Plenty of once-great quarterbacks reached a stage in their careers when they simply couldn’t do it anymore. Brett Favre had a terrible final season in Minnesota. Joe Namath had a lousy final season in Los Angeles. Johnny Unitas had an ugly final season in San Diego.
But those once-great quarterbacks had a long and sustained period of greatness before it reached that point. What made me sad as I watched Robert Griffin III flounder in Cleveland yesterday is that his greatness was so short-lived, that he’ll be remembered primarily for his subsequent failures.
With the way Griffin has played for the Browns this year (even worse than Cody Kessler and Josh McCown, the other quarterbacks who have helped Cleveland reach 0-13), and the way Griffin didn’t play at all last year, and struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness for two years before that, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Griffin is done as an NFL starter. At age 26.
In the last few years, as Griffin has gone from star to dud, I’ve heard people suggest that Griffin was never any good in the first place and was overhyped as a rookie. Sorry, but that’s preposterous. Griffin was great as a rookie. The Griffin who led Washington to the playoffs as a rookie was as fine a rookie quarterback as the NFL has ever seen. He was the fastest runner ever to play the position, before wrecking his knee in the playoffs at the end of his rookie year, but he was an outstanding passer as well: He threw for 20 touchdown passes and only five interceptions and set an NFL rookie record with a 102.4 passer rating. As a rookie, Griffin was marvelous.
But that knee injury he suffered in a playoff loss to the Seahawks seemed to sap him of his incredible ability to make things happen with his legs, and having lost that ability, he looks clueless as a passer as well. In two games this season, Griffin has completed just 44.4 percent of his passes. That’s a Tim Tebow level of incomptence. He simply doesn’t throw the ball well enough to be an NFL quarterback.
And that’s a sad thing. Griffin had the potential to change the way we view the quarterback position. He had the potential to be a perennial All-Pro, a quarterback who leads a team to a championship, a Hall of Famer. That’s the level of natural talent he had.
But since that knee injury, we haven’t seen anything remotely close to that verion of Griffin. The Griffin playing for the Browns this year is a shell of his former self. It’s sad to see this once-great quarterback getting to enjoy only one season of greatness before washing out with a winless team.
Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:
It’s time to eject players for cheap shots. I would have loved to see the officials eject Washington’s Deshazor Everett for his brutal cheap shot on Eagles punt returner Darren Sproles on Sunday. Ditto for Titans receiver Harry Douglas who took Broncos cornerback Chris Harris out at the knee. Yes, I know that the Douglas low block was technically legal, and I don’t much care. I want the NFL to give officials the authority to eject players for clearly intending to injure an opponent, which is what Douglas did when he went straight for Harris’s knee. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said that he couldn’t define pornography, but, “I know it when I see it.” I feel the same way about cheap shots. Officials know a cheap shot when they see it, and when they see it they ought to kick a player out of a game for it.
Mike Nugent may have the worst extra point season ever. Nugent, the Bengals’ kicker, is 23-for-29 on extra points after missing his sixth of the season on Sunday. That puts him at 79.3 percent for the season. The lowest extra point rate in NFL history in a season with 35 or more attempts is 81.8 percent, meaning Nugent is on pace for the worst extra point season ever. Obviously, that’s largely a function of the NFL’s new rule moving extra points back by 13 yards, although it’s also worth noting that Nugent is performing even worse than NFL kickers did back in the days when kickers were expected to play other positions as well. He’s having a simply awful season.
Matt Barkley is showing he belongs. I don’t know that Barkley will ever be a regular starter in the NFL, but as the Bears’ starter the last few weeks he has definitively shown that he’s better than people thought when he dropped in the draft following a disappointing senior season at USC and then bounced around the league with the Eagles and Cardinals. Now that he’s on the Bears, Barkley is playing in an offense without much talent around him, but he made several good passes, including two in the final minute on Sunday that would have put the Bears into game-tying field goal range if they hadn’t been called back by holding penalties. Barkley is at least a solid No. 2 quarterback, and he might have earned himself the opportunity to compete for a starting job in 2017. In a lousy season like the Bears are having, it’s good to see a guy make the most of his opportunities.
Jadeveon Clowney is incredible. Injuries have severely limited Clowney since he was selected first overall in the 2014 NFL draft. But when he’s healthy and on the field, he’s every bit the player we all thought he was during his college days at South Carolina. With first place in the AFC South on the line yesterday in Indianapolis, Clowney was the best player on the field, leading a Texans defense that frustrated Andrew Luck and the Colts’ offense all day. Clowney had a sack and hit Luck three times, and he has emerged as the leader of a defense that doesn’t miss J.J. Watt as much as we all thought it would.
Lorenzo Alexander is one of the best stories in the NFL. Alexander had an interception, a quarterback hit, two knocked down passes and three solo tackles yesterday for the Bills against the Steelers. That continues a great season in which he also has 10 sacks and deserves All-Pro consideration. What’s amazing about Alexander’s season is that he’s 33 years old, has been in the NFL for a decade, and until this year was just a backup who bounced around from city to city trying to make an NFL roster. It’s great to see a player who was previously so overlooked finally get an opportunity to be a starter, and thrive. Alexander is kind of the anti-RGIII, a player who started slowly but is now having his best season as he ages.