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John Munson/Associated Press
The ninth Sunday of the 2020 NFL season featured several extreme, surprising and noteworthy quarterback performances, some of which might have shifted expectations regarding team trajectories, job security and even end-of-season awards.
And now, with the second half of the season officially here, it feels as though we have more questions than answers at the sport’s most important position.
Here are half a dozen big questions surrounding that position following Sunday’s action.
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AJ Mast/Associated Press
For years (decades?), the knock on the Philip Rivers experience has been that it’s too much of a roller-coaster ride. He has often lacked consistency, and he has often wilted in big spots.
Little has changed in the 38-year-old’s first (and possibly only) season with the Indianapolis Colts.
After throwing six touchdown passes to one interception in consecutive Indy victories over inferior opponents in Weeks 7 and 8, Rivers completed only 25 of 43 passes and threw an interception as the Colts put up just 10 points in a dud loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
It was a reminder that Rivers has a ceiling, and so does his team. He and they have loaded up this year against inferior opponents like the Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions. But in key games against the Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears, he has one touchdown pass to three interceptions and a 68.8 passer rating.
Those are the types of teams the Colts will be facing in January—if they survive the regular season. And at this point, it’s fair to distrust a quarterback who has consistently fallen short of big-game expectations over the course of his 17-year pro career.
Rivers isn’t under contract beyond this season, and the Colts will soon have to start thinking about their long-term future at the position. The second-half schedule is a nightmare, and if Rivers can’t overcome that and lead this team to some playoff wins, the front office should consider moving on.
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Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press
Have you heard? Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson—despite being a six-time Pro Bowler with the second-highest qualified passer rating in NFL history—has never received even a single vote for MVP. When he posted a 129.8 rating over five consecutive victories to start the season, he looked like he was going to run away with the award in 2020.
But that’s all changed.
Following a second poor performance in a three-week span, Wilson has now thrown five picks during a stretch in which the Seahawks have gone 1-2. The 31-year-old took five sacks and was under constant pressure Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, and that’s not all on him. But the margin for error is minuscule in this year’s MVP race.
Aaron Rodgers‘ Green Bay Packers are also 6-2, but his 24-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio easily beats Wilson’s mark of 28-to-8. Meanwhile, 2018 MVP Patrick Mahomes now has 25 touchdown passes to just one interception for the 8-1 Kansas City Chiefs.
Wilson clearly has less support when it comes to pass protection and help on defense, and that may factor in when voters consider his case at the end of the year. But he’s trending in the wrong direction right now, and Rodgers and Mahomes have at least made it a close race.
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John Munson/Associated Press
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen might not have rejoined that MVP race just yet, but the sensational third-year signal-caller certainly redeemed himself with a phenomenal performance in a victory over Wilson and the Seahawks on Sunday in Orchard Park.
Allen was an early-season MVP candidate when he threw 12 touchdown passes to one interception and posted a 122.7 passer rating as the Bills started 4-0, but he followed that up with just four touchdowns to four picks and a 79.2 rating as Buffalo went 2-2 over the course of the next four weeks.
The slump is over. The 24-year-old generated four total touchdowns and completed all but seven of 38 passes in a turnover-free performance as the Bills put up 44 points in an emphatic victory over the strong Seahawks.
Seattle’s pass defense ranked 30th in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders entering Week 9, but the Seahawks did have superstar safety Jamal Adams back from injury and sacked Allen seven times. It was encouraging to see the quarterback get up off the mat, literally and figuratively, against a top-notch all-around opponent.
If Allen can put together another stellar performance next week on the road against the Arizona Cardinals, it might be fair to wonder if that tough four-week run was an anomaly for a player quickly becoming elite.
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Gary McCullough/Associated Press
The Jacksonville Jaguars are the only team in the AFC with no quarterbacks on the roster who were drafted in the first or second round, but it’s beginning to look as though they could have a healthy competition on their hands between two 24-year-old sixth-rounders.
With sophomore starter Gardner Minshew II nursing a hand injury, rookie Jake Luton went over 300 yards and connected with top wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. on several impressive deep passes in his NFL debut Sunday against the Houston Texans.
It was far from a perfect performance, but throw in the relatively seasoned Oregon State product’s awesome 13-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter and it’s fair to wonder if the Jags might have something special on their hands.
Of course, that’s often been the thought process regarding Minshew, who made highly paid veteran Nick Foles expendable last season and now has 34 career touchdown passes to just 11 interceptions.
The 1-7 Jaguars are out of contention and left with half a season to assess Luton and Minshew, both of whom fell to Round 6 for a reason but have shown a lot of promise in wildly different samples.
At the very least, they have to give Luton more of a look before deciding whether to roll with both quarterbacks next summer or draft somebody like Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields or Trey Lance.
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Ben Margot/Associated Press
As for the quarterback Minshew essentially chased from Jacksonville, the Nick Foles experiment also hasn’t worked out well for the Chicago Bears.
Chicago benched fourth-year No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky in favor of Foles in September, but the Super Bowl LII MVP has posted worse numbers than Trubisky thus far. Now, despite oodles of support from a loaded defense, the Foles-led Bears have lost three games in a row to plummet from contention in the NFC North.
The Bears entered Week 9 with the league’s fifth-lowest-scoring offense before posting a grand total of zero points in the first three quarters of Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans. They rallied to make it a close game on paper, but that only came after Foles was wildly ineffective earlier. At one point in the first half, he compiled just 17 passing yards over the course of a 10-throw stretch.
Foles has always lacked consistency, and it looks as though the Trubisky era is toast, too. If nothing major changes and current trends continue, it wouldn’t be outlandish for the Bears to dump both and go back to the drawing board in 2021, potentially with a new head coach.
Because this is on Matt Nagy’s unimaginative offense, too.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
At the very least, we can add Tua Tagovailoa to that conversation after the rookie No. 5 overall pick threw two touchdown passes and generated 283 combined passing and rushing yards in his second career start. He’s now 2-0 as an NFL starter at the age of 22, and the trajectory is promising.
Tua’s team beat the Arizona Cardinals despite the fact sophomore Cards No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray, 23, completed all but five of 26 passes and generated four total touchdowns while going over 250 yards through the air and 100 on the ground. Neither quarterback threw an interception in an exciting peek into the future.
At the same time, 22-year-old Los Angeles Chargers rookie signal-caller Justin Herbert, who entered the day as the league’s eighth-highest-rated passer, went over 300 yards with a pair of touchdown throws and no turnovers in a tough L.A. loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.
And none of those three is as highly touted as 23-year-old rookie Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who was on a bye this week after posting a 110.0 passer rating over his last two games in control of the suddenly high-scoring Cincy offense.
It’s not looking too promising for other recent first-round picks at quarterback like Daniel Jones, Dwayne Haskins Jr., Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen or Trubisky, and Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson are already stars. But it’s easy to see a battle emerging between Murray, Herbert, Burrow and Tagovailoa to join that group.
Watching these guys progress will be a hell of a lot of fun.