One of the favored clichés of sports talk: “A good quarterback makes good receivers.”
We’ve often heard how Tom Brady always ranked near the top of the AFC in passing efficiency even though he had no receivers anyone had heard of.
Sometimes overlooked is how much Brady improved when Wes Welker and then Randy Moss joined the New England Patriots. In 2007, the year Moss joined the team, Brady threw 51 touchdown passes, 23 of which went – not just coincidentally – to Moss.
This is the year we’ve finally learned to appreciate good receivers.
Look what happened to Brady when he lost his three best receivers: Welker to free agency, Rob Gronkowski to injury and Aaron Hernandez to a murder charge. Brady looked as helpless as Blaine Gabbert when he tried to find Kenbrell Thompkins and Mike Hoomanawanui. Brady’s name was near the bottom of the passer ratings.
Then he gets all his receivers healthy – Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Shane Vereen. And he’s the Tom Brady we remember.
Alas, Gronkowski is shelved once again, tearing an ACL Sunday in a game against Cleveland which the Patriots won only by recovering an onside kick in the final minute.
Now we’ll see how Gronkowski’s absence affects Brady’s performance. The Patriots ranked 22nd in scoring before Gronkowski was activated. They’ve ranked 2nd in the league in scoring with Gronkowski.
We’ve seen a similar story in Indianapolis. With Reggie Wayne catching key third-down passes from Andrew Luck, the Colts beat San Francisco, Seattle and Denver and looked like a Super Bowl champion at the midway point of the season.
But with Wayne on injured reserve and T.Y. Hilton their most reliable target, the Colts have gone 3-3, all the losses by 14 or more.
Super Bowl runner-up San Francisco opened without leading receiver Michael Crabtree and slot receiver Mario Manningham. And for most of the first half of the season, Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis was slowed by a strained hamstring.
So quarterback Colin Kaepernick was wildly ineffective. Constantly criticized for “staring down” Anquan Boldin and not “moving through his progressions.” There could be no progression when he had no other viable receivers.
But now, with Crabtree joining Manningham and a healthy Davis, San Francisco’s offense rolls.
And one other lesson: Look at Philip Rivers, thoroughly unproductive last year, when he had no reliable catchers other than a gimpy-legged tight end, Anthony Gates.
But this year, with Gates regaining his health and Keenan Allen arriving from the college ranks, Rivers has a first-rate target over the middle and a defense-stretching receiver outside. So now he’s a great quarterback again, as he was before San Diego lost Vincent Jackson to free agency.
So where’s Vincent Jackson? At Tampa Bay, where he’s turning third-round rookie Mike Glennon into a successful quarterback.
The truth is, receivers have as much to do with making quarterbacks look good as the other way around.