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Quarterbacks Who Make the Difference

By Yong-yi Zhu

COLUMNIST

Now that November is almost over and December is right around the corner, it’s the start of crunch time for all the NFL teams trying to make a push for the playoffs. Being 6-3 now might be fine and dandy, but play three weeks poorly and a 6-6 record enters into the picture, not the record of a playoff team.

In these pressure-packed games, the quarterback is the driving force behind the team. Without a good one, nothing short of the Raven defense (circa 2000) can save you. So let us take the time to look at the quarterbacks that are making a difference around the league and see if any of them are MVP worthy.

Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger have been the two biggest surprises of the season. Neither really had expectations coming into the year, yet both have performed tremendously.

For Brees, the quarterback who actually wants to be in San Diego, this was supposed to be a season when he handed the reigns over to rookie Phillip Rivers. But Brees has thrown incredibly, with a 108.7 passer rating, and has the Chargers on top of the American Football Conference West. He has only thrown 3 interceptions this season, while in the last two games alone he threw 9 touchdowns.

It’s too bad the Chargers will not be able to keep him after this year, but he should net a high draft pick for them when they trade him away.

Pittsburgh came in thinking perhaps this was going to be another mediocre year. After all, they did not have a lot of success last season. And when QB Tommy Maddox went down, things seemed to get even bleaker.

But the Steelers’ scouts were right about rookie Ben Roethlisberger. He has led a very efficient offense, one well complemented by both running backs Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis.

Roethlisberger is completing almost 70 percent of his passes overall while playing against some of the toughest teams in the league. He had a 126.4 passer rating against New England and a 109.3 rating against the Eagles. Talk about being confident for a rookie. This guy will be even better in the years to come.

One quarterback who never ceases to amaze me is Peyton Manning. (Doesn’t he remind you of another Colt quarterbacking legend?) He has thrown close to a million touchdowns already this season, and is challenging Dan Marino’s single season touchdown record. But the real question for Peyton is whether he can make it in the playoffs. Last year, he finally broke through and won his first playoff game. If Manning continues to throw passes as easily as I fall asleep in lecture, the Super Bowl is surely in sight for him.

Daunte Culpepper is the NFC’s version of Peyton Manning this season, except he doesn’t have half the weapons that Manning has. Culpepper has had to play several games without top receiver Randy Moss, yet has consistently put up lots of touchdowns. He also happens to be leading the balloting for the Pro Bowl.

A quarterback who has been very quiet this season is Tom Brady. Sure, he plays in a Belichick offense that is very conservative, but a look at his numbers shows his consistency on the field. He has passed for 200 yards in all but one game and has never thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in a game all season. Many believe Brady’s success is due to the system he is in, but I assure you that his receivers would definitely not look as good if Brady was not the one throwing passes to them.

Finally, the most clutch quarterback on the planet is Brett Favre. His Packers are never out of it when they have their timeless leader on the field. Despite all sorts of tragedies Favre has been stricken with, he has continued to be a great football player. Earlier this season the Pack lost four straight and everyone counted them out of the playoff hunt. Favre has stepped up his play since then, and he capped it off by throwing 4 touchdown passes last week with a win against the division rival Minnesota.

So who to give the MVP to? I think Drew Brees truly deserves the award. He has been tremendous despite not having all the weapons someone like Peyton Manning has. He may not be 6-5 like Phillip Rivers or weigh 264 like Daunte Culpepper, but Brees has played like a giant.

After all, without him, the Chargers would not have a chance of being 6-3 or dreaming of being AFC West champs. That’s my definition of valuable.