What do Jared Goff, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson and 41-year-old Drew Brees have in common with Deshaun Watson?
They were the losing quarterbacks in playoff games this weekend and their games lacked some key ingredient. The games were supposed to re-state why the Dolphins should be all in for Watson, the disgruntled Houston quarterback. Even if it’s still hard to believe Houston will trade him. Even as Watson is pushing hard for it to happen.
The weekend’s QB narrative, though, was muddled enough this weekend for people to get back to the old-school idea that — put on your Bill Parcells voice — “Defense wins championships.” Well, it can. Offense just wins championships more in today’s world. Not always. More.
It’s also not a binary idea — A or B, offense or defense, invest in the quarterback or everyone else. You can’t have any flagrant holes and get to the Super Bowl. And there’s no more flagrant hole than a quarterback missing something.
For all the way some defenses won this weekend, look at Sunday’s surviving quarterbacks, elite talents all: Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady, Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes — even if Mahomes was concussed and Chad Henne finished the game.
Ah, yes, Henne. This was just a nyuk-nyuk elbow to the ribs of Dolphins fans. Who didn’t believe former Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Henne could get their teams into the AFC Championship? In successive seasons, they’ve done it.
Between Henne holding on for the win, Tampa Bay’s defense setting up three touchdowns for Brady’s offense and Buffalo’s defense holding Baltimore scoreless in three red-zone trips, the 1970s case can be made what matters in today’s NFL.
But widen the lens to get the full view. Two teams scored more than 30 points and Kansas City only scored 25 because Mahomes was hurt. In the last five postseasons, 21 of the 29 winners from this past weekend’s divisional playoffs through the Super Bowl have scored at least 29 points (obviously, this year just has the divisional games thus far).
Take it another way. Look at this weekend’s losers. Baltimore’s Jackson is electric but still needs to develop his passing game (and was concussed in the second half). Cleveland ran a ball-possession offense to protect Mayfield, but he couldn’t strike quickly when the game demanded. Brees can’t throw more than 15 yards anymore — think Peyton Manning at the end when a great Denver defense bailed him out.
Goff couldn’t come close to keeping with Rodgers. Maybe no one can this year. But the fallout from that game? Rams coach Sean McVay said with a day to digest Goff’s performance, “Yeah, he’s our quarterback right now.” Asked to clarify that, McVay said, “Everything’s being evaluated.”
Hall of Fame General Manager Bill Polian once said it clearest: There are usually five quarterbacks who can win a Super Bowl, and if you don’t have one of those five, you’re figuring how to get one. This might be the Dolphins’ chance. It doesn’t mean Tua Tagovailoa can’t be a good NFL quarterback. It means Watson is 25 and elite right now.
Two newsworthy items in that regard: Watson came out on Friday and underlined how angry he was after Texans owner Cal McNair, tweeting his anger was at a “2” and now it’s a “10;” and ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeting, “There’s not team out there better positioned than the New York Jets to put together a compelling trade package for Deshaun Watson.”
The Jets have the second pick overall, and with it, access to any quarterback after Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. The Dolphins could offer Tagovailoa, the No. 3 pick and a couple of second-round picks. Then again, Watson has a no-trade clause. He’s not going anywhere he doesn’t prefer and an ESPN report said he would be open to the Dolphins.
What does Houston think of Tagovailoa? That’s the prime question in these scenarios.
The nightmare scenario is the Dolphins would face Buffalo’s Allen and the Jets’ Watson in the AFC East four times every year. Each young. Each talented. Each a potential roadblock for the next decade if the Jets grow some brains like Buffalo has and build around their quarterback.
This past weekend will convince many the NFL is still a defensive game. It can be that. But it’s more an offensive game. Look at the four surviving quarterbacks. Allen. Mahomes. Brady. Rodgers. It’s fun to say defense wins championships. It’s fact to say sustained winning starts with the quarterback.