I saw a fantastic football game this weekend and I saw something not too often seen these days – a young quarterback making a statement that he is ready to play in the NFL and be a solid performer in the ranks of the professionals.
I saw a guy step into an early season game when duty called as a result of injury. Admittedly, it is tough to perform at a high level in your very first NFL start, but that’s the job of the number two signal caller in the NFL when the starting quarterback is hurt.
I saw a guy who was possibly being tabbed as the future of the quarterback position for the franchise get his start much earlier than expected. Although he had been on the bench, where he was learning slowly with no rush to make him the starter, he was excelling as a starter. Amazing, especially since this was from a guy drafted beyond the second round of the draft, well after many other quarterbacks were taken and there was never a lock to lead the team as a starter.
But the California kid was ready and put on a great show, pulling out a close victory over a division rival. He threw for just shy of 300 yards with a single touchdown and completed about 80% of his passes. He was accurate. He was athletic. He was exciting. He was the future.
All of this happened on August 31, 1997 when the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Baltimore Ravens 28-27 behind the brilliant play of a young quarterback by the name of Rob Johnson.
Perhaps you assumed I was talking about Trent Edwards’ performance against the New York Jets on Sunday? Forgive me for the confusion – I should not have assumed you would know how I enjoy playing decade-old VCR tapes of Jaguars games every weekend, just one of my quirks (seriously, who’s not a Natrone Means fan?).
Indeed the parallels between the two quarterbacks are scary, right down to the stat line: Johnson was 20 of 24 for 294 yards with one touchdown that August day, Edwards was 22 of 28 for 290 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Each man had people around the league talking and the Bills management taking note, wondering whether they saw enough promise and perhaps potential greatness to warrant the starting job as quarterback of the Buffalo Bills.
We all know what happened in the case of Johnson. Bills brass decided that Johnson was indeed “the guy”. On February 13, 1998 the Bills traded first and fourth round draft pick to the Jaguars in order to acquire Johnson as their quarterback of the future. Johnson came in and never proved himself worthy of such a high price. Ever failing to get rid of the football even behind some pretty shoddy offensive lines, Johnson became the most sacked quarterback in league history in terms of sacks per drop backs. He also proved incapable of staying on the field, never playing more than 12 games in a single season for the Bills due to injuries sustained as part of the aforementioned sacks.
Many see the Johnson trade and failure as the turning point in recent franchise history. Rather than returning to the glory of the early 1990s, the Bills began a long number of years with rotating coaches, general managers and quarterbacks that is now in its 8th season.
So what of Edwards? Because he had a good game on Sunday with a near identical performance to Johnson a decade earlier he suddenly becomes the next albatross around the neck of the Buffalo Bills? That is neither what I am saying nor even suggesting here – that would be ridiculous. Just as ridiculous would be to say or suggest that Edwards is the future of the Buffalo Bills at quarterback – you need only look back ten years to see what happened such a decision was made on the basis on a single game and the notion of great potential.
Simply put, there is no way to tell the future of Edwards and his suitability to lead the team in the long term. We know he has the physicals skills and the ability, but so did Johnson. What we need to see is consistency – can Edwards consistently perform they way he did against the Jets? How will he fare against stiffer competition? How will he do on the road? How will he play in the inclement weather that makes Buffalo so infamous? The jury is still out on these and other questions, so fans should hold off on putting his name up on the Wall of Fame for just a bit.
Leave it to the Bills to find the dark cloud that comes with the sunny day victory – a possible quarterback controversy. When they’re not busy losing guys for the season (looks like another linebacker is on his way to IR – must be Monday) they are going to have to field all sorts of questions about who will be the signal caller. Can any positive on this team come without an accompanying negative?
It appears as if the Trent Edwards show has at least one more guaranteed week as J.P. Losman recovers from his knee injury. Dallas comes to town for a rare Monday Night game in Orchard Park and they are certainly a much better team than the Jets. While Losman did not show well in his first 2 starts against Denver and Pittsburgh, these teams do have solid pass defenses (ranked 6th and 1st respectively). By contrast, the Jets are ranked 24th, so Losman has certainly had a much harder test at this point. It’s hard to tell who is a better quarterback when the competition has been so unevenly matched.
It is also hard to compare Losman and Edwards based on the dramatic change in offensive game plans each man was asked to execute. In the first two weeks Losman had a game plan more conservative than Pat Buchanan and the Bills were roundly criticized for it. Their plans to open it up against New England were stymied when Losman was injured on the second play of the game and Edwards came in as a greenhorn substitute. By contrast, the game plan against the Jets was daring – let the quarterback throw and throw, even on 4th and goal. I don’t believe the game plan went from vanilla to spicy based on the quarterback – I believe it was a result of the Bills realizing that they had to do something to try and get a win. Again, this makes the Losman – Edwards comparison more difficult to make.
So here we sit, waiting for the second coming of the Johnson/Flutie debate. People will get behind their guy and be convinced he is finally the answer the Bills have been looking for. They’ll make all kinds of wild predictions and statements and argue at length with supporters of the other guy. It’ll be interesting to say the least, so grab a seat and some popcorn and see how it plays out. Oh, and if it gets boring to watch, may I recommend a good Jacksonville Jaguars game tape I saw recently?