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NFL Panic Index 2019: Somehow, we’re running out of starting quarterbacks

Quarterbacks are dropping like flies (not Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, though!) while Adam Vinatieri and the Broncos’ pass rush look decidedly not like themselves.

Saints QB Drew Brees, ball in left hand, pats Panthers QB Cam Newton on back with other hand.
Cam Newton and Drew Brees are just two of the several NFL quarterbacks currently dealing with injuries.

If you’re an NFL fan in 2019, there’s approximately a 1 in 5 chance your quarterback situation is in complete and utter turmoil.

Sam Darnold is out indefinitely for the Jets while he battles mononucleosis. His backup, Trevor Siemian, is out for the year with an ankle injury. Drew Brees will miss six to eight weeks with a torn thumb ligament. Ben Roethlisberger saw those situations and raised them by opting for surgery to repair a torn UCL that will force him to miss the final 14 games of the season.

That’s not all!

Cam Newton hasn’t looked himself all season and missed practice this week with a foot issue. Eli Manning played so poorly through two weeks he gave the Giants no choice but to push rookie Daniel Jones into the starting lineup, ready or not. The Dolphins are sticking with Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 3, but might still go with Josh Rosen should things implode (they will). It won’t make much difference either way.

That’s just THIS week too. Nick Foles had surgery after Week 1, and in August, Andrew Luck decided he’d rather retire than slog through another round of rehab after dealing with injuries throughout the offseason.

The league’s ripe for a changing of the guard, but if your team is suddenly stuck starting a guy who’d been slated for clipboard duty in 2019 you may not feel so confident. Alas, if only there were a free agent available who could step right into the starting lineup ...

So yeah, this season is already exhausting. Is it all worth stressing out about, though?

Crap, what if Tom Brady and Russell Wilson have a point with their pseudoscience?

The early part of this season is taking out starting quarterbacks one by one, as if the football gods had a John Wick marathon over Labor Day weekend and got inspired. Heading into Week 3, only four starting quarterbacks who’ve won a Super Bowl are set to take snaps: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Joe Flacco.

It’s a strange coincidence several others were either injured or benched within days of each other, especially when you consider how consistent those quarterbacks have been in their long careers. Brees had only missed one start with the Saints due to injury. Manning has started 232 of 234 games he’s played in with the Giants. Roethlisberger’s entire injury history can be best summed up by this Terrell Suggs quote from 2016:

“He’s gonna act like ‘aw, I’m not playing. ... But then he’ll walk his big ass on out there and [I’ll be like] ‘how you doin’ Benjamin.’”

Rodgers (collarbone) and Flacco (hip, ACL) and have both dealt with serious injuries in recent years, too. Not Brady or Wilson, though.

It’s been more than a decade since the 42-year-old Brady has missed a game because of an injury. That’s never happened to the 30-year-old Wilson, who has started every game for the Seahawks since they drafted him in 2012 despite having a dismal OL for most of his career. Both players have also publicly lent their support to snake oil-type miracle cures like the TB12 Method and nanobubbles.

And while their peers are dropping like flies, Brady and Wilson are putting up MVP-like numbers:

Brady, for the 2-0 Patriots: 68.8 percent completion, 605 passing yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs, 124.8 passer rating
Wilson, for the 2-0 Seahawks: 78.2 percent completion, 495 passing yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs, 134.5 passer rating

They’re clearly doing something right. Was it the, gulp, TB12 supplements and Recovery Water all along?

Panic index: Brady and Wilson take amazing care of themselves and have also been extremely lucky when it comes to injuries. Hopefully that continues because we don’t want to lose any more starting quarterbacks this year — someone please, bubblewrap Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson immediately. But as Gronk reminded us recently, NFL players are not doctors (Laurent Duvernay-Tardif excluded), so please don’t take medical advice from them.

Cam Newton was used like a running back; now he’s falling apart like one

Newton broke the career rushing touchdowns record for a quarterback three years ago and has added another 14 since. His rushing numbers aren’t just impressive among quarterbacks; two more touchdowns and he’ll be top 50 among running backs.

He’s at 934 career rushing attempts — another NFL record for a quarterback — but now all that wear and tear appears to be catching up with him.

Newton may miss the Panthers’ Week 3 game against the Cardinals due to a foot injury. It’s yet another setback for a player who was once pretty damn invincible. He missed just three games in his first seven years — including the time he only sat out one game after BREAKING HIS BACK in a car crash in 2014.

He’s not as bulletproof anymore. Newton missed the last two games of 2018 with a shoulder injury that required surgery, and now he’s dealing with his foot issue.

When he’s on the field, Newton doesn’t look the same. He’s still capable of making most of the throws, but when his feet aren’t underneath him, he struggles to get any velocity on the ball.

That’s not an easy throw to make, but it’s one that Newton of yesteryear completes, no problem. It was especially telling when Christian McCaffrey was stuffed trying to get 2 yards for a game-winning touchdown against the Buccaneers. That’s a situation that has been an automatic rushing touchdown for Newton for almost his entire career.

Running backs break down faster than any position in the NFL and often retire around 30. Did the Panthers put Newton — who is now 30 — on that career track by using him like a running back?

Panic index: A few minor injuries for Newton doesn’t mean his career is about to end. It’s possible, though, that his days running through defenses are behind him. If that means he has to transition into being a pocket passer and nothing more, that’s a problem. He’s never been much more than average at that.

The Broncos’ once-fearsome pass rush doesn’t have a sack in 2019

Von Miller and Bradley Chubb combined for 26.5 sacks last season. Through two games this fall, they’ve combined for zero. The rest of the Broncos’ defense has ... zero.

This is a problem. John Elway’s plan in 2019, as it was in 2018, is to hope a caretaker veteran quarterback could provide just enough support to push Denver to the postseason. That didn’t work with Case Keenum at the helm, and it’s not working with Joe Flacco. The former Raven is the engine behind an offense that’s scored only 30 points so far this year.

Flacco is 34 years old and has been only of the league’s least efficient passers since his Super Bowl 47 triumph. He’s not going to be much better than he has been. That leaves the heavy lifting of Denver’s playoff hopes on a once-triumphant defense that has seen its sack rate go from seventh-best in the league to dead last. The Broncos only have three QB hits on the season. All have come from Chubb, and one was wiped away by the especially ticky-tack roughing the passer call that helped the Bears win in Week 2:

Opponents have been able to make Vic Fangio’s pass rush obsolete by focusing on the Denver dynamic duo and daring the rest of the defense to make plays. They’ve been wholly unable to so far — per SIS, that pair only has two QB pressures between them — even against the underwhelming early-season combo of Derek Carr and Mitchell Trubisky. Unless someone else can step up and make opposing QBs uncomfortable, the Broncos may be relying on Flacco to gunsling his way to wins.

Panic index: Relying on late-stage Flacco is not a good sign. If Denver wants to pivot away from that, it’ll need big contributions from defensive linemen like Adam Gotsis and Derek Wolfe. At least Josey Jewell’s looked good so far!

Adam Vinatieri isn’t retiring, but he’s dealing with “demons”

Adam Vinatieri is the oldest player in the NFL and one of the last people anybody expected to be worried about going into this season. The 46-year-old is arguably the greatest kicker in NFL history, but he’s now missed kicks in each of his past three games, dating back to the Divisional Round of the playoffs last season.

In that game, Vinatieri missed a 23-yard field goal and an extra point. In Week 1 this season, he went 1-for-3 on extra point attempts. In Week 2, he was 1-of-3 on field goal attempts and 1-of-2 on extra points. That’s seven missed kicks in three games for the NFL’s all-time field goal leader.

After Sunday’s game against Tennessee, Vinatieri gave a cryptic message that led many to believe he was going to announce his retirement. That didn’t happen and he later said he’s just battling some “demons” right now and needs to get past them.

Of course, there were also reports that the Colts were attempting to persuade Vinatieri to stick around, and worked out six kickers, which they wouldn’t need to do if he wasn’t considering retirement — or if they weren’t considering moving on.

Panic index: It would be a shame for the Colts to lose both Andrew Luck AND Vinatieri in one season. That said, kickers are making more and more headlines in recent seasons and if the pressure is getting to him right now, that pressure is probably only going to increase. The Colts, at least, are sticking by Vinatieri for the time being. Hopefully a legend like Vinatieri gets to go out on his own terms, whenever that is.

The Chargers are slipping back into bad habits

Every year, we expect big things out of the Chargers. Philip Rivers is a great quarterback and they have a roster loaded with talent elsewhere. But they constantly underperform, and get by ravaged by injuries and kicking issues.

This season, it looks like not much has changed. Last weekend, Rivers couldn’t throw a touchdown against the Lions, punter Ty Long (filling in for injured kicker Michael Badgley) missed field goal attempts, the Chargers shot themselves in the foot with penalties, and then lost a low-scoring affair, 13-10. That came after a narrow 30-24 overtime win over the Colts in Week 1.

Not helping matters is tight end Hunter Henry is injured again, and the team just placed safety Adrian Phillips, who was filling in for Derwin James, on IR.

Meanwhile, running back Melvin Gordon is still holding out. Even though Austin Ekeler has looked decent, he hasn’t eclipsed 70 yards in either of the two games thus far this season and also had a costly fumble at the goal line against the Lions.

All in all, the Chargers look disorganized and uncertain ... again.

Panic index: The Chargers are pretty used to being here. Since 2015, they’ve started every season at 0-3 or 1-2, and in some of those cases (including last year) they turned things around. After starting 1-2 last season, the Chargers finished with a 12-4 record and made the playoffs. It’s not time to panic yet, but one has to wonder why they’re so sluggish to start so often.