The Washington Times-Herald

January 2, 2013

Banner year for rookie quarterbacks

Tom James
Tribune Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — It's been quite a year for rookie quarterbacks in the National Football League.

Three have led their respective teams in the NFL playoffs -- Indianapolis' Andrew Luck, Washington's Robert Griffin III and Seattle's Russell Wilson. Griffin's Redskins won the NFC East. Luck's Colts and Wilson's Seahawks finished a strong second in both of their divisions (AFC South and the NFC West).

Indianapolis and Seattle both knocked off their division's eventual champions -- Houston and San Francisco -- in convincing fashion. The Colts (Green Bay, Houston, Minnesota), Redskins (Minnesota, Baltimore) and Seahawks (Green Bay, New England, Minnesota, San Francisco) have all secured wins over other playoff-bound teams.

Wins? Luck and Wilson guided the Colts and Seahawks to 11-5 marks. Griffin's Redskins totaled a 10-6 record.

Stats-wise, take your pick. All very similar. Luck completed 339 of 627 passes for an NFL-rookie record 4,374 yards, 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He also rushed 62 times for 255 yards and five touchdowns.

Griffin, meanwhile, connected on 258 of 393 passes for 3,200 yards, 20 TDs and five interceptions while rushing 120 times for 815 yards and seven touchdowns. Not to be outdone, Wilson has been successful on 252-of-393 passes for 3,118 yards, 26 touchdowns (tying Peyton Manning's rookie record) and 10 interceptions. He rushed 94 times for 489 yards and four TDs.

And all three will be playing Sunday as Indianapolis travels to Baltimore in an AFC wild-card game while Seattle and Washington will be squaring off in an NFC wild-card game.

It should prove to be quite an afternoon of football. Only five rookie quarterbacks have ever won a playtoff game (Shaun King, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez and T.J. Yates).

Who's the best? When it comes to Luck, Griffin, and Wilson, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The best overall package with a chance for longer-term success? Probably Luck. Best combination of athletic skills with football savvy? Griffin is your guy. An overachiever who plays much bigger than he is? That would be Wilson.

Comparisons? Luck would be somewhat of a combination of Peyton Manning (preparation), Roethlisberger (size and elusiveness) with a little bit of Brett Favre (gun-slinger mentality) thrown in.

On the other hand, Griffin's style of play is reminiscent of Steve Young (football skills and overall mobility in the pocket), Randall Cunningham (size, athleticism and ability to extend plays) and Michael Vick (overall speed, elusiveness and arm strength).

Wilson reminds many of Drew Brees (football mentality), Roger Staubach (making big plays downfield), and Fran Tarkenton (movement in the pocket).

Needless to say, all three have been very good this year. Luck and Griffin were the No. 1 and No. 2 overall selections in last spring's NFL Draft. They are expected to finish first and second, in whatever combination, for the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year award, which is expected to be announced sometime in early February. That is, unless Wilson were to end up crashing the party.

In addition to Luck, Griffin and Wilson, there were three other rookie starters in the NFL this season -- Miami's Ryan Tannehill, Philadelphia's Nick Foles and Cleveland's Brandon Weeden. Tannehill is probably the best of the second group, although Foles certainly had some successful moments with the Eagles. Weeden remains a work in progress.

Baltimore's Flacco, who will be facing Indianapolis Sunday afternoon (1 p.m., CBS Sports), had some words of advice for the three rookie quarterbacks as they prepare for their first foray into the post-season. Flacco knows what it's like to be facing the pressure of being a rookie and facing playoff pressure for the first time.

“Yeah, you know there’s going to be a lot of people talking about playoff football and how it’s ratcheted up a notch, which may be true. But the bottom line is, my advice would be, go about your business as you always would on a normal week," the Ravens quarterback said this week.

"It’s obviously gotten you to the point that you’re in the playoffs and playing to get to another week. If it got you that far, then you’re obviously doing something right so you should try to continue that. You shouldn’t try anything crazy just because it’s playoff time.”

A first-round draft pick by Baltimore in 2008, he recalled his feelings as a rookie and going into the post-season.

“I just remember it was a great opportunity. I mean it was the chance to play another game and go win a playoff game which hasn’t been done too many times [by a rookie starter]. And then you give yourself a chance to go win next week," Flacco said.

"Like I said, I remember it being a great opportunity and you know I just kind of tried to go about business as usual and go play my normal game. I guess a lot of teams will hype it up and try to maybe make it something more than it is, and pump into it a little bit, but the biggest thing is just stay comfortable and take advantage of the opportunity.”

Colts coach Chuck Pagano understands the pressure that his rookie quarterback, Luck, will no doubt feel Sunday in Baltimore.

“Just go play. Again, we understand the magnitude of it and we understand that it’s win or go home. He understands that. We all understand that. He’s played in big games and he’s going to be in a hostile environment," Pagano stressed.

"He’s been in hostile environments for 16 weeks, or eight of those 16 weeks. He’s prepared himself for that. It’s a tough, tough place to play, like many venues on the road. But I think Andrew is mature enough and far enough along that he’s not going to let anything distract him or take away from his focus and preparation.”