Struggling young quarterback Joe Flacco (5) of the Ravens and Tim Tebow… (Photos by US Presswire )
The NFL is a passing league, but struggling quarterbacks aren't quick to get a pass.
From the fluctuations of Flacco in Baltimore, to the Romo-coaster in Dallas, to the triumphs and tribulations of Tebow in Denver, this season has been marked by dramatic performance swings at the quarterback position.
Consider the Ravens' Joe Flacco, who directed a masterful 92-yard drive to beat Pittsburgh on Sunday night, dropping the winning, 26-yard touchdown pass into the hands of rookie Torrey Smith with eight seconds to play. Just two weeks earlier, after a flat-line performance in a loss to Jacksonville — when the Ravens didn't get their initial first down until late in the third quarter — observers questioned whether Flacco was even up to the job.
"Our fans are brutal when we do what we did the other night, and rightfully so, because they're so passionate about what we do," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron told reporters Sunday, referring to the loss to the Jaguars.
Against the Steelers, Cameron said, "Joe never blinked."
Flacco isn't the only quarterback to look completely different from week to week. Among the others to do that are Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets, Matt Cassel of the Kansas City Chiefs and Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Buffalo Bills, whose letdown game came Sunday in a home loss to the Jets.
No quarterback has had a wilder ride this season than the Cowboys' Tony Romo, who in the first four games went from goat to hero to hero to goat. That encompassed the meltdown against the Jets, orchestrating victories over San Francisco and Washington (while gritting through the pain of a cracked rib), and a record-setting collapse against Detroit when the Cowboys blew a 24-point, third-quarter lead to lose.
The Broncos' Tim Tebow can look like a different quarterback from snap to snap. He played his best game Sunday, leading Denver to a 38-24 victory at Oakland, and was sacked only twice after being brought down 13 times in his first two starts.
Time after time, Tebow burned the Raiders with a read-option play, frequently keeping the ball and gaining 118 yards in 12 carries to go with two touchdown passes.
"There's no question that we're looking for balance in the run and the pass," Coach John Fox said Monday. "We're probably leaning a little bit more on the run right now. We have to improve in the pass game, because in this league you have to be two-dimensional."
That said, Tebow, who had a very rough outing against Detroit a week earlier, was wickedly effective with fakes that even occasionally seemed to fool the TV cameras.
"I've spent a lot of time in the NFC South," said Fox, formerly Carolina's coach. "We competed against the Atlanta Falcons when they had Michael Vick. Call it what you like, it was that quarterback having the ability to run that creates havoc on defenses because they don't count that guy as a runner."
While Tebow's stock is up this week, the other three AFC West quarterbacks are dealing with disappointment. In Kansas City, Cassel directed an offense that could muster only a field goal in a shocking 31-3 home loss to Miami, which was previously winless. In Oakland, the Carson Palmer trade has yet to produce dividends; he had three interceptions to go with his three touchdowns in the bitter loss to Denver. And San Diego's Philip Rivers, in recent years the most stable and reliable part of the Chargers, had three interceptions in a loss to Green Bay and leads all quarterbacks with 14 picks — three more than Drew Brees.
"We're fighting through a rough time right now," Rivers said. "It isn't the first rough time we've been in and probably won't be the last."