On Friday night, the NFL Network did what the NFL has always been masterful at, deep-diving into its own history, nostalgia and myth-making for a “Football Life” episode about Terry Bradshaw.
And among the highlights of four Super Bowl titles and the complicated relationship Bradshaw had with Chuck Noll and the city of Pittsburgh were the highlights of his last NFL pass, a touchdown against the Jets at Shea Stadium.
Then a shot of Bradshaw on the sideline, grabbing at his throwing elbow. Right there, his playing career had ended.
So it had to be eerie to the Black and Gold faithful to watch, less than 48 hours later, as Ben Roethlisberger grabbed at his throwing elbow in the game against Seattle, his season over with a UCL tear that will require Tommy John surgery.
(And wasn’t it amusing on Twitter Monday, as confused NFL fans scrambled to figure out who this “Tommy John” person was and why he was constantly performing elbow surgeries.)
But Sunday’s QB carnage was not limited to Big Ben, and not limited to injuries. Save for the old GOAT himself, Tom Brady, who is not human and will play until he’s 74, the three oldest quarterbacks in the league all went down. Roethlisberger, out for the year. Drew Brees, out at least six weeks. Eli Manning, benched for futility.
And while Roethlisberger, Brees and Manning were heading to their benches on Sunday, the next generation of quarterback stars were showing their stuff from coast to coast. In Baltimore, you had 2019 No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray doing battle against the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, who is quickly assuming the mantle of ’19 version of Patrick Mahomes.
While Brees watched helplessly from the sideline in Los Angeles, Jared Goff was reminding everyone why the Rams were in the Super Bowl last season with a lethal takedown of the Saints defense. In New York, while Manning took another excruciating step toward oblivion, his opponent, the Bills, moved to 2-0 behind a young gunslinger named Josh Allen who passes first and asks questions later.
Dak Prescott, only in his fourth season, looks like the best quarterback in the NFC and has the Cowboys poised for a serious Super Bowl run.
Another pair of young guns did battle in Houston. DeShaun Watson is a known commodity who struggled against the Jags, but whose star potential was on full display the week before against the Saints.
And then there’s Gardner Minshew, thrust into Jacksonville’s starting role after Nick Foles’ season-ending injury and loving every minute of it. Between the ‘70s moustache and period-piece clothing from the same era, Minshew is already a social media sensation, and he came within six inches of thrust by Leonard Fournette from pulling off a stunning upset over the Texans.
It has been a remarkable few days for quarterbacks in the NFL. Beyond Ben, Brees and Eli, there is further injury news for Cam Newton, who also looks to be on a fast downside to his career. And even one of the next generation, Sam Darnold, can’t escape the sideline, felled by an ailment that only a youngin’ could contract: Mono, the kissing disease.
Throw in Nick Foles and even Andrew Luck, whose retirement seems like five years ago with the velocity of current QB upheaval, and you have seven expected starting quarterbacks either done for the season or expected to miss several weeks, one shy of a quarter of the league.
All the more reason that 2019 will go down in NFL mythology as the year of the changing of the quarterback guard. Look no further than Week 3, when Jackson and Mahomes square off in Kansas City. Here, the two most dynamic and young quarterbacks in the league face off in a game, despite being so early, with enormous ramifications for the playoff seeding in the AFC. It is likely that the QB who emerges victorious this weekend will have his team on the fast track to the Super Bowl.
Wait, hold on. Not so fast. The guard may be a changin’ at QB in the NFL. But the old GOAT in New England still gets the final say.