so well, defenses aren't even thinking about Davis until it's too late to do anything. He's an afterthought. Everybody's thinking Brad first. You can't put eight guys up on the line to stop Stephen Davis when the quarterback is killing people. But you can put eight defensive players up on the line to stop [Denver's] Terrell Davis right now because they don't have a quarterback who can kill you."
This season is about the quarterback, now even more than usual. That's why the Redskins have a chance to be this season's Atlanta Falcons. I don't mean go 14-2 necessarily like Atlanta did last season; I mean get on the kind of roll where the whole team knows it can win every game, even on the road, even against big-time playoff teams. And it becomes easier to do that every time another team's No. 1 quarterback goes away.
Because John Elway retired and the Broncos didn't acquire a real No. 1 NFL quarterback, the Denver Broncos are done for the season. Because Chris Chandler can't stay healthy (and because Jamal Anderson is out for the season, too), the Atlanta Falcons are done for the season. And because Vinny Testaverde is done for the season and because Bill Parcells, the GM, didn't go and get a quality No. 2, the New York Jets are done for the season.
Boy, it's a good weekend when Colin Montgomerie and Bill Parcells both get it right between the eyes. (Montgomerie is so good, so clutch, so arrogant and hypersensitive -- just like his lookalike -- he's worthy of disdain. You can gloat when Monty is on the losing end because he's such a spectacular golfer.) Well, at least Monty's suffering will be short-term. Parcells is stuck with this dreadful hand for the rest of the season.
If I had to play one football game tonight and my life was on the line, I'd want Parcells to coach my team. But that doesn't mean he manages every single situation perfectly. First, he miscalculated the importance of a legit second-stringer to back up Testaverde. Veterans Warren Moon and Jeff George were out there to be had. Parcells passed, which he regretted two hours into the season. Second, Parcells seems to take none of the blame for his team being 0-3.
He's like another great egomaniac, Pat Riley, in that regard. When their teams win, it's the coach; when they lose, it's the players.
After losing to the Redskins on Sunday, Parcells blamed the refs and essentially accused a couple of players of quitting. Then he talked about this being, "A very tough time for me." Me, me, me, me. As if his players aren't dying inside, too. Not once did Parcells take some blame for calling a passing play that resulted in an interception at the end of the first half, or for not tilting the offense to get the ball to Keyshawn Johnson, his best player. Parcells is a great coach but it's fun to see him squirm a little bit, especially when the quarterback part of this problem is partially his own doing. (How good would Neil O'Donnell, for whom Parcells had no use, look in a Jets jersey right now?)
Same goes for Denver's Mike Shanahan. I can't understand why anybody for one second bought Shanahan's supposition that Bubby Brister or Brian Griese could replace John Elway, who is only one of the five greatest quarterbacks who ever lived. Isn't it funny how all of these geniuses look better when they're directing a quarterback who is anywhere from all-star caliber to headed to the Hall of Fame.
The team that looks most capable of supplanting Denver as the AFC's best is Miami. But continuing with this theme, Dan Marino had better stay upright. And the 49ers looked on in horror last night when Steve Young was momentarily knocked unconscious, knowing they will be hard pressed to even reach the playoffs if he misses any significant time.
The Patriots are nowhere near as good as when the team went to the Super Bowl three years ago, but Drew Bledsoe has moved into the prime of his career and is the sole reason the Patriots are 3-0 right now. The Packers, while not what they used to be, are alive because Brett Favre is probably the best player in the league today.
Very few teams can sustain a high level of play without their No. 1 quarterback. Tennessee can, because O'Donnell is there to back up Steve McNair, and that's why the Titans won in Jacksonville on Sunday. The Vikings can, because Jeff George is there to step in for Randall Cunningham, just as Cunningham was there to step in for Brad Johnson.
And actually, the Redskins are one of the handful of teams that has a capable No. 2 who has been a successful starter: Rodney Peete.
But any proclamation made now is risky at best. Let Tony (Radio Free) Kornheiser declare the trade of three picks for Johnson a success now if he wants. It's a success if Johnson can stay healthy for at least a dozen games and get the Redskins to the playoffs, period. Victories over the Giants and Jets, while necessary, don't forecast what's around the bend tomorrow. Just ask any team that had big expectations and then all of a sudden was forced to play without its most important player.