The NFL thriving on quarterback star power and loving it when the best at the position compete on big stages for high stakes is not new.
Think Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning a decade ago.
Think Troy Aikman vs. Steve Young for the right to win four Super Bowls in the 1990s.
And if you want to ride the way-back machine, think Bart Starr vs. Johnny Unitas or Terry Bradshaw vs. Ken Stabler in the 1960s and ’70s.
So you want to know what is the NFL’s next great arms race? (Didn’t you read the headline?)
Patrick Mahomes vs. Justin Herbert.
It’s a meeting of arguably the two most gifted passers in the NFL now playing twice a season for two very talented teams with championship aspirations.
The statistic that best paints a picture of the matchup is a measure of most passing yards in a quarterback’s first 33 games, which is how many games Herbert has started. To that:
Mahomes threw for 9,925 in that many games, more than anyone in NFL history.
Herbert threw for 9,629 yards in that many game, second-most in NFL history.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Kurt Warner is third with 9,385 passing yards.
The matchup promises a ratings bonanza for Amazon Prime, which will stream Thursday night’s game between the Chiefs and Chargers.
Herbert Was The Sixth Pick In The 2020 NFL Draft
“I have a lot of respect for Patrick,” Herbert said this week as a lead-up to this match. “He’s an incredible quarterback, has had a lot of success in this league over the past few years. Any time you get to play against him, it’s always a great opportunity to learn, to watch. I just have so much respect for his game.”
Herbert is the junior partner in this thing, starting only his third season, while Mahomes is in his sixth season, already has an MVP award, has played in two Super Bowls and led a team to a championship in February 2020.
But let’s be perfectly clear that greater experience now guarantees Mahomes of nothing because Herbert has been a quick learner. Herbert, you’ll recall, made his first career start against the Chiefs in 2020 and played more or less like a rookie in a loss.
By the end of that season, he was sealing his offensive rookie of the year award by throwing 3 TD passes in a victory over the Chiefs.
Mahomes vs. Herbert is tied at 2-2 in their four meetings.
And this feels like a budding rivalry that will endure at a high level. Mahomes turns 27 on Saturday while Herbert is only 24.
In the two seasons since Herbert entered the NFL, he’s thrown 69 touchdowns, including 38 last season. Mahomes has thrown 75 TD passes the last two seasons, including 37 last season.
So after this full-throated build-up do these two stars disappoint Thursday night? It would be out of character because both are already on fire after the league’s opening weekend.
Mahomes threw five touchdown passes and had a rating of 144.2 in the opener against Arizona. Herbert threw three touchdown passes and had a rating of 129.4 against Las Vegas.
Mahomes leads the NFL in passer rating. Herbert is second.
Neither threw an interception. Both helped their teams win in Week 1.
One of these two will lead the AFC West after their meeting Thursday night.
This arms race has begun.
Josh Allen Loves Half-Day Of School
Citing expected game-day traffic around Highmark Stadium Monday night when the Buffalo Bills host the Tennessee Titans, the Orchard Park and Frontier Central School Districts have given students a half-day of school on Monday.
High schools in the Frontier School district will be dismissed at 10:40 a.m. while the Orchard Park school district will dismiss as early as 11 a.m. and no later than 12:45 p.m.
The Bills game starts at 7:15 p.m. but you must remember that tailgating is a thing in Orchard Park and tables fear for their lives during those activities.
And this is where I tell you Bills QB Josh Allen, a great believer in work ethic and studious preparation, was offended by the kids getting let out of school early.
Allen does indeed have a great work ethic and studies hard but he’s a dude’s dude. He loves the idea of kids getting out of school early.
“It’s going to be crazy, I mean, half day at school? ” Allen said. “That’s how you create some Bills fans right there. You get out of school. I hope they love the Bills. So we’ll need everybody here screaming as loud as they can, trying help us out on third down when our defense is on the field. Yeah, go Bills!”
Aaron Rodgers Wants More Runs, Fewer Passes
Aaron Rodgers is a really good quarterback which is a reason he’s been the Most Valuable Player four times. So Rodgers, really good at throwing the football, should want to throw as often as he can, right?
The Packers tried 39 pass attempts against the Minnesota Vikings last week and lost, so this week Rodgers is thinking the team should add to last week’s 19 rush attempts while throwing fewer passes.
Yes, upside down world
“We maybe reacted to the score a little bit,” Rodgers said. “And we were running the ball well, I think we ran it about 6 [yards] a clip, so we’ve just got to stick with the run, make sure we get our attempts where we want them to be because that means one of those guys is touching the ball probably.”
Before you think something crazy like Rodgers has lost faith in himself as a passer or he wants to do less to earn his league-leading $50 million-a-year contract, that’s not it.
The problem is the Packers have established running backs A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones. And unproven receivers in Romeo Doubs and Christian Watkins — both learning and neither ready to perform like the departed Davante Adams.
That’s why Rodgers wants the offense to rest on his runners more than his young receivers.
“We don’t want to put them in a position where there’s a high likelihood of maybe not getting it right,” Rodgers said. “But we also want to let them, in the moment, feel the pressure and anxiety and the expectation of being in that moment and see how they respond because that’s how we’re going to know what kind of guys we’ve got.”
So until Green Bay’s receivers grow up it may indeed be time for the running game to take the lead.
Here We Go Again In Jacksonville?
The Jaguars have been pretty bad for most of the last decade and that’s the reason they’ve had a top 10 draft pick every year dating back to 2008 and have had the first overall selection two years in a row.
So, yeah, there’s a rough history in Jacksonville that’s hard to ignore.
But Trevor Lawrence, the first overall selection in 2021, doesn’t think the history of failure is so pervasive that players are weighed down by it. He doesn’t believe the club’s season-opening loss to Washington has guys poisoned or thinking more losing is on the way.
“I think the guys have done a great job and that’s not really something that’s been talked about,” Lawrence said. “That’s not the thought process at all with this team. It’s Wednesday now, I think we’ve all kind of moved on.
“It’s next week, and that’s what it’s about. You’re not going to play perfect every week, and you’ve got to figure out a way to respond and go play well the next week and go get a win. That’s the thought process with this team, and I think the guys have done a great job.”
The Jaguars play the Indianapolis Colts this week, the team they beat in the season-finale last year. Maybe in this singular instance the Jaguars would be served by a here-we-go-again outlook.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero