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Despite Alex Smith leading the division in three clutch categories, John Skelton had a more well-rounded clutch season.
5. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (25 pts.)
The St. Louis Rams had an abysmal 2011 season. The entire roster was racked with injuries, and Bradford was left to make do with what he had.
Coming off a season in which he was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, and with his Rams narrowly missing the playoffs, expectations were certainly high for the former No. 1 overall pick. Players, coaches and fans alike assumed they would be in the thick of the NFC West race, but instead the team found itself in the hunt for the top pick in the draft.
4. Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle Seahawks (20 pts.)
Expectations were also high for the Seattle Seahawks last season after backing into a playoff spot with a division-winning 7-9 record, then shocked the football world by defeating the New Orleans Saints in a home Wild Card victory.
The 2011 defense did its part, finishing as the No. 9 overall unit in the NFL.
Jackson and the offense, however, struggled to do anything positive on a weekly basis—they finished 22nd in passing yards per game and 23rd in scoring. That prompted management to bring in unproven free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn to compete for the starting job.
Based purely on my own speculation, Jackson should have the upper hand in winning the three-man quarterback competition in Seattle based on the fact that he is the only man returning from last year and knows how the offense works.
Nary a comeback last year, however, could come into play when head coach Pete Carroll makes his final decision.
3. Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals (19 pts.)
Kevin Kolb had a tumultuous first season in Arizona, as he spent half the season on the sideline hampered with various injuries. There were a few opportunities to mount a late-game comeback, but he failed to do so for one reason or another.
Whether it was a Chansi Stuckey fumble in Washington, an interception in Seattle or an unexpected turn of events against the Giants, Kolb missed opportunities with games on the line.
That he comes in at No. 3 on the list is surprising to me, but it was not by much—just a single point, as you see.
If Kolb doesn’t win the starting job for the Cardinals and can’t get on the field this season, he may be all but finished as an NFL starter. Can Arizona trust him with the keys to the franchise? Here’s what I think.
2. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers (13 pts.)
You ‘Niners fans are appalled that Alex Smith is not No. 1. And that’s OK, because what’s a B/R column without controversy and debate?
Smith was great for San Francisco during his first year under head coach Jim Harbaugh—he produced career-high numbers across the board.
It’s quite possible Smith has turned a corner in his career and will finally be what the 49ers drafted him to be, and that is a franchise quarterback. After one stellar season behind the league’s best defense and one of the better running games in football, it may be too early to call, but he is headed in the right direction.
Six game-winning drives prove it’s true.
1. John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals (12 pts.)
For those of you who may have forgotten, this list is on the most clutch quarterbacks in the division, not for overall quarterback play. If this had to do with the latter, John Skelton would likely be last—by a lot.
Skelton had the benefit of playing with a defense that was firing on all cylinders toward the end of the season. He used it to his benefit, winning six games down the stretch, four of which were of the comeback variety.
While it’s true that the team found itself with a fourth-quarter deficit most of the time as a direct result of his poor first-half play, he did make up for it.
He has a real chance at winning the starting quarterback job in Arizona, but don’t be surprised to see Kolb win it initially.