Armaddengeddon Part II

Part I

Week 1 results were consistent with that Colts/Pats game. Only one quarterback at all surpassed a hundred passing yards: A.J. Feeley. But his interception habit carried over from the preseason, too: he had the most with six. Two others (Chris Weinke for the Panthers, Craig Krenzel for the Bears) had five. Here’s the most worrying stat of all, though: only two quarterbacks threw a touchdown. One touchdown each for Jeff Smoker of the Rams and Joey Harrington of the Lions. That’s actually one touchdown more than Jeff Smoker threw for in his actual, real life career, so good for him! 1)He was a rookie at the time Madden 2005 came out. Smoker never saw any actual NFL action. It just goes to show you when there’s an equal(ly terrible) playing field, you never know what might happen.

The highest completion percentage anyone could muster came from then-rookie Matt Schaub of the Falcons, who went 10 for 25. 40%. Are the computer-controlled coaches and players of Madden NFL 2005 smart enough to bark up another tree when it turns out their QBs have turned to dust? Actually, kind of. There were actually a couple of high scores this week, owing to some teams with strong rushing attacks. We had an NFL record, actually. Jamal Lewis of the Ravens rushed 46 times for 204 yards, scoring 3 touchdowns and breaking the previous record of 45 rushing attempts. 2)Set in 1988 by Jamie Morris for the WPFT. Notably, it was an OT game.

As a whole, the entire NFL—all 32 teams—threw for two touchdowns and seventy-one interceptions. That’s bad. That’s horrendous. But it’s just one week. Surely things won’t stay this bad, right?

If you’ve ever torn your Achilles, you know that it’s unmistakable when it happens. You don’t need doctors to tell you what happened. But for Jeff Garcia, it had to be a formality. He’d never be the same player again, blah blah blah. But sitting out of practice for the last week, he’s realized that he feels better than he’s felt in a while. He barely remembers the injury happening but, like so many other Achilles tears before it, it was a non-contact injury. He took the snap, dropped a few steps back, and then just crumpled to the ground.

His colleague, Daunte Culpepper of the Minnesota Vikings, had just been placed on injured reserve with a dislocated ankle, ruling him out for the rest of the season as well. Several other quarterbacks were ruled out for the next several weeks with a slew of injuries: a broken jaw here, a torn quadriceps there. They were all dropping like flies. Garcia had rehab to focus on, but he was starting to wonder if there was any point ever even playing again if this was supposedly the new norm.

They’ve stayed this bad. Tom Brady bounced back from his Week 1 snafu to become the only quarterback to surpass 200 yards on the season. Sure, it took two games. Sure, he still has zero touchdowns to three interceptions. But he’s leading the league in passing yards. Meanwhile, there are jokes about the Touchdown Club. They’re not funny jokes, but the players still laugh. No one’s thrown more than one touchdown. Three new QBs entered the club during Week 2: Brett Favre (!!), Donovan McNabb, and Jay Fiedler. The NFL is now up to five touchdowns and 121 interceptions.

The running backs are loving it, though. Unsure of what’s going on with their QBs, many teams are handing the reins to their still-capable running backs. They’re delivering; nine RBs are averaging at least 100 yards per game over the first pair of games. They’re capable of scoring still, and they run the clock down. And, most importantly, they’re durable. That 46 attempts in Week 1 for Jamal Lewis is proof of that. The NFL had been a passing league for years (and was about to become even more of one over the next decade). All of that is dust now.

“This week, Week 3, three new people joined the Touchdown Club! Shaun Hill filling in for the injured Daunte Culpepper, Aaron Brooks of the Saints, and Mark Brunell. No one has started the Two Touchdown Club quite yet, though. What a weird season, huh? Everybody’s saying it’s all about the defense, they’re all making excuses. But, get ready for this, book it, whatever, that’s not it. The defense is the same it’s always been. No doubt about it. This is all about the quarterbacks. Pick up a kid off the street and he’ll outplay any of these guys right now. Something’s wrong. We need to find out what.”

Week 4 just ended and no quarterback has more than one touchdown pass. Tommy Maddox of the Steelers currently has the dubious, dubious distinction of throwing zero touchdown passes to seventeen interceptions. Only eleven quarterbacks are in the Touchdown Club, the new entrants being Danny Kanell of the Broncos, J.P. Losman of the Bills, and Craig Kenzel of the Bears. The current highest completion percentage–35%–belongs to Brandon Doman of the 49ers.

Let’s look at the other end of all this. Who’s catching all these interceptions? Well, eight of them have gone to Rams safety Aeneas Williams. 3)Williams certainly deserves them; he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year. We’re a quarter of the way through the season. He’s on pace for thirty-two interceptions. The record for interceptions in a season, which has stood since 1952, belongs to Dick “Night Train” Lane. He had fourteen. 4)He did this during a twelve-game season. The NFL season currently has sixteen games. Aeneas here has twelve games left and he’s only seven away from breaking the record. A pair of other players has six interceptions each and several have five. Night Train Lane’s record might not be standing for very much longer.

The season is half over and the NFL is clandestinely pulling out the stops to find out what’s wrong with their quarterbacks, the faces of the league. In the press, the NFL doesn’t think a single thing is wrong. Credit the defenses. Credit changing offensive philosophies. Credit anything. Just don’t acknowledge that there is something deeply, deeply wrong with the quarterbacks. And on a frigid afternoon, they found their first hint.

They took the x-rays of a quarterback who prefers to remain anonymous. His bones all looked strong. Everything appeared to be in order. Brain scans revealed nothing strange either. Then, they had the idea to do the same tests on a football field. The results were confusing but clear: as soon as he stepped onto the field, his bones weakened considerably. His processing speed plummeted. They went back to the lab and ran the same tests all over again, this time with the quarterback holding a football. The results were the same. As soon as he dropped the football, he returned to what the scientists could only describe as “normal.”

The NFL is quickly and quietly arranging for similar tests for other quarterbacks, but it’s hard to argue with results as stark as this, even if it’s only one person. Your average NFL quarterback can do anything but football completely adequately, maybe even better. But give him a football, put him on a football field, put him in pads, and everything goes to hell. His bones weaken, his brain slows down, and he forgets everything he knows about the game.

Money talks, though. An owner put forth the idea of suspending the season. It got shot down before he even finished his sentence. The show must go on, even if the most important players can’t even play right anymore.

Week 9 just wrapped up. There are 19 players in the Touchdown Club now, with two of those players also occupying the prestigious Two Touchdown Club. 5)Jeff Smoker and Mark Brunell. Note that I say players now instead of QBs. That’s because Buccaneers kicker Martin Gramatica has thrown a touchdown pass. I repeat: a kicker was forced into service, likely because of injury, and he threw a touchdown pass. The Three Touchdown Club is still memberless.

Aeneas Williams is at 11 interceptions now. The interceptions-thrown leader is rookie Ricky Ray, with 33. 6)Ray never actually threw an NFL pass but has had a stellar career up north in the CFL. Ray has managed to also throw zero touchdowns for a TD/INT differential of -33. The record is -22, courtesy of Vinny Testaverde in the 1988 season. 7)13 TDs to 35 INTs. Safe to say that’s a goner.

One team has managed to remain undefeated, however: the Washington Professional Football Team. This is despite ranking dead last in the NFL with 37 net passing yards. 8)Remember: passing yards minus yards lost on sacks. Where they rank highly is rushing yards with 1,221, good enough for 4th in the league. They lead the league in points per game (20.2), rushing touchdowns (9), and points allowed per game (6). It is notable that the, uh, record for points allowed per game (in a sixteen-game season) is currently held by the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, with just a touch over 10 points per game. The WPFT is poised to shatter that mark.

What else does the first season of the NFL’s Dark Era have in store for us?

“Hey, good Tuesday morning. We’re here with your Week 12 fantasy digest. First things first, we finally have a man in the Three Touchdown Club. If you had Jeff Smoker in your office pool, congratulations! If you started him this week, even more kudos to you. A screen pass to Marshall Faulk turned into a 65-yard touchdown at the end of last night’s game against the Packers. Sure, the Rams lost 34-10, but Smoker’s gotta be glad to be leading the league in touchdowns. Guess you could say he’s smokin’ hot! Now, for, uh, the rushing stats…”

Week 14 just wrapped up and Night Train Lane’s record is toast. But it wasn’t Aeneas Williams! He’s stuck on 12 with a few other players. Nope, it was Patriots cornerback Ty Law, who got two picks in Week 14 to bring his tally up to 15. Another interception record was broken a while back, and in fact it’s been shattered. Ricky Ray? Remember him? Well, he’s up to fifty interceptions. Still no touchdowns. That’s a differential of -50. Ouch.

The record was held by George Blanda with 42. Mike McMahon of the Lions has also surpassed it with 46 with three games left to play. 9)He also has thrown zero touchdowns. Several other players are in range, including Peyton Manning! He’s thrown 40 INTs, but he does have a TD pass to his name. Jeff Smoker of all people remains the only QB with 3 TDs.

The WPFT has lost a couple of games since last checking in, but they are the first team to clinch a playoff berth in this hellish realm of a league with 11 wins and 2 losses. Jumping forward a week causes no teams to clinch berths. Parity seems to be the name of the game here. And records keep being shattered and stepped on. Ty Law now has 17 picks, and Andre Woolfolk of the Titans tied Night Train Lane with 14. And George Blanda? He’s long gone. Ricky Ray has 54 INTs (still no TDs), McMahon has 48 (no TDs), and Manning has 45. Peyton Manning’s QB rating is 0.7. The highest QB rating anyone at all has is 17.7 (Rich Gannon, Raiders). Rodney Williams, a punter, has thrown two touchdowns. These truly are the end times. And they don’t show any sign of stopping. On through Week 16…

One week remains in the worst NFL season anyone can remember. The NFL themselves have decided what is wrong but have struggled to determine why that is. There is no question about it, and the media outlets have gotten a hold of the story: every last NFL quarterback has lost their talent. College quarterbacks are fine. High school quarterbacks are fine. QBs in other pro leagues are fine. But if you’re in the NFL and if you’re a quarterback, you’re toast.

Teams have suffered mightily because of this. But it’s not so bad as it was in the preseason. The individual stats are awful, of course, but there has yet to be another scoreless draw. In fact, there have been no ties at all. There have been several 3-0 games and even more games with final scores that could just as easily have come from a baseball game, but no scoreless draws. Scoring in general is at an all-time low, however. Teams have taken note of their poor passing games and most football games resemble rugby more than anything.

Several NFL bigwigs hope that the playoffs will be the impetus for the QBs to shake off whatever may be ailing them. They are mistaken. This problem isn’t going away.

Next week: the thrilling conclusion to Armaddengeddon!

Notes   [ + ]

1. He was a rookie at the time Madden 2005 came out. Smoker never saw any actual NFL action.
2. Set in 1988 by Jamie Morris for the WPFT. Notably, it was an OT game.
3. Williams certainly deserves them; he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year.
4. He did this during a twelve-game season. The NFL season currently has sixteen games.
5. Jeff Smoker and Mark Brunell.
6. Ray never actually threw an NFL pass but has had a stellar career up north in the CFL.
7. 13 TDs to 35 INTs.
8. Remember: passing yards minus yards lost on sacks.
9. He also has thrown zero touchdowns.

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