Monday, December 17, 2007


Doug Pederson had five touchdown passes and 398 passing yards for Green Bay. That is a career game if there wasn’t one.

But, it was his career as a Packer. Pederson completed 46 of 77 passes in two stints as Brett Favre’s backup in 1998 and from 2001-2004. In his time, he served as a player-coach, mostly advising Favre on his throws and reading opposing defenses from the sidelines. Though he had also warmed the seat in Philadelphia for Donovan McNabb and in Cleveland for Tim Couch, Pederson was not what you’d call a starting quarterback. It didn’t help that he backed up a Hall-of-Famer-in-waiting that hasn’t thought of retiring. Eventually, Favre was going to leave the game and Pederson, himself, was not a spring chicken.

Meanwhile, another franchise played the transition game in much more drastic and painful ways. The San Francisco 49ers have been identified by the West Coast Offense and the men who ran it; head coach Bill Walsh and his quarterbacks. Joe Montana and Steve Young became Hall-of-Famers while in the post-Walsh era, Jeff Garcia became a Pro Bowl quarterback in the system. Unfortunately for the Niner Faithful, the organization has endured multiple setbacks as a result of penalties from Eddie DeBartolo Jr.’s implications in a corruption scandal, a shift in ownership and unwise personnel moves. Enter new head coach Mike Nolan in January 2005 along with the number one pick in the ensuing NFL Draft.

Of course, this was a Draft in which the most impactful quarterback in the league was a sixth round selection by the Baltimore Ravens. That’s Cleveland’s Derek Anderson.


San Francisco had decided to hone in on selecting a young signal-caller as opposed to giving capable QB Tim Rattay a chance to call the offense his own. So they were trying to decide between Alex Smith of Utah and California’s Aaron Rodgers. Smith had the advantage of graduating in three years while mastering Urban Meyer’s spread option offense (one that the coach took with him to Florida). He had thrown for nearly 3,000 yards and ran for an additional 653 in his final season with the Utes, a 12-0 season capped by beating FSU in the Fiesta Bowl. In a year where future Arizona Cardinals QB Matt Leinart was the talk of college football for the USC Trojans, Smith was still relatively unfamiliar to the nation at-large because Utah had never been discussed in the pantheon of collegiate powers.

In the Niners’ backyard, Rodgers had been under center for a Golden Bears team that ranked as high as fourth in the nation in his last season at Berkeley. He only garnered interest from Illinois coming out of high school, but as a walk-on. He chose to go through Butte College, a junior college near his hometown, in order to earn a Division I scholarship through transfer. When Cal and head coach Jeff Tedford came calling, the move paid off as he became a starter by the fifth game of the next season. While he threw for more yards in 2003 (2905), his efficiency under Tedford’s tutelage made him a commodity in 2004 as he threw just seven picks to 23 touchdowns.

If Leinart decided to put his name in the Draft, San Francisco may have not been so torn between the two. However, he decided to try to win a third national championship.

Smith was chosen by the Niners based on the ability to absorb information quickly, one of the principal traits coaches expect from their offensive captains. He didn’t just graduate in three years, but he graduated with an economics degree, nonetheless. Coming from a graduate of an all-business college who almost failed an economics class, that’s a pretty impressive feat. As previously mentioned, Smith was also a mobile quarterback who was capable of buying himself time or moving the ball downfield on his own if his options were limited. With the 49ers still working with the West Coast Offense, Smith was to add his running abilities in the way that Young and Garcia had done throughout the 1990s and early part of this decade. When Rattay was traded to Tampa Bay early in the 2005 season, it made a clear path for Smith to become the starter. Eventually, every high-profiled rookie has to take his lumps.

Did anyone expect for those lumps to include eleven interceptions to just one touchdown (and I was there for that touchdown, by the way)? Doubt it.

His second season saw the addition of a new offensive coordinator (Norv Turner), a new tight end (Vernon Davis) and a new backfield (Frank Gore becoming the every down back with Michael Robinson and Maurice Hicks splitting some carries). Smith made marked improvements under Turner’s tutelage, throwing 16 touchdowns to just as many interceptions while passing on the run with play-action fakes and rolling out from the pocket. Despite the departure of Turner to replace Marty Schottenheimer in San Diego, the Niners were the chic pick to be the young team that would make the playoffs in a muddled NFC. The playmakers were there, ownership spent money to fix the defense and the confidence of improving over the past two seasons was going to buoy the team back into the postseason.

On the other side of this coin, Rodgers found himself slipping further and further from where draft experts pegged him. San Francisco passed on Rodgers more so because of what they saw with Smith rather than something Rodgers may have lacked. There has also been a poor track record of Tedford-coached quarterbacks in the first round (Kyle Boller, Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington and Akili Smith). The real reason for the freefall in the draft was that most of the teams after the Niners didn’t feel that getting a quarterback was the priority in the first round. After twenty two more teams passed up on him, Green Bay scooped him up. It became serious business as the Packers seemed to acknowledge the reality of Favre’s eventual retirement. Of course, Favre didn’t leave.

Rodgers saw some time in a couple of late season games during the Pack’s 4-12 campaign in 2005. When Favre held the position in limbo while trying to decide if he would call it quits, Rodgers may have wanted to play, but there were rumblings about him not capable of handling the offense at the time. Of course, Favre didn’t leave.

While filling in for an injured Favre during a thumping by New England, Rodgers broke his foot in, putting him on injured reserve for the rest of 2006. In the ensuing offseason, his name was thrown around in a trade rumor to bring Randy Moss to Green Bay. When that didn’t materialize, Moss went to the Patriots and Rodgers found his trusty clipboard. Again, Favre didn’t leave.

To describe this season for both quarterbacks is to describe the epitome of frustration. Smith separated his shoulder when being sacked in a game against Seattle, and despite trying to come back later in the season, he had to be shut down for the remainder of the year. To make matters worse, Smith wasn’t very good when he was healthy enough to play. In addition to having his third different offensive coordinator, Gore has been bottled up for much of the season, Davis has been ineffective and the wide receivers have been underwhelming. What was going to be a banner year in the Bay turned sour when September became October. As for Rodgers, he filled in for Favre once again a few weeks ago against Dallas. In his first significant time under center, he played well enough to whittle a 17-point Cowboys lead to three points, yet Dallas’ three sacks and constant pressure gave them the win. Favre returned the next game and has kept the team rolling towards a first-round bye in the playoffs. Being part of the team headed to the postseason must be a reward in itself, but Rodgers must be stir-crazy about ‘the old guy’ keeping him on the bench.

From Vallejo to Milpitas and throughout the Bay Area, fans and media have been rather critical of Smith. Many have already labeled him a bust. While he hasn’t made life easier by being tentative to make plays with his legs as he did under Turner, he has had three different offensive coordinators and ineffective players outside of Gore. The 49ers have made significant financial commitments to him, so he’s not going away anytime soon. However, the desire to tweak the formula won’t change either. Next season, he may have a fourth play-caller and he has to recover from surgery to the shoulder. Next season may also see Rodgers sitting on the sidelines again, as Favre’s future is going to be linked to the Packers’ postseason success. Maybe he became a commodity for teams that may look for a new direction for 2008. Maybe he’ll be the hot backup QB like Matt Schaub was for Atlanta. Or maybe, he becomes Doug Pederson. Just as much can be said about Eli Manning and Philip Rivers after four years, it’ll take four years to know what both teams would be able to do with Smith and Rodgers.

If they’re ready to find out.

Say What?!?!: Snow can be fun. Watching football can be just as fun. And for those of you that love alcohol, a drink here and there is a good time for you all. The combination of the three? Not so much. While covering the Redskins-Giants game last night, a few ‘geniuses’ thought it would be a good idea to throw snowballs onto the field. Later in the game, one of Washington’s players was hit with something a little more than snow (try ice), forcing him to double over for a moment. This also occurred in Foxborough during the Jets-Patriots game. When the public address announcer has to tell and remind fans to not hurl anything onto the field, that’s not very good. In fact, that’s downright asinine. We all can be displeased with a team’s effort or a bad call by the referee, but to use the elements as an excuse to make it known is beyond childish. It might seem funny; it might get you a nice urban legend. It will also make you the new millennium’s Jeffrey Lange. Readers of Scribe are smart folks, so I trust that you would never be so stupid.

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