It seemed like it took a while for Tom Brady to enter the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, didn't it? It's unthinkable now, but even after that game-winning drive against the Rams, there was still some question as to whether the Patriots made the right move in dumping franchise icon Drew Bledsoe in favor of the wunkerkind out of Michigan.
Poor Brady. If he'd done the same thing today, he would've immediately been ticketed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A Super Bowl victory might not even have been necessary. String together a couple nice starts in the middle of the regular season, and all of the sudden they're clearing space for a bust in Canton.
This is the only conclusion to draw from the last few weeks, in which "elite" status has been applied to quarterbacks as freely as if it were the franchise tag. It came to a head Monday morning, when the Giants' Eli Manning and the Ravens' Joe Flacco were declared "elite" quarterbacks after Sunday evening comebacks.
"Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is far and away the league's MVP," Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi wrote of New York's 24-20 victory over the Patriots. "Still, Manning is on pace for his finest statistical year as the Giants keep winning, and he belongs in that conversation, too."
"Suddenly, it was clear Flacco had climbed toward a peak reserved for the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger," wrote Yahoo! Sports' Les Carpenter following the Ravens' 23-20 win.
Hold on a second.
Two weeks ago, Flacco and the Ravens offense orchestrated seven whole points in a loss to the Jaguars. This came after consecutive zero-touchdown, one-interception stinkers in wins over the Jets and Texans. He hadn't posted a passer rating above 78.5 since Sept. 25.
The last two weeks, though, Flacco led stirring comebacks against the Cardinals and Steelers, and suddenly he's knocking on the door of the "elite" clubhouse. He's back to being "Joe Cool" and the Ravens are a Super Bowl favorite in the AFC.
Manning's claim to being an "elite" quarterback might be annoying, but at least he's had to earn it with a Super Bowl victory and consistent playoff appearances. Flacco goes from "elite" to "stiff" so often, you'd think he was Philip Rivers. Rivers is so inconsistent, he's closing in on becoming a poor man's Tony Romo. Romo is so tough to watch, he's the the standard against whom all maddeningly average quarterbacks are judged.
Yet all of these guys, at one time or another, have been labeled "elite" quarterbacks.
This is the way things work, apparently, especially in the NFL and double-especially for quarterbacks. Remember three weeks ago when we were comparing Tim Tebow's comebacks to John Elway's? Tebow finally played a decent complete game Sunday against the Broncos, but hardly anybody noticed. We'd already elevated him to the stratosphere, and we've moved on to annointing someone else.
Congratulations are therefore in order to Flacco and Manning, and next week maybe it will be Josh Freeman or Matt Schaub's turn. They might want to get started on another wing in Canton. Things are going to get crowded soon.