Been a while since one of these. I’m going to target around 10 a.m. Eastern on Mondays for them going forward, for the record.
And yes, I’m forgoing Chomping at Bits today. The Sunday Roundup has a few links and is an actual roundup of news, though; you should read it.
On Sunday night, I witnessed the person I firmly believe is the best quarterback ever play one of his best games ever.
And, yeah, I’m certainly biased as a Packers fan — but Aaron Rodgers has a case as the best quarterback ever, even if “greatest” is a title locked away to him because Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and John Elway have had better coaches and better situations and longer tenures as starters. Rodgers arguably outpaces any quarterback you want to compare him to statistically on a season-by-season or game-by-game level, Rodgers has both nearly the strongest arm and the greatest capacity for finesse when throwing a football that I’ve literally ever seen, and he’s sui generis and nonpareil stylistically, with the capacity to play sandlot football successfully and consistently at the NFL level.
Last night, he carved up a Bears defense that had genuinely stymied him and the Packers offense for a half to the tune of 273 yards and three touchdowns ... in the second half, after sustaining a left knee injury that saw him carted off after going just 3 for 7 for 13 yards in the first half, being sacked twice, and fumbling once.
Aaron Rodgers led a comeback from a 20-0 deficit on one good leg.
And that’s really not me overdramatizing things: Watch the highlights and it’s perfectly clear that Rodgers spends the entirety of the second half minimizing his use of his left leg as a thrower and managing the pocket rather than whirling around in it.
He did this against what could be a very good defense that just added maybe the best defensive player in the NFL ... in a rivalry game that means so very much to both teams, in the first game of the Packers’ 100th season ... and in the weekend’s most-publicized and most-watched game.
It was incredible — and even I didn’t believe a full comeback was possible until the Packers drew to within a score, watching most of the post-injury portion of the game on mute as I was doing other things.
By the time Rodgers hit Randall Cobb with just green grass in front of him, though, I was yelling “GO!” at my screen as if it would make Cobb seven steps faster, and fully invested in watching one of the coolest comebacks I’ve ever seen and appreciating one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen. I’m still thinking about it, 12 hours later; I probably will be thinking about it for weeks.
And this morning, I’m also thinking about it in the context of Feleipe Franks.
Feleipe Franks is, uh, not Aaron Rodgers. And the comparison is obviously a little unfair because any comparison of any QB to Rodgers — Troy Aikman, Michael Vick, Dan Marino, Brady, Manning, Elway — is very probably going to make that QB look woefully inadequate, one way or another. But I think it’s fair to use Rodgers as something close to a Platonic ideal of quarterback play in 2018, and instructive to see where the person on the other side of the comparison is lacking.
We know where Franks lacks. He’s not polished enough to make the right throw 90-plus percent of the time like Rodgers does, and lacks the calibration on his arm to make that right throw a good throw 90-plus percent of the time like Rodgers does. He’s a decent runner, but uses his legs less decisively than Rodgers, and seems not to have the same sense of self-preservation on the hoof that Rodgers does. He’s not as savvy or as nimble in the pocket, does not appear to have nearly as firm a command of Florida’s scheme or his personnel that Rodgers does, and is dramatically different, physically: While Franks has a cannon for an arm, he doesn’t have touch that comes remotely close to what Rodgers shows on even average throws, and he’s a hulking, lumbering runner, not the darting, daring one Rodgers is and can be.
There are also aspects of QB play in which Franks is arguably better than Rodgers, or at least nearly as good. Franks is clearly more capable of lowering a shoulder to run through a tackler, should he want to, and I think, sacrilegious as this is, that Franks might have nearly as strong an arm without factoring in leg torque and the various other components of getting revolutions per minute on a football. Franks really does have stupendous physical tools, ones I’d argue aren’t far off from the ones possessed by the best QB in the world — but he certainly hasn’t matched them with his understanding of the game, and thus cannot put them to nearly as good a use.
And that reveals maybe the central question of Florida’s offense until or unless a more physically talented player comes along at the QB position: Can Franks develop enough as a quarterback to maximize his talent as a thrower of the football and an athlete who can run?
Because — let’s be honest — Franks has this job, unless he gets injured, until he becomes so woefully inadequate that it’s actively hurting Florida every time he’s out there. And he wasn’t that against Kentucky — he threw an awful pick and made some bad throws and missed Malik Davis for an easy two-pointer, yeah, but he also led the 99-yard drive leading to that two-pointer and played fairly well in the first half.
Kyle Trask might be slightly ahead of Franks when it comes to an understanding of playing QB in Dan Mullen’s offense — we have seen only enough of both of them to say conclusively that we don’t have anything conclusive to say, I think — and Emory Jones almost certainly isn’t ahead of either one, given what we’ve seen of him. But neither Trask nor Jones, though no athletic slouches in their own rights, is on Franks’s plateau as an athlete, and Franks is clearly good enough in the offense for whatever he brings to outweigh what Trask brings in the eyes of Mullen and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson.
So this is Franks’s team, for better and/or worse, until further notice or further reinforcements. And Florida’s going to rise or fall based largely on his play — you know, so long as its offensive line doesn’t make his play entirely impossible and the Gators’ front seven doesn’t make it Sisyphean.
I’m cool with that, because I get where Florida is right now, and any notions that this roster as currently constructed is great were swiftly dispelled on Saturday. I’m also cool with that because I get to watch Aaron Rodgers on Sundays, and because there are things in my life I enjoy other than Florida football, and because I have passed through the phase in which the Gators winning or losing felt like life or death without passing from this mortal coil.
Some of you are not past that phase. I get that. Even if I’d encourage you to find a way past that, I get that.
But Franks is what we have for now, and our choices are to endlessly evaluate him against greats — not just ideals like Rodgers, but players we know better, like Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel and so forth — or to accept him for who he is and appreciate him as he grows and develops.
If I have faith in any one thing regarding Dan Mullen, it’s that he is not stupid enough to leave a regressing QB at that positon — unless that’s his best option — and if I have faith in any one aspect of Mullen’s coaching, it’s quarterback development. So I think Franks will improve — and, honestly, given what we saw of him last year and what we’ve seen of him through two games, it’s clear to me that he already has improved, even significantly.
Whether that will be enough for Florida to win seven games, or eight, or nine? I don’t know.
But I’m eager to see this story play out, even if the protagonist isn’t the perfect hero I get to watch when my other favorite football team plays.
Not every story has to have a happy ending, or a perfect hero, to be compelling.