The 2012 NFL season will be remembered as the year that three rookie quarterbacks made their postseason debut. Success in the postseason has historically been hard to come by for rookie quarterbacks, but the trio of Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III offers some unique skills.
All three of these rookie quarterbacks from the draft class of 2012 emerged out of training camp as their respective team's starting quarterback. They were able to transform teams with losing records into postseason contenders in their first year in the league.
In a story that NFL analyst Pat Kirwan of NFL.com wrote prior to the 2011 playoffs, he detailed that there have only been 11 rookie quarterbacks that have started a playoff game since the AFL-NFL merger. Out of this group, five of them were able to win their playoff debut.
How will the three rookies from 2012 fare in their first postseason game? It is a shame, but we know that one of them is already guaranteed to lose. That is because Seattle Seahawks QB Wilson is facing off against Washington Redskins QB Griffin, and only one of them will be able to emerge as the winner.
The third rookie, Indianapolis Colts QB Luck, will be going up against Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco. Flacco and New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez are the only two quarterbacks in NFL history that won two playoff games as a rookie.
This marks the second straight year that a playoff game has featured rookie quarterbacks facing each other in the postseason. In 2011, Houston Texans rookie QB T.J. Yates played against Cincinnati Bengals rookie QB Andy Dalton.
We will see if any of the rookies can duplicate Flacco and Sanchez's accomplishment, but with all of the success the three enjoyed in 2012, it would not be a major surprise to see them continuing to impress in the postseason.
Our main goal today is to learn what history has taught us about how rookie quarterbacks have fared in the postseason. Let's go back and revisit what each of the prior 11 quarterbacks did with their playoff debuts. Then we will end with a preview of what is in store for Luck, Griffin and Wilson.
Atlanta Falcons, Matt Ryan
His first playoff game was Jan. 3, 2009. Atlanta lost to the Arizona Cardinals 30-24. Ryan had the misfortune to go up against Kurt Warner and to play on the road. Ryan led the Falcons to a 17-14 halftime lead, but the Cardinals outscored the Falcons 16-7 in the second half.
Ryan threw for 199 yards, but he committed three turnovers. The game turned after halftime when Ryan fumbled a handoff exchange and Antrel Rolle picked up the ball and ran it in for a 27-yard touchdown. Atlanta never regained the lead. Ryan also threw two interceptions in the game and was tackled in the end zone for a safety.
He is still in search of his first playoff win. Maybe the 2012 postseason will be kinder to Ryan and the Falcons.
Baltimore Ravens, Joe Flacco
His first playoff game was Jan. 4, 2009. Baltimore defeated the Miami Dolphins 27-9 in an AFC Wild Card Game. In the divisional round, Flacco led the Ravens to a 13-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans. Flacco's ride came to an end in the AFC Championship game when the Ravens lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-14.
Baltimore played it conservative with Flacco, as his passing totals for the three games were very similar. He threw for 135 yards against Miami, 161 yards against Tennessee and 141 against Pittsburgh.
It should be noted that all three games were on the road. That might have played into the decision by Coach Harbaugh to hold the reins in on Flacco.
In the two playoff wins, Flacco had no turnovers and was never sacked. He threw just one touchdown pass to Derrick Mason in the Tennessee game. In the loss to Pittsburgh, Flacco threw three interceptions and was sacked three times. He completed only 13-of-30 passes and had a QB passer rating of just 18.2.
The playoff experience has helped Flacco over the years, and he has been able to lead Baltimore to at least one playoff win in each of the past four years.
Cincinnati Bengals, Andy Dalton
His first playoff game was Jan. 7, 2012. Cincinnati lost to the Houston Texans 31-10. Playing on the road and in front of a Texans home crowd that was pumped up for the first playoff game in franchise history, Dalton led the Bengals to an early 7-0 lead.
But it was all Houston after that, as it outscored Cincinnati 31-3 the rest of the way. The game was 10-10 going into the final minute of the first half when Houston DE J.J. Watt intercepted a pass from Dalton and ran it back for a 29-yard touchdown. Houston had the momentum, and the Bengals never scored again.
Dalton wound up with three interceptions on the day. He threw for 257 yards and was sacked four times in the game. His QB passer rating was 51.4.
Cleveland Browns, Bernie Kosar
His first playoff game was Jan. 4, 1986. Cleveland lost 24-21 to the Miami Dolphins on the road. Kosar threw a touchdown pass to Ozzie Newsome, and the Browns rode the running of Earnest Byner to open up a 21-3 lead early in the third quarter in Miami.
But Dolphins QB Dan Marino led the team on a big comeback, as they outscored the Browns 21-0 from then on to earn the victory.
The Browns relied on their ground game to churn out 251 yards, while Kosar passed for a meager 66 yards for the entire game. He threw for one touchdown and had one interception.
Houston Texans, T.J. Yates
His first playoff game was Jan. 7, 2012. Houston defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 31-10. Yates defeated fellow rookie Andy Dalton.
As we detailed up above with Dalton, the game turned on the J.J. Watt pick-six. In the second half, Yates threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson that helped Houston seal the game.
Yates completed 11-of-20 passes for 159 yards. He had the one touchdown pass, threw no interceptions and was sacked twice. His QB passer rating was 97.7.
The following week in Baltimore, the Ravens beat Houston 20-13. Houston was trailing 17-13 at the half, but the Ravens defense shut out the Texans in the second half.
Yates completed less than half of his passes (17-of-35), but the real killer was throwing three interceptions. Yates threw for 184 yards and had no touchdown passes.
Los Angeles Rams, Jim Everett
His first playoff game was Dec. 28, 1986. Washington defeated the Los Angeles Rams 19-7 on the road. The Redskins were up 16-0 in the fourth quarter until Everett finally connected for his first postseason touchdown pass.
Everett only completed half of his passes (9-of-18 for 136 yards), threw one touchdown and two interceptions. To make matters worse, the Rams fumbled four times in the game. They never were able to overcome the six turnovers, especially because the Redskins had none.
Miami Dolphins, Dan Marino
Marino's first playoff game was on Dec. 31, 1983. Marino is one of the few rookie QBs that had the luxury of playing his first playoff game at home. But that didn't matter, as the Dolphins lost to the Seattle Seahawks 27-20.
Marino led Miami to a 13-7 lead at halftime, but the Seahawks made the better adjustments in the second half and outscored the Dolphins 20-7.
Marino threw for 193 yards, had two touchdowns and two interceptions. In addition, the Dolphins gave up three fumbles. Seattle won the turnover battle five to none, which was more than enough to win the game.
New York Jets, Mark Sanchez
In the 2009 playoffs, Sanchez went 2-1 with all three games coming on the road. His first playoff game was Jan. 9, 2010, at Cincinnati, where the Jets won 24-14.
The following week, Sanchez led New York to another road win, this time 17-14 at San Diego. Then in the AFC Championship game, Sanchez came up short, and the Jets lost to Indianapolis 30-17.
For the three playoff games, Sanchez wound up with four touchdown passes and only two interceptions. His passing totals were 182 yards versus Cincinnati, 100 yards against San Diego and 257 yards against Indianapolis.
In the AFC Championship game against the Colts, Sanchez had the Jets winning 17-13, but the Colts defense applied more pressure in the second half, and they shut out the Jets.
Los Angeles Raiders, Todd Marinovich
His first playoff game was Dec. 28, 1991, at Kansas City, and the Chiefs won 10-6. Marinovich was only able to lead the Raiders to two field goals.
Marinovich turned in a forgettable performance. He completed 12-of-23 passes for 140 yards, but he threw four interceptions. The Raiders also lost two fumbles, so their point total equaled their turnovers. Not a good recipe for success in the postseason.
Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger
His first playoff game was Jan. 15, 2005, and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the New York Jets at home in overtime 20-17.
Roethlisberger led the Steelers in a comeback in the fourth quarter to score the tying touchdown, and they went on to win in overtime. Roethlisberger threw for 181 yards and one touchdown, but he also threw two big interceptions.
In the AFC Championship game the following week, Big Ben lost a shootout to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots 41-27. Against New England, Roethlisberger threw for 226 yards, two touchdowns and three costly interceptions. The Steelers also fumbled once, while New England didn't have any turnovers.
Both of Big Ben's playoff games were at home, which is something few rookie quarterbacks get to enjoy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Shaun King
His first playoff game was at home against the Washington Redskins on Jan. 15, 2000. The Bucs edged the Redskins 14-13 as King threw for 157 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
He completed less than half of his passes, hitting on 15-of-32 for the game. Washington was up 13-0 in the game before King rallied Tampa Bay with two touchdown drives in the second half to earn the win.
In the NFC Championship game at St. Louis the following week, the Bucs fell 11-6. King once again completed less than half of his passes, hitting on just 13-of-29 for 163 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Rookies as a Group
There have been a total of 18 games (post-merger) started by a rookie quarterback. Their record in those games is seven wins and 11 losses. Five games were played at home, 13 on the road.
The quarterbacks combined to throw 15 touchdown passes, but the collective number of total turnovers was a staggering 42. With a ratio of 15-42, that helps to explain why no rookie quarterback has ever led his team to the Super Bowl.
It should be noted that out of the 18 rookie playoff starts, only three of the games had a quarterback throwing for more than 200 yards: Andy Dalton (257), Mark Sanchez (257) and Ben Roethlisberger (226).
Griffin, Luck, Wilson
Griffin III versus Wilson figures to be a classic matchup for rookie quarterbacks in a playoff game. Wilson appears to be close to 100 percent healthy, and that will be a big factor in the game. It is doubtful that the Redskins defense has faced anybody as quick as Wilson is (including RGIII in practices).
As for Griffin, he continues to make progress with his knee injury, but as long as he wears the bulky knee brace to give him additional support, he will appear to be slower than normal. He is facing a better defense in Seattle, so he will need to be as mobile as possible to elude the pressure.
Both teams benefit from a strong running game, and Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll would be smart to let Alfred Morris and Marshawn Lynch be the focal point of their offenses. As we observed from the history lesson detailed above, the teams that place the rookie quarterbacks in situations where they commit multiple turnovers usually lose badly.
As for Luck against the Baltimore Ravens, it was interesting to see Ray Lewis announce that these playoffs would be his last hurrah. The Colts have been riding on a wave of emotion for a good part of the season, so Lewis stepped forward and gave the Ravens something extra to play for as well.
You can imagine that the Ravens defense will be pumped up to play an inspired game, even with Lewis' status uncertain. The Ravens still have holes in their secondary due to injuries, so if the Colts offensive line can give Luck some time, he should deliver some big plays.
All three rookies are in action this weekend, so it means that for any of the trio to reach the Super Bowl this year, they will have to win three playoff games. That has never been done before, but with this group of rookies, anything is possible.
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