In the final game of the 2011 regular season, already 14-1 and with their playoff future secure, the Green Bay Packers deactivated star quarterback Aaron Rodgers and gave back-up Matt Flynn a start against the Detroit Lions.
Flynn completed 31 of 44 passes for 480 yards and six touchdowns. It may have been fool’s gold coming at Lambeau Field against the Lions’ defense, but Flynn soon turned it into real gold as a free agent, using that single performance as the springboard to a three-year, $19.5 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks.
Shortly thereafter, the Seahawks drafted QB Russell Wilson out of Wisconsin with the 75th overall pick and negotiated a four-year deal for $2.99 million.
Rarely has an NFL team gotten so little out of so much and so much for so little all at the same time.
Wilson was lacking only four things. He had the gun arm with a quick release, he had both the presence and the speed to be effective in and out of the pocket, he was mature and solid. But he lacked four things, all of them being inches.
So, 6-foot-4 Andrew Luck went No. 1 in the draft to Indianapolis and Robert Griffin III, standing 6-III, went next to Washington. Wilson, who needs lifts to make it to 5-11 and whose college technique was somewhat flawed by his tip-toe approach to seeing over the defensive line, waited awhile.
He was ready by opening day when Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, 7-9 a year ago and feeling some heat, rolled the dice on his team’s season and just maybe his job with a rookie quarterback who has never measured up anywhere except on the scoreboard.
It is rather remarkable to note that half of the 12 teams set to open the NFL playoffs will employ either rookies or second-year players at quarterback. The latter include Andy Dalton of the Bengals, Christian Ponder of the Vikings, and Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers.
It has been the rookies, none older than 24, who have stolen the show, guiding three teams that combined for 14 wins a year ago to 32 victories during the 2012 season.
Luck and RGIII came with high expectations and have mostly exceeded them. Wilson surely has toiled in their shadows — until now.
Seattle will play at Washington on Sunday and the Griffin-Wilson collision won’t be a sidebar. It is the headline.
They rank 3-4 in NFL passer rating behind Rodgers and Peyton Manning, but ahead of Matt Ryan and Tom Brady. Among the rookies, Luck had a staggering 4,374 passing yards during the regular season, but on 234 more attempts than each of the other two. It may surprise you to know that Wilson had three more touchdown passes and eight fewer interceptions than the Indy star. RGIII had a 300-yard edge in rushing yardage over Wilson, but Griffin’s recent knee injury may put them on equal footing.
The Colts and Redskins drafted their rookies to play immediately, but Carroll, with a lot of money tied up in Flynn, took a risk in going young.
The dividend was paid immediately and now an already-impatient league will likely expect more of these quick turnarounds.
Luck, with a rookie receiver in T.Y. Hilton who is a nightmare to cover, hasn’t made Indy fans forget Peyton Manning, but he’s working on it. RGIII and rookie back Alfred Morris have electrified a Redskins franchise.
The little guy, Wilson, can state his case Sunday that he’s as special as any of them.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.