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DALY: Among rookies, RG3’s in a class by himself
Early Monday afternoon, an NFL functionary tweeted: "@RGIII & Elway only rookie QBs since '70 to start & win opener on road vs team undefeated at home in previous yr."
"Since '70" is a long time, of course — the entire Post-Merger Era. And who wouldn't want to be compared to a Hall of Famer like John Elway? But frankly, it's Elway who should be flattered to be compared to Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins' precocious quarterback. Allow me to explain.
The NFL, you see, has never been one for sweating the details. In this instance, it should probably be penalized 15 yards for illegal use of Twitter. Why? Because it leaves out a couple of salient facts. (And I never use the word "salient" unless I'm really, really steamed.)
For starters, Elway didn't win anything when he made his pro debut at Pittsburgh in 1983. He started the game, sure — and proceeded to complete 1 of 8 passes for 14 yards (with one interception, one fumble, one intentional-grounding penalty and one bruised elbow that sidelined him in the second half). It was left to his backup, Steve DeBerg, to drive the Broncos downfield in the final minutes and throw for the touchdown that gave Denver a 14-10 victory.
On top of that, the 1983 season, you may recall, followed a strike year. Teams played only nine games in '82, and the Steelers went 4-0 at home. That's a big difference from the 8-0 mark the New Orleans Saints — RG3's victims Sunday — posted last season. So there really isn't much basis for comparison between the 1983 Steelers and the 2012 Saints, either. But other than that
OK, I'm done raging at the NFL's continuing disregard for its history. If the league wants to pretend that Elway's first start belongs in the same tweet with Griffin's first start, there isn't much I can do about it. Let me just run the figures by you one last time:
Elway: 8 attempts, 1 completion, 14 yards, one interception, 0.0 rating.
RG3: 26 attempts, 19 completions, 320 yards, two TDs, 139.9 rating.
Yup, two QBs in a pod. I mean, they're practically twins separated at birth.
FYI: To find a rookie quarterback who had a higher rating than Griffin in Week 1, you'd have to go back to Fran Tarkenton — yes, that Fran Tarkenton — in 1961. And make no mistake, Scramblin' Fran's performance against George Halas' Chicago Bears was every bit as breathtaking (73.9 percent completions, 4 TDs, 148.6 rating) as RG3's. He even ran for a score, something Robert didn't do, and gets additional points because he was playing for a first-year expansion club, the Minnesota Vikings.
But enough of the past. Let's talk about the present — specifically how Griffin was the only one of the five rookie quarterbacks who didn't play like a rookie Sunday. That might be the most noteworthy thing about his coming out party. After all, a QB is supposed to look a little ragged in his first NFL game, maybe even a lot ragged. (Heck, Elway was simply overmatched against Pittsburgh's veteran defense.)
While RG3 was tearing up the Saints, meanwhile, the other newbies were grading out this way: Indianapolis' Andrew Luck (first pick in the draft), 52.9 rating; Miami's Ryan Tannehill (eighth), 39; Cleveland's Brandon Weeden (22nd), 5.1; Seattle's Russell Wilson (75th), 62.5. Collectively, they threw two touchdown passes (same as Robert) and 11 interceptions (11 more than Robert). They also went 0-4. But this, I repeat, is hardly unusual. Even the best quarterbacks often take a while to get both cleats on the ground.
In other words, the gap between Griffin and Everybody Else likely isn't as large as it seems. Of the five rookie QBs, for instance, Robert went up against arguably the worst pass defense. (The Saints' D ranked 22nd last year in passer rating and tied for 19th in sacks.) Tannehill (Houston, 2nd in passer rating) and Luck (Chicago, 8th) had it much tougher Sunday. New Orleans also has a new defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, in the wake of the bounty scandal. That might have contributed to the Saints' struggles, too.
Still, by any measure, Griffin had a lights-out day. Consider: Sonny Jurgensen, in his 11 illustrious seasons with the Redskins, had 10 games with 320 or more passing yards. Joe Theismann had eight, Mark Rypien seven (playoffs included).
But for RG3, it's just a starting point. How tweet it is.
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About the Author
Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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