The hearts of Patriots fans and supermodels everywhere took a huge drop on Sunday as Tom Brady bravely limped off the field after taking a clean helmet hit from a Kansas City Chief safety. To be honest, my heart skipped a beat too (my interest is purely in a fantasy football setting, really).
Seeing a quarterback go down in the middle of a game may be the most gut-wrenching site in all of sports. No position in ANY sport is as highly critical to an entire team's well-being as the quarterback is to football.
They are not only the fulcrum on which their team's balance lays, but the very crux of identity in a league that plays with the players behind masks. In the sea of anonymity that is the NFL, they stand alone.
Listen to the way people talk about quarterbacks. How many times has the number 1 pick in the draft been a quarterback? How often have we heard coaches say the key to winning is getting to the quarterback? When the snap comes back, all eyes follow the man with the ball.
Take the Minnesota Vikings this year. The rumors in the off-season were they believed they were one player away from serious Super Bowl contention. Just one Brett Favre away from glory. They spent millions on Jared Allen, to get to the quarterback. On Monday they spent the whole game sending blitzes and the aforementioned Jared Allen after Aaron Rodgers, hoping to turn the game their way.
Back to the subject of image: no position has as much to do with image as quarterback. There's a reason Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will never find themselves out of a job.
They not only field their position extremely well, but have cultivated a squeaky clean image, an off-field persona that would allow each of them one free murder just for being such swell guys.
There's also a reason Mike Vick and Daunte Culpepper are out of the league. Neither seem to be that adept at making good decisions (Culpepper fell apart without the easy options of running and throwing to Randy Moss, and Vick, well, you know), nor did either seem to be that mechanically sound passers.
If you view the offensive football team as an organism with interlocking departments, you can see the line as the core, without which the rest of the body is weak. Runners are like the upper body, where the power is utilized most.
The receivers, obviously, are the hands and legs, representing the speed and sure-handedness of the body. But none of these appendages will work without the quarterback, the brain.
So when Tom Brady went down, images of Joe Theisman, Troy Aikman, Carson Palmer all flashed in my head. Those teams fell apart without their signal caller.
The Redskins and Cowboys both had great running games to help the new passers along, but following legends rarely works (sorry, Aaron Rodgers). The Bengals probably wouldn't have beaten the Steelers that year, but they had a much better chance with Palmer than without.
But even with all that precedent behind it, I still don't believe the Patriots fall off all that much. Matt Cassell has run that same system in practice and occasionally when Brady took a seat during meaningless games.
He's been behind Brady for a few years now. That team still has playoff tested, Super Bowl winning players all over it, and the way the defense stepped up on Sunday bodes well for that untested secondary. And hey, they still won. Granted it was the Chiefs, but come on, they could have folded faster than the Lions on opening day.
But they didn't, Cassell came in and handled his business. So maybe what the Patriots will find is that they're one quarterback richer than before. After all, how did Brady get his job? Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury, and he stepped in and handled his business. Weirder things have happened.