A generational change at the NFL quarterback

In these chaotic times, there is great comfort in the familiar, and the most familiar scene of the last four NFL the playoffs were an A...


In these chaotic times, there is great comfort in the familiar, and the most familiar scene of the last four NFL the playoffs were an AFC Championship game held at Arrowhead Stadium, home of the quarterback Patrick Mahomes and kansas city chiefs.

His presence in this round seems inevitable. The absence of some others is disorienting.

On Sunday, for the first time in 12 seasons, no member of Tom Brady’s triumvirate, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger will be play for a conference title, their Super Bowl hopes — and splendid careers, perhaps — expiring earlier this playoff. At least one of those three quarterbacks has reached that stage in 18 of the past 20 seasons. And the only outlier, before that, came in the 2009 season, when, alas, we had to settle for Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning (with Mark Sanchez).

Today, older guys can still play: Rodgers, 38, will most likely win his second consecutive Most Valuable Player award – and fourth overall – while Brady, who at 44 pitched for a career-high of 5,316 yards, should finish right behind him. But each season takes the NFL away from one quarterbacking golden age — of Brady and Rodgers, Brees and Manning — and into another.

Not every era ends with a climax, and the league’s current transition to quarterback has taken place over several years. The pocket pass prototype gave way to a generation of mobile, precise and creative stars, free from convention or perception.

Arizona’s Kyler Murray is 5-foot-10 and the Chargers’ Justin Herbert is 6-foot-6, and there’s room in the NFL for both. Buffalo’s Josh Allen can run between tackles and throw clothesline passes. Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson does the same. Joe Burrow, drafted No. 1 overall by Cincinnati, the league’s worst in 2020, led the Bengals to the AFC title game in 2021. Mahomes is a master of improvisation.

With rule changes allowing for goal blasts and stat blowouts, these early quarterbacks, capable of gaining yards as effectively on the ground as they are in the air, are being asked to bear a disproportionate share of offensive production, according to an analysis by the New York Times of the Game and Season Stats compiled by Pro Football Reference. It took until Manning’s fifth season, at age 25, to make up 75% of his team’s yardage while he was in the game, then six more before he did it again. Joe Montana has only beaten 70% once in a full season. At Dan Marino’s peak, it never topped 77.2.

Mahomes, meanwhile, has yet to make up less than 78.4 percent of Kansas City’s total when on the court. Last season, the 25-year-old Allen accounted for 81.3% of Buffalo’s offensive production — down from 2020 — while the 24-year-old Jackson gained 84% of the Ravens’ yards while playing.

Aside from Murray, all play in the AFC, where the average age last season among the 16 starters was 25.1. Only three – including Roethlisberger, 39, who announced his retirement on Thursday – were at least 30 years old. By contrast, the average age in the NFC — slightly inflated by Rodgers and Brady — was 29.6.

Another crazy offseason of looming retirements, trades and signings will skew those numbers for next season, and teams lacking a great quarterback will once again hatch plots to acquire one. . Just look at NFC finalists San Francisco and the Los Angeles Rams, who acquired successors last year — the 49ers drafted Trey Lance and the Rams traded for Matthew Stafford — for quarterbacks who had recently debuted in the Super Bowl. One of them, Jimmy Garoppolo of San Francisco, could well start in another.

But it’s reassuring to know that with so many elite quarterbacks backed by front offices determined to optimize the rosters around them, there won’t be just one rivalry to dominate the next decade, but several. .

So while this weekend may feel different – neither good nor bad, just different – take comfort in what is not a void but another phase in the natural progression of things. And besides, we’re probably going to see Brady versus Mahomes in the Super Bowl next year, anyway.

Jenny Vrentas contributed report.

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