Call me a homer. Call me ignorant.
Heck, you can even call me downright stupid if you want.
But after watching the developments and results of the Jay Cutler situation in Denver, there is no doubt in my mind that Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is still the leader of the Vikings, and a better leader overall.
Let's start with how different these two quarterback are. Jay Cutler was drafted 11th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. Jackson was drafted 64 overall in that same draft when the Vikings traded up to take the former Division I-AA quarterback out of Alabama State University.
As far as playing time in their rookie seasons, both had similar playing time. Cutler started 5 games, throwing for 1,001 yards, nine touchdowns, and five interceptions. Jackson, on the other hand, did not start as hot. He played in four games, starting two, throwing for 475 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions.
In 2007, both franchises expected these two young quarterbacks to take the reins and guide their teams to the playoffs. From the two players' stats, you can tell who was the more consistent quarterback. Cutler threw for 3,497 yards with 20 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. Compare that to Jackson, who only threw for 1,911 yards and nine touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
Although neither team went to the playoffs, Vikings fans and local Minneapolis media questioned Jackson's choices on the field, but no one was ready to throw him under the bus yet. Meanwhile, Cutler was being compared to a young John Elway (later, he himself would compare himself to Elway).
Enter the 2008 NFL season. Jackson and the Vikings get off to a rough start offensively, losing their first two games to the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers. Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress then made the decision to turn to veteran backup Gus Frerotte, who led the the Vikings to a 7-3 record in their next 10 games.
Jackson never said a word, but instead picked up a clipboard and started to watch the offense run from the sidelines. In Denver, Jay Cutler and the Broncos offense was on first, starting the season at 8-5 with a virtual lock on the AFC West title.
In week 14 at the Detroit Lions, Gus Frerotte injured his back after throwing two interceptions in the first half. This was Jackson's chance, and he seized it, completing 80 percent of his passes and throwing for 105 yards as the Vikings won and kept their NFC Division lead over the Chicago Bears.
Many thought Tarvaris looked to be the team's solid backup, but then the surprising news came that Tarvaris would also get the start the next week over an Arizona Cardinals team that had just won the NFC West after a big win over the Rams. Jackson, again in the face of doubters, threw for 164 yards and four touchdowns with a 135.5 quarterback rating, and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
After dropping a home game to the Atlanta Falcons, Jackson had a shaky game in Week 17 against the New York Giants, but led the offense on a game winning drive that ended with a 50-yard game-winning field goal from Ryan Longwell. This showed the maturity that I had been waiting to see from Jackson. After struggling, he was able to answer when his team desperately needed him to.
Let's go to Denver, where the Broncos dropped three straight games and missed the playoffs after losing to the San Diego Chargers in Week 17, who, with the win, took the AFC West title. The Vikings season did not go too much farther, losing to the Eagles in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs 26-14 in which Jackson faced great pressure, which forced him into some bad decisions.
This past of-season really taught me a lot about these two quarterbacks. At the start of free agency, the Vikings traded a 2008 fourth-round pick to the Houston Texans for quarterback Sage Rosenfels, who will come in to challenge Jackson for the starting job.
What did Jackson think of this? He talked about how this would push him to work harder to win the job this summer in training camp, exactly what I wanted to hear. After the Kansas Chiefs acquired former-Patriots Quarterback Matt Cassel for a 2008 second-round pick early in free agency, the rumors started to come out that Cutler had been involved with these rumors.
To Cutler, this made sense. After the Broncos lost their last three games of the 2008 season, former Head Coach Mike Shanahan was fired and former Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels was hired as the team's new head coach. Cutler became upset and declined to talk to McDaniels.
Soon, news broke that Cutler wanted to be traded, upset that McDaniels wanted his own guy in Cassel over Cutler, the Broncos franchise quarterback.
This is still an ongoing process with Cutler, and who knows if the Broncos will trade him in the end and where he will go if they do? To me, Jackson has showed how much more mature he is than Jay Cutler. Jackson has been benched, faced millions of critics, and been under a lot of exaggeration of his failure to get the job done. But one thing has risen above all of this: Jackson ignores it and steps right back in the pocket.
And that's why I want Jackson to be leading the offense this summer at Vikings training camp, battling for the starting quarterback job. After all, battling is nothing new to No. 7.
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