(This is the 6th installment in an ongoing series. The series will finish tomorrow)
We've already discussed the issue of whether or not an old QB can lead his team deep into the playoffs, but what are the general prospects for a team lead by one of these greats? We've stated many times that while there is obviously correlation between having a good QB and winning games, it's folly to give too much credit or blame to the QB for any given game. Checking the overall records of teams with an older QB in no way violates that principle. If anything, this particular study can be considered an appendix to the others. It is a general recognition of the relative strength of the teams the QBs started for, as requested by a reader.
The difficulty with this particular category is that many of the QBs missed games as they got older. In this case, a comparative chart would be meaningless because of differing lengths of seasons and games missed. Because the goal is not to measure raw wins, but to find out about the general quality of the team, I offer a QB by QB look at their final years. The win totals are by team, not by QB. Not all the team wins were credited to the QB in question.
Unitas: We've talked about how Johnny U's play tailed of dramatically, but it did so just as the Colts were strong. In his final four years as a principally starting QB, his teams won 9, 11, 8, and 11 games (in a 14 game schedule). Unitas's decline was due to injuries, not general talent level.
Young: Steve Young's 49ers teams were great. Even though he missed some games, his teams won 13, 11, 12, 13, and 12 games. Having an old QB did not hurt them at all.
Montana: The 49ers and Chiefs won 14, 14, 11 and 9 games after Montana turned 33. Again, any decline in Joe's performance was on him, not his team.
Marino: The Dolphins won 10, 9, 8, 9, 10, and 9 games. Marino was actually the QB that spawned the question. As you can see, his Dolphins teams were solid, even as Marino's play declined. Still, with 'old Marino', the Dolphins were always a borderline playoff team.
Favre: The Packers (and Jets) won 12, 10, 10, 4, 8, 13 and 9 games. Other than one difficult season, Favre's teams were in or near the playoffs each year.
Moon: The Oilers won 9, 9, 11, 10, and 12 games. He then jumped to the Vikings who won 10, 8, and 9 games. He finished with two Seahawks teams that both finished .500.
Fouts: The Chargers won 7, 8, 4 and 8 games in his last four years. The Chargers were an average team, even as Fouts was becoming a below average QB.
Elway: The Broncos won 9, 7, 8, 13, 12, and 14 games after Elway turned 33.
Staubach: The Cowboys won 11, 12, 12, and 11 games.
Kelly: The Bills won 12, 7, 10, and 10 games.
- Teams with these older QBs tended to be good or very good. There are only 5 losing seasons out of the 54. Conversely, there are 30 double digit win seasons.
- We've already seen that most of the QBs were experiencing declining play to some degree or another. Still, their teams remained competitive. Without knowing the circumstances of each season, it's probably safe to assume that whatever drop off was felt by the declining play/health of the QB was likely offset by other intangible factors like smarter game management.
- The alternate hypothesis is that in some cases (Fouts? Marino? Unitas?) the old QB was actually holding back what was otherwise a talented club. These men all made the Hall of Fame (except Favre, obviously), and it is possible that in some cases they continued to get credit for 'wins' that were actually generated by the rest of the club more than by their play.
What does this mean for Peyton Manning? It certainly should reassure Colts fans that 'the window' isn't closing. There is no "window" for victory by older QBs. Now, the Colts' window could close because Freeney or Wayne got old, certainly. It will not close because of Manning's age. There is every reason to expect the Colts to continue to be a playoff caliber team as long as Manning is under center.
Tomorrow, I'll compile all the articles into one and reveal my projections for the final seasons of Manning's career.