Step aside, Tom Brady.
After commandeering the NFL playoff spotlight for two decades, weathering challenges by veterans and youngsters alike, Brady isn’t the main attraction this season. Partly because his Tampa Bay Buccaneers don’t look long for this postseason, even if the skidding Dallas Cowboys allow them to stall for a week.
Mostly, though, it’s because the next generation, the one rumored to be coming for Brady’s place for oh, the last decade or so, has finally arrived in force. Brock Purdy, Trevor Lawrence and Daniel Jones all won their playoff debuts this weekend, while Joe Burrow advanced.
Jalen Hurts, meanwhile, had the weekend off after leading the Philadelphia Eagles to the No. 1 seed – and a wild-card weekend bye – in the NFC.
That’s five quarterbacks who’ve been drafted since 2019. And it doesn’t include Tua Tagovailoa, who might have orchestrated a different ending to that Miami Dolphins-Buffalo Bills game if he wasn’t still in the concussion protocol.
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“We’ll keep going,” Jones said after the New York Giants held off the Minnesota Vikings 31-24 on Sunday night. “We’ve got a lot ahead of us, but we’ll keep going. It’s been fun so far.”
Jones was talking about the Giants, who got their first playoff win since Eli Manning and Ahmad Bradshaw rallied to beat that Brady guy and the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl following the 2011 season. But Jones could also have been talking about this long overdue changing of the guard.
There have, obviously, been plenty of talented young QBs over the last 20 years. Patrick Mahomes comes to mind, a Super Bowl champion and NFL MVP in his first two seasons as a starter. Lamar Jackson was an MVP in his second NFL season.
But a collection of young talent that has gone beyond the hype stage to measurable success in the form of playoff wins? Not all together. Not like this.
Purdy’s distinction was supposed to be as Mr. Irrelevant, the last pick of last spring’s draft. Instead, he salvaged San Francisco’s season after first Trey Lance and then Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt, and he is unbeaten in six games as a starter. That includes Saturday’s win over the Seattle Seahawks, in which he threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score.
Since becoming the starter, he’s thrown just two interceptions. Lawrence threw twice as many just in the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday!
Lawrence’s miscues seemingly doomed the Jacksonville Jaguars as they fell into a 27-0 hole in the second quarter. But the overall No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft is unflappable, and he rallied the Jaguars – with considerable help from Brandon Staley and the Chargers – for an improbable 31-30 win that was the third-largest comeback in NFL postseason history.
Beginning with their final possession before halftime, Lawrence and the Jaguars went touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, game-winning field goal. Lawrence was 23 of 29 for 253 yards in those drives.
With the game tied at 24, Jones directed the Giants on a 12-play, 75-yard drive capped by Saquon Barkley’s 2-yard scoring run. Jones threw for 58 yards on the drive and ran for another seven, including two on a fourth-and-1.
He finished with 301 yards passing and also led the Giants with 78 yards rushing, joining Jackson and Steve Young as the only quarterbacks in postseason history to throw for 300 yards and run for 75. And Jones did Jackson and Young one better, doing it in a win.
“Daniel – I’ve said it all year, he’s been good for us, continues to be good for us and he played a good game,” Giants coach Brian Daboll said. “I think there’s a lot of other people that played good games, too, to help him play a good game, and he’ll be the first to admit it. But as the leader of our football team, I’m proud of him.”
Daboll isn’t wrong that other Giants had a hand in this win. But rightly or wrongly, quarterbacks get the credit when things go well and the blame when they don’t. That Jones – and Purdy and Lawrence – had the composure to win their first playoff games bodes well for their futures.
And the future of the league.
Brady can’t play forever, even if he does seem hellbent on trying. If this wasn’t Aaron Rodgers’ last season, it’s getting close. Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson are nearer to the end of their careers than the beginning.
There will be a void when they’re gone, and it’s reassuring to see there are players capable of filling it.
Mahomes and Jackson had already injected new energy into the league, and Burrow and Josh Allen have built on that. Now come Hurts, Purdy, Lawrence and Jones.
It’s a new era in the NFL, and it looks as if it’s been worth the wait.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
Step aside, Tom Brady.