Jussel: A great QB can help teams become great

What if …

… It’s January of 2004 and the Carolina Panthers are in the midst of a titanic battle with the New England Patriots for the Super Bowl XXXVIII crown.

The Panthers are a team designed the way head coach John Fox wants it: They have two bruising running backs in Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster, both of whom average about 5 yards per carry in a season in which they combine for almost 2,000 rushing yards.

This Panther squad is led offensively by quarterback Jake Delhomme, an undrafted veteran of NFL Europe and a longtime backup with the New Orleans Saints.

Delhomme is just good enough to perform the necessities for the Panthers, meaning he occasionally hits lightning-quick wide receiver Steve Smith downfield.

The Panthers give the Tom Brady-led Patriots all they want in this Super contest, falling just short at the end 32-29.

What if the Panthers had Peyton Manning at quarterback in that game?

Here’s what if: They win it by two touchdowns.

What if …

… It’s January of 1999 and the Denver Broncos are in search of a second straight Super Bowl title.

The Broncos have been reconstructed over the past several years, with the best running back in the NFL in Terrell Davis, who has rushed for 2,008 yards on the season. They have a mean, nasty offensive line that has taken zone blocking to the next level (a level that would soon be outlawed) and a veteran bend-but-don’t-break defense.

And they have a Hall of Fame quarterback in John Elway who, thanks to the threat of Davis, no longer has to carry the Broncos on his lonely back.

What if Elway had gone down to injury somewhere in the middle of that season, only to be replaced by Bubby Brister for the remaining games?

Here’s what if: The Broncos don’t finish 14-2 and most likely don’t go on to beat Dan Reeves’ Atlanta Falcons 34-19 in Super Bowl XXXIII — a game in which Elway was MVP. Bubby Brister, Super Bowl MVP? It does not compute.

What if …

… It’s January of 2013 and the Denver Broncos are in the playoffs after battling through a miserable regular-season schedule to win the AFC West for a second straight season with an 8-8 record. It’s like déjà vu, with starting quarterback Tim Tebow having improved a bit as a pocket passer over the previous season.

However, teams have caught on to his rushing act and the breaks have seemingly evened out this time around, with a couple of losses coming in the final seconds.

The Broncos are again hosting a wild-card matchup, this time going against a Baltimore Ravens team that has finished 10-6 but lost the AFC North title to Pittsburgh. Baltimore’s rough, tough defense doesn’t allow Tebow to catch his breath and the Ravens go on to win it, 24-10.

What if in this particular season Tebow was no longer the quarterback of the Broncos, instead being traded to the New York Jets?

Here’s what if: The Broncos will be a better team in 2013 and in the foreseeable future with Peyton Manning at quarterback than they would be with Tebow at quarterback.

What if …

… Manning is a reasonable facsimile of his former self this season. Let us consider the possibility that doctors, coaches, ex-teammates, friends, even Manning himself, are correct in their diagnoses and he will not be hampered by recent neck surgeries.

… The Bronco administration led by Elway and Fox continue to do what they say they are going to do; they go about the business of improving the roster via free agency and the draft.

… Manning and others decide the QB doesn’t have to throw 40 to 50 times a game, instead, relying on occasional play-action passes or quick reads from the pocket that pick up the required 4 to 5 yards for another first down.

In other words, Manning turns into Elway circa 1998 and 1999, the manager of an offense who can still drill the third-down or TD pass when needed?

What if this all works out this way?

Here’s what if: Manning doesn’t have to be the guy who threw for more than 4,000 yards in 11 straight seasons on his way to winning a record four league MVPs for the Broncos to become a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

All he has to do is be more consistent in the passing game than Tebow was — by about 10 to 15 percentage points in terms of completions and by about two length-of-field drives per game, meaning one touchdown and one field goal they didn’t get last season.

That being done, it’s onto the playoffs and into serious contention, even against the likes of the Patriots, Ravens, Texans and, gulp, the Packers and/or Giants.

That’s what great quarterbacks do for you.


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