Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fear and Loathing in the National Football League

No, this is not a good town for psychedelic drugs. Reality itself is too twisted. - Hunter S. Thompson "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"

If I were Derek Anderson, those words would have been ricocheting off the walls of my skull all night as I watched Brady Quinn from the sidelines.

That would be the same Derek Anderson who seemingly rose from nowhere last year to lead the Cleveland Browns to a 10-6 record and received a juicy new contract in the offseason for his efforts. The same Derek Anderson who went to the Pro Bowl last year, a very competitive year for American Football Conference quarterbacks.

Let me repeat: Cleveland Browns, 10-6, Pro Bowl QB.

And then reality twisted.

The calendar flipped to 2008 and the Browns struggled out of the gate. One thing led to another and Anderson was chucked (intentionally or not) under the bus. Romeo Crennel yanked him just in time to insert Quinn against a seemingly defenseless Denver Broncos team at home.

On a nationally-televised, Thursday night game.

For the NFL Network's 2008 debut.

Now, I don't follow the Browns. I don't know what caused their early struggles nor do I pretend to know if Anderson or Quinn is better going forward.

What I do know is what I saw Thursday night.

I know that the problem with the Browns is not the quarterback. Their offense may have been sluggish, but the problem is the defense.

I also know that I see reason to be excited about Jay Cutler. I see those feathery touch throws, the cannon arm, and the accuracy on the move.

I can't say the same about Brady Quinn. I see hype, but I don't understand it. Maybe he will be a difference maker for the rest of the season, but he certainly didn't make much of one Thursday.

And that's why the reality of football is so twisted.

Because Derek Anderson is not getting that job back any time soon and it really doesn't have anything to do with his play. With the running game moving the ball as well as it was moving it against the Broncos and all that time to throw, I'm willing to bet good money a guy who was a Pro Bowler last year could have made every throw Quinn made.

Not to mention starting from the freakin' 50 every series.

Cris Collinsworth, who I generally don't like, made a great point. He said that throwing the ball in the NFL isn't too difficult between the 20s. The real quarterbacks are made inside the Red Zone. I don't know if Collinsworth is right, but it makes sense since there's less real estate to cover and explore.

And I didn't see Quinn make any especially nice throws inside the 20.

In fact, I didn't really see him make that many impressive throws or plays, period.

One of the reasons I don't like Collinsworth is that he inexplicably fixates on certain players, certain plays, or certain aspects of the game. And he was guilty of it last night with Quinn. Cris kept talking about how great Brady looked, about how well he moved in the pocket.

Don't give me that nonsense. I know that's the Kool-Aid flavor o' the day, but keep it moving.

That hop-pass he made to Jamal Lewis in the fourth quarter was very nice. That's it.

The touchdown with the guy in his face? C'mon. It took some guts, but has the NFL really deteriorated to the point where we can't even expect that much from the average professional signal-caller? And the other touchdown (as well as much of Quinn's yardage) was created by Kellen Winslow after the catch.

Not to mention those picks the Brown receivers seemed to be running? How were those flying under the refs' radar?

On the other hand, I saw Brady make quite a few ugly throws.

In fact, judging from the highlights, the only real difference between Quinn and Anderson is that Quinn's go-to guy (Winslow) can catch most of the time whereas Anderson's (Braylon Edwards) seems to have a gnarly case of the dropsies.

Incidentally, what is the deal with all the dropped passes lately? The Broncos tight end dropped a couple, Edwards tallied his customary share, Brandon Marshall dropped a touchdown, and that's just a few from one game. It seems to be a League-wide phenomenon.

I guess that's the risk you run pimping Terrell Owens so hard.

But back to Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn.

Quinn finished the game 23-35 with 239 yards and two touchdowns. He had Cleveland headed towards a win until the defense turtled to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Or at least that's the way it will be written in the papers.

And the job will be Brady's to lose.

He'll owe it to Jamal Lewis and the offensive line, who finally answered the bell.

He'll owe it to a Denver defense that missed Champ Bailey and didn't put up much of a fight.

He'll owe it to Romeo Crennel, a coach whose fix for a team fielding a defense capable of allowing 21 points in the fourth quarter of a nationally-televised home game is a quarterback change.

He'll owe it to just another day in the NFL.

The Vegas of the sports' world. It is not a good sport for psychedelic drugs.

Reality itself is far too twisted.

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