Handing Out Report Cards to Every NFL Quarterback in the Divisional Round
Before I was the stunningly handsome Miami Dolphins Featured Columnist here at Bleacher Report, I had another life as a stunningly handsome teacher and tutor working primarily with kids who needed just a little bit of help from time to time with English, literature, history and at times Math and social studies (but for the most part I simply taught them how to take Florida's standardized tests, which is called the FCAT).
Something I found out about myself while teaching was that I got a sick pleasure from grading my students' work.
I was tough but always fair. I never played favorites and always explained why each student earned the grade I gave them.
With Miami out of the playoffs since Columbus Day, and a fun slate of divisional playoff games at my disposal all weekend, I decided to try my hand at grading the quarterbacks this weekend.
I graded the quarterbacks based on their stats, whether they won or lost the game, what they brought to the table, what they took away from the table and also accounted for what their teammates did or didn't do.
Like I used to tell my students, I didn't give these grades to each of the final eight remaining quarterbacks, they earned them. While I was in school I always rolled my eyes while my teachers told me that, but as a teacher I found out that this is most certainly the case. Sure there are teachers from time to time that hate their students, but I was never one of those types and always considered myself fair; and that was what many of the parents told me (although in fairness, yes, some of my students were royal pains, but we shall not name them here since a lot of my former students wind up reading my stuff).
So here's a look at each grade received, sorry, earned by the final eight quarterbacks remaining coming into this weekend.
Tim Tebow: F
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I know this is the grade you've been waiting for so let me just kill this off at the top since, well I'm sure whether you love Tim Tebow or you hate him, you're sick of him already.
Tim Tebow had only three more completions than his opponent, Tom Brady, had touchdowns. Nine completions would be fine if he only threw the ball 15 to 20 times and the Broncos were able to run over the Patriots, however, since Denver couldn't get their run game ignited and their defense was scorched from the beginning of the game, he had to throw the ball 26 times.
Tebow only managed 13 yards on five carries, however all of this came from his one carry for 14 yards. His other four carries netted him minus-one yard.
The good news for Tebow is that he didn't throw an interception, but he still managed a turnover early in the game that let New England's offense back onto the field to control the game.
It was an exciting season for Tebow and the Broncos, but in the end New England just had their number. Tebow gets an F for a poor performance and a game where the Broncos never had a chance, but with a full offseason with this offense, expect him to come back better next season (assuming the Broncos don't decide to move on and find another quarterback).
Drew Brees: C-
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This should give you an idea about my grading "curve."
I just gave a quarterback who went 40-of-63 for 462 yards and four touchdowns and who almost led a come-from-behind victory for the Saints (despite the fact that the Saints had 14 carries for 37 yards) a C-.
That's because of two key interceptions early in the game.
The Saints as a whole were sloppy, posting five turnovers, including two interceptions by Drew Brees. Yet they still had a chance at winning the game. I know many of you will point to that in the comments and tell me that I was harsh on Brees in my grading.
Here's the key: Brees' first interception was at the Saints own 14-yard line with New Orleans down 7-0. It was returned to the 4-yard line. Only 15 seconds later, Alex Smith finds Michael Crabtree in the end zone for a touchdown.
Just like that, it's 14-0 49ers as they were in the midst of a 17-0 start to the game.
Now did Brees bounce back after that? Yes. Did his surrounding offense do him any favors with the three fumbles? Of course not, nor did the Saints defense, which had their problems, especially on the last drive when Alex Smith took advantage of mismatches on Vernon Davis and Frank Gore to score the touchdown.
But let it be known that Drew Brees threw an interception early into the game that led to a San Francisco touchdown, and the Saints wound up losing by four.
Alex Smith: B+
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Congratulations to Alex Smith: he has arrived.
Smith has gone through a lot as 49ers starting quarterback: seven offensive coordinators, three head coaches and being blamed for most of the 49ers shortcomings during his rocky seven-year tenure as the 49ers starting quarterback.
But Saturday's game made the waiting all worth it.
It wasn't efficient (he went 24-for-42, and with an early 17-0 lead there was no reason for him to throw 42 times), especially as his coach Jim Harbaugh seemed to forget at times "hey, you have Frank Gore, feel free to use him," but Smith took care of the ball and threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns.
Of course the most important of those touchdowns came on their final drive, as San Francisco matched the Saints' final game-winning drive with a seven-play, 85-yard drive where Alex Smith looked like the great 49ers quarterbacks of old (if you don't know who they are, stop reading this right now and look them up. For your pleasure, feel free to watch this great video, followed by this other great video and then end it with this great video).
Smith's overall performance on Saturday had me convinced that the 49ers can win the NFC Championship Game, and possibly go further.
Tom Brady: A+
Just a question Patriots fans: why even bother employing a punter?
It's not like the Patriots punt much anyways, and even if they did, Tom Brady could do the job well with a punt that went 48 yards to the Denver 10 at the end of the game.
That was just another feather in Brady's cap on a great night for him, as he went 26-of-34 for 363 yards and six touchdowns (Tebow only had nine completions all game).
Just another day at the office for Tom Terrific, as he led the Patriots to their first playoff win since the 2007 AFC Championship game, and are now on the cusp of making their fifth Super Bowl in the last 10 years.
TJ Yates: D+
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Three interceptions. That's going to be the calling card of what was otherwise a good game played by the Texans.
If Yates is even five percent more effective than his 17-of-35 for 184 yards and three interceptions, does Houston move on? If Matt Schaub is healthy, does Houston move on? (Actually I'll contend that if Schaub is healthy yes, they do, only the game is played in Houston and the Texans have the No. 1 seed, but I digress).
However, despite the fact that no one expected to start a playoff game, let alone two, I can't be too easy on TJ Yates when you consider that the Texans defense was at their best on Sunday and kept them in the game. Arian Foster also managed to run circles around Baltimore's vaunted defense.
Yates' three interceptions killed drives that could've either tied the game or given Houston the lead. Remember, they only lost by seven despite falling behind 17-3 in the first quarter.
The blame for the loss will ultimately fall on Jacoby Jones and his first quarter muffed punt (for future return-men, just remember: if the ball is coming your way and there's a man coming towards you, just let it go, especially inside your own 5-yard line; most of the time it will bounce into your own end zone and land your team at the 20), but Yates' turnovers didn't help matters much and were a roadblock in between the Texans going to Foxborough and going back home.
Joe Flacco: C
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Joe Flacco and his unibrow got the job done and got the Ravens into the AFC Championship game by not screwing up.
While his effort against Houston and TJ Yates' three interceptions and Jacoby Jones' muffed punt was admirable (14-for-27 for 176 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers), the big question is: would a similar performance be enough to get past the New England Patriots?
I know Flacco's job isn't so much to win games for Baltimore, but rather to not lose them. However that's also not in Alex Smith's job description with San Francisco, yet he beat the Saints when he had to go that extra level and not just lose, but go all out and win.
Can Flacco do the same thing against New England? What if the Patriots run defense (as poor as it has been at times this season) find a way to stop Ray Rice (who rushed for 60 yards on 21 attempts against Houston's tough defense)? Will Flacco be enough?
Based off of his performance today, I'd say no, but a lot can happen next Sunday.
That's why he only gets a C. He only provided just enough to beat the Texans. But just enough to beat a Texans team using a third-string rookie quarterback isn't anywhere near enough to beat a hot Patriots team with Tom Brady and Bruce Gronkowski tearing up the field.
Aaron Rodgers: C
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Now how do I justify giving Aaron Rodgers the same grade I gave Drew Brees, when Brees at least kept the Saints in the game and almost won it for them while the Packers could never really get into the game save for a fortuitous bad call by the officials (the non-fumble fumble by Greg Jennings)?
Simple: Green Bay's receivers couldn't catch a cold in a hospital during flu season on Sunday.
Many of Rodgers' throws were there for the taking, however balls bounced off of the Packers receivers like a Dwyane Wade's pass bounces off LeBron James in the fourth quarter (I'm a Heat fan fellow Heat fans, I can make these jokes, they're all in good fun, I love those guys and that team but it's true).
Rodgers was on target and his stats paint a good picture (26-of-46 for 264 yards, two touchdowns and one interception), but the drops left so many yards (and points) on the table.
Oh his one interception isn't a help either, even though Green Bay was already down by 17 with less than three minutes left.
I gave Rodgers a little bit of a break since his defense and receivers failed him (and Eli was simply Elite), but I can't give him a higher grade than a C.
Eli Manning: A
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I know everyone is going to beat this story into the ground again if the Giants meet the Patriots in the Super Bowl, so let me just start with it now:
So Eli, what did you say last summer when Michael Kay asked you if you were in the same class as Tom Brady:
"I consider myself in that class. Tom Brady is a great quarterback, he's a great player and what you've seen with him is he's gotten better every year. He started off winning championships and I think he's a better quarterback now than what he was, in all honesty, when he was winning those championships.
"I think now he's grown up and gotten better every year and that's what I'm trying to do. I kind of hope these next seven years of my quarterback days are my best."
Well Eli, you're absolutely correct! First off, that's a great quote that was taken out of context by too many people at the time it was uttered, and will be taken out of context and blown out of proportion come Super Bowl week if the Giants and Patriots meet in Indianapolis. Secondly, you both are in the same class in the sense that you guys are the only ones who got A's in my quarterback grades this week.
Yes Eli, I'm sorry that Brady screwed up the curve with his virtuoso performance against a Broncos defense that seemed ill-prepared for him (even though the two teams met only four weeks ago but whatever) and you didn't get the plus, but what you did do was beat a team that was favored at home with a performance that is nothing short of elite.
Manning's numbers: 21-of-33 for 330 yards, three touchdowns and one interception (and even then the Giants got the ball back only four plays later thanks to a John Kuhn fumble).
His touchdown before the half was a great throw (yes the helmet catch Part 2 was lucky, but what makes the throw great was that even if Hakeem Nicks didn't make the catch, no one else on the Packers would've been able to catch it), and Manning cut through the Packers defense with precision you usually associate with his brother.
If it wasn't for Brady, I would say Eli Manning was the best quarterback of the weekend.
Because of that, even though I'm leaning towards the 49ers (home-field advantage, great defense), I'm reluctant to bet against Eli Manning.