Young QBs poised beyond years
Gregg Easterbrook [ARCHIVE]
ESPN Playbook
December 4, 2012
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Three rookie quarterbacks -- Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson -- led their teams to monster wins, one on "Monday Night Football," the other two on the road. The road wins were both comebacks, with Luck and Wilson both driving the length of the field twice in their last two chances, both defeating favored teams that held seemingly secure leads. Football drama doesn't get much better. Now add that two of the quarterbacks were the first two choices of the draft, while the third was a guy his own college team wanted to get rid of.

Luck is a famous player every club in the NFL would have liked to have. RG3 is a Heisman Trophy winner living a charmed life -- even his fumbles look good. Wilson is a lesser-known player whom even Seattle passed on high in the draft. But why not? In 2011, his college team, North Carolina State, told him to take a hike, because the Wolfpack wanted to start someone else.

The Redskins beat the defending champion Giants with RG3 operating a college-style zone-read option offense. When Tim Tebow ran the zone-read option at Denver last season, purists said it was a gimmick that would never last in the NFL. But Griffin is a lot faster than Tebow, and throws the ball a lot better. Griffin's glowing aura even caused the Redskins' defense to play well in the fourth quarter. How many rookie quarterbacks have ever defeated the defending champions on "Monday Night Football"?

Colts trailing 33-21 with four minutes remaining, Luck ran a quick, precise 85-yard touchdown drive to pull within 33-28. But Detroit seemed to have the Colts finished off when Indianapolis took over on its 25 with 1:07, needing a touchdown and out of timeouts. Luck broke a tackle in the backfield to run for 9 yards. He hit Reggie Wayne for 26 yards on a perfectly thrown deep slant on third-and-1. Then Luck ran 16 yards for a first down, going out of bounds to stop the clock. Luck wasn't staging the drive alone, of course. Good offensive line play on the final drive allowed Indianapolis to send out five receivers on all but one snap.

With three seconds remaining, the Colts had one play to win or lose from the Detroit 14. The Lions rushed four, dropping seven into the end zone: Four Colts ran into the end zone while Donnie Avery cut underneath, covered by no one. Luck rolled to buy time, saw everyone in the end zone well-guarded, flipped the ball to Avery -- then sprinted downfield to try to get a block. In the short time that passed between the snap and when Luck released the ball, he "saw the field" perfectly, and also kept track of the line of scrimmage, not stepping over.

Joe Montana could not have run the Colts' final drive any better. Forlorn at 2-14 last season, Indianapolis now has a strong chance of the playoffs -- and is 7-1 in close games, an indicator of a poised rookie quarterback.

Russell Who? Wilson was said to be "too short" at 5-11 to play quarterback in the NFL. North Carolina State told Wilson to hit the road so it could start a 6-6 quarterback. The guy who made that canny decision was fired a few days ago, but that's another matter.

The situation seemed hopeless when the Seahawks took over on their own 3-yard line, trailing Chicago 14-10 with 3:40 remaining, facing the vaunted Chicago defense. Wilson executed a patient 97-yard, 12-play drive to take the lead with 32 seconds remaining in regulation. After Chicago forced overtime, Seattle got the kickoff and Wilson executed a patient 80-yard, 12-play drive for victory in overtime. Whenever in both series he saw a lane to the sideline, he pulled the ball and ran for first downs, stepping out of bounds to stop the clock. Twice he completed big passes sprinting left and throwing back across his body.

Chicago's late defensive tactics were puzzling. On the touchdown to Golden Tate that put Seattle ahead at 32 seconds, the Bears zone-blitzed, resulting in defensive end Shea McClellin in deep coverage. Tate caught a short under route. Rather than use "leverage" to force Tate into traffic, Chicago's Major Wright, Kelvin Hayden and McClellin stepped to the side of Tate, allowing him to score.

On Seattle's winning drive in overtime, the Bears' defensive line kept slanting in, gambling for a sack. But an inside rush means no contain. Wilson recognized the lack of contain and spun outside for the winning touchdown pass to Sidney Rice. On the final snap, Bears megabucks defender Julius Peppers was way out of position, outsmarted by a rookie. Joe Montana could not have run the Seahawks' final drive any better.

Luck and Griffin are very well-known, Wilson not so much. But his matinee-idol looks should make Wilson popular as a product endorser, unless he's "too short" for that too.

As for the Lions, on a 4-10 run stretching back to last season, their year is over and a housecleaning may await. This team is studded with players who put more energy into talking than performing. As for the Bears, they are 1-4 against teams likely to make the playoffs. Good fortune with takeaways early in the season may have made Chicago overconfident.

In other quarterback news, not even Archie Manning could have expected things to go as well with Peyton Manning and the Broncos as they are going. The Broncs have already won the AFC West, and may have a chance to lock up a first-round bye when they travel to Baltimore on Dec. 16.

Are the Broncos winning too fast? When Manning was at Indianapolis, in the 2005 and 2008 seasons the Colts won their division, and then the best seeding, so soon they lost focus, then were defeated in the postseason opening round at home. If Denver locks up a bye before Christmas, the Broncos might not play another consequential game for three weeks. Nobody likes to be in that situation: a situation which, in the past, has come back to haunt Peyton Manning.

Denver had the game wrapped up at 31-22, seconds remaining, City of Tampa out of timeouts. Manning was kneeling. Once again Greg Schiano had his defense charge, risking injuries to the opponent on a meaningless snap.

As Tuesday Morning Quarterback noted in September, though Schiano claims that attacking a victory formation worked for him at Rutgers, this tactic never resulted in a turnover, let alone a Rutgers victory. Schiano simply isn't telling the truth about his unsportsmanlike tactic. Why does the city of Tampa want to be represented by a little bully who breaks a sportsmanship standard observed by everyone else in football?

Stats of the Week No. 1: With 1,446 yards rushing, Adrian Peterson has more rushing yardage than 22 of the league's 32 teams.

Stats of the Week No. 2: San Francisco and St. Louis came within 26 seconds of consecutive tie games.

Stats of the Week No. 3: For the first 56:20 of the contest, Chicago outgained Seattle; for final 11 minutes, Seattle outgained Chicago by 119...
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