A favorite pastime for Chiefs fans this offseason has been debating whether or not a Matt Cassel-led Kansas City Chiefs can achieve Super Bowl glory. Abounding arguments eventually degenerate to: you need an elite QB to win a SB, and Matt Cassel is not an elite QB.
Some of the more brazen fans would allude to the possibility that Matt Cassel still might become elite. While there still may be time for him to develop, and it’ll be interesting to see how Tom House’s work with Cassel on his throwing mechanics will translate to the field on game day, the odds of eliteness aren’t too good. However, with all the changes we hope to see, we should be looking at a Top 20 passing offense at the least.
“Big whoop,” I imagine you saying. “In what world does a team with a QB lucky to break the Top 20 have a real chance at a Super Bowl title? Sure, Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson did it. But two teams in the past 12 years are not the kind of odds to hang your hopes on.”
Methinks you doth protest too much.
I’m not gonna rehash the little factoids such as Rex Grossman getting the Bears to the SB in the 2006 season. Or that just this past season we were poor special teams play away from witnessing two non-elite QBs in the big game. Though go-to favorites, we’re all Addicts here, and those arguments are old hat.
But what if I told you that the ’00 Ravens and ’02 Bucs weren’t the only teams to win a SB in the past dozen years without elite QB-play? That three other teams made it happen in a way our very own Chiefs could well duplicate this year? I present to you the ’01 Patriots, the ’05 Steelers and ’07 Giants.
“Wait just a minute, slappy; Brady, Roethlisberger and Eli Manning are all counted among the elite.” Yeah they are… now. But let’s take off the rose-tinted glasses and go back in time to the years these QBs got their first SB rings… And it’s not nice to call me “slappy”…
The date is Feb. 3, 2002: Rams vs. Patriots. After Drew Bledsoe suffered a serious injury in Week 2 of the season, the Patriots had been left to play a sixth-round pick out of Michigan that only just entered his second year as an NFL pro. He hasn’t done too bad over the season, but, still, the Patriots finished off the season ranking only 22nd in passing. By comparison, they ranked 13th in rushing, and their defense 6th in points allowed. Brady has only posted 2,843 passing yards on the season (a career low in seasons he saw significant playing time), 18 TDs (another career low), and a 2.9 percent INT rate (a career high). Further, the Patriots barely made it through the playoffs, and were fortunate that their divisional round game against the Raiders was officiated by a team of refs that were aware of an obscure rule that kept what could’ve been a fumble merely an incomplete pass, opening up an opportunity for K Adam Vinatieri to make an insanely long kick in terrible weather conditions… the kind of kick Hollywood would glorify, but moviegoers would think to be too highly unlikely, if not impossible, to happen in real life. Following up on that near loss, the Patriots met trouble in the AFC Championship game against the Steelers. Brady went down to injury and Bledsoe came back in and was able to save the day.
So it was a rough road, but the Patriots were able to make it into the Super Bowl. Let’s see how Brady did: completing 16 out of 27 passes (a 59.25% completion rate), Brady had 145 yards passing on the day and one TD (an eight-yd pass to David Patten). Not quite yet the showing of an elite QB. So where did the win come from if not on the back of the QB? I see they rushed for a combined 133 yards, almost matching their passing production (not too shabby). Still, the Pats total combined offense didn’t surpass Kurt Warner’s passing offense (365 yards), and chipping in 92 yards rushing for the Rams just adds to the lopsidedness. Guess the Pats’ defense is owed a lot of credit considering all that production didn’t result in more points. Okay, and Ty Law had a 47-yd INT return for a TD. That would definitely help. And Vinatieri shows up again with 37-yd and 48-yd FGs; the 48-yarder getting the win. Guess we know who’s getting the MVP… Wait! It was Brady?!?! I guess giving the K his due would offend your QBs delicate sensibilities. But what about Ty Law, or someone else on D that shut down the Rams when it was needed the most? “What’s that? Defensive players get the SB MVP with the same frequency they win the Heisman, and Ray Lewis just got MVP in the previous SB?” Okay. Let the history book insinuate that Brady was better than he was that early on; in the meantime, sports photographers will make a killing selling Vinatieri pictures and prints to the New England fans that knew better.
Moving on, let’s examine Roethlisberger and the 2005 Steelers. You know what? This one’s easy. The Steelers finished the season ranked 24th in passing offense, 5th in rushing offense and 3rd in Defensive Points Allowed. They had as many TDs rushing as they did passing (21) and four of those passing TDs weren’t even thrown by Roethlisberger. Big Ben had 2,385 passing yards on the season, and had a pathetic showing in the SB, posting a Passer Rating of 22.6. Seriously. Ben completed 9 of 21 passes for 123 yds in the SB, and 2 INTS. The only Pittsburgh TD reception came on a WR pass from Antwaan Randle-El to Hines Ward. If the 2002 Bucs are proof that a team can win it all with a disgustingly high scoring defense, the 2005 Steelers are proof perfect that a team with a shutdown defense and a top notch running game can win it all.
The 2007 Giants are perhaps the toughest to defend. Eli finished the season with 3,336 passing yards (right around Cassel’s top end). While he did post 23 TD receptions on the year, he led the league in INTs with 20… by no means a good ratio, let alone an “elite” QBs ratio. He also completed only 57.7 percent of his passes (Cassel’s career average is 59 percent). All in all, the Giants passing offense on the season was ranked 21st, their defense 17th in points allowed (though 7th in yards allowed), and 4th overall in rushing offense with their RBs contributing 15 TDs on the season. So their defense was about average, their running game well above average, and their passing game considerably below average.
What makes a tough point to argue is that Eli put in a significantly better SB performance than either Brady or Ben in their first go-rounds (especially Ben… 22.6 Passer Rating?!?! C’mon!) Eli completed 19 of 34 passes (a 55.9% completion rate) for 255 yds, two TDs and one INT. What shouldn’t be overlooked is the fact that the Patriots were having a perfect season, losing no games and averaging just shy of 37 points per game and despite this, the Giants’ defense really stepped it up and held the Pats to 14 points (including overcoming a near successful game winning drive in the final minute of play).
It should also be remembered that the Giants’ final drive was kept alive by David Tyree knowing enough to break his route and give Eli a target down-field before getting sacked… and also making a miraculous helmet catch that may well define the term “circus catch”. While Eli deserves some credit for staying on his feet; Tyree deserves the bulk of the credit for his situational awareness and making such an unlikely catch.
So, there you have it: three more teams and three more SBs, where the quality of QB play was much less elite and much more Cassel-esque. And while these players may be elite now, their production and circumstances indicate that in these years their teams won, not on the strength of their QB, but on the strength of the team as a whole. Be it a strong defense keeping the score low, a running game that pounded the ball and controlled the clock, or particularly good special teams play, these teams persevered and earned the coveted title.
Overall, our beloved Chiefs have the makings of such a team. Our defense is primed to crack the Top 10, if not the Top five. If Charles and Hillis return to some semblance of their 2010 form, the Chiefs are pretty much guaranteed a Top 5 run game, if not No. 1. And the increased talent and strength of our offensive line should keep the Richard Seymours of the world at bay long enough for Ryan Succop to keep us alive when we need it the most. Everyone wants a playoff win (and it has been a while), and as heartbreaking as it may be to hope for a higher goal and fall short, I see no reason why we can’t win it all this year and bring the Lombardi Trophy to where it would look best: Kansas City. Go Chiefs!!!!!!!!