I’ve arrived at East Lake for a Tiger Woods press conference later this morning, but first I wanted to weigh in on the best coach-quarterback combinations in the NFL, which should not be confused with weighing in on the venue for the Georgia-Florida game, and . . . wait, what day is this?
Right. Wednesday. In four days, the Falcons will play the New England Patriots. It’s another chance to watch Tom Brady play and Bill Belichick coach, and the two will go down as one of the top five coach-quarterback combinations in the Super Bowl era. My others (in no particular order: Bill Walsh-Joe Montana; Tom Landry-Roger Staubach; Chuck Noll-Terry Bradshaw; some other two guys I’ll think of later after I steal a danish from the hospitality tent here at East Lake.
In the NFL, great coach-quarterback combinations can compensate for deficiencies elsewhere. That first Patriots’ Super Bowl winner with Brady was not a great team in terms of personnel. It had some talent but a bunch of spare parts, something necessitated by the salary cap era. But it had great leadership and resolve, thanks to Brady and Belichick.
I realize it’s only their second season together. But it struck me that the Falcons now have one of the premier coach-QB duos in the NFL. Here’s my top 10. Feel free to argue.
1. Bill Belichick-Tom Brady (New England): They stand alone. They’ve never had a losing season together and missed the playoffs only once (if you exclude last year when Brady was injured for 15 games). They’ve won three Super Bowls and went 18-0 two years ago until the title game loss to the New York Giants. When the Patriots lost last week, it was their first regular-season defeat with Brady starting since Dec. 10, 2006 (albeit he missed most of last year). Each should help induct the other into the Hall of Fame.
2. Andy Reid-Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia): I know. If I were in Philly, I’d be tied to a lamp post for this. The Eagles haven’t won a Super Bowl, and ultimately that’s how many define things. But they have been to five NFC title games (winning one) in a span of eight seasons, despite good but not great talent — certainly not on the offensive side of the ball. They’ve also endured despite working among arguably the most demanding/lunatic fan bases in the league.
3. Mike Tomlin-Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh): I balked at this initially. Tomlin inherited a great team and Roethlisberger is not a statistically great QB. But both have proven they know how to win. They won a Super Bowl in their second season. Players follow them. Chances are, they will follow them to more titles before they’re done.
4. Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning (N.Y. Giants): Again, the younger Manning’s statistical greatness can be debated. But he already has won a title. He wins games on the road (as in Dallas the other night) and he certainly works in concert with his coach. Coughlin has had the greatest career turnaround among NFL coaches since, well, Belichick.
5. Mike Smith-Matt Ryan (Falcons): Yes, it’s early. It has been only 18 regular season games. But both are off the charts in terms of commanding respect from others in the locker room, and it has been that way from the time they first stepped into Flowery Branch. Both took over in difficult circumstances, and we don’t need to detail that anymore. But expect Smith and Ryan to be staples of this organization for several seasons.
The rest of the top 10, in brief:
6. Jim Caldwell-Peyton Manning (Indianapolis): The quarterback elevates a still unproven head coach.
7. Ken Whisenhunt-Kurt Warner (Arizona): Warner wasn’t supposed to be starter. That says something.
8. John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco (Baltimore): Some might debate whether they deserve to be ranked at least as high as Smith and Ryan. The difference is, the Ravens have had one of the NFL’s most dominating defenses and players (Ray Lewis), so Harbaugh and Flacco had an advantage.
9. Sean Payton-Drew Brees (New Orleans): Now they just need to win when it matters.
10. Vacant: After thinking about it, nobody else is worthy of being 10th. It’s too early for Rex Ryan-Mark Sanchez (N.Y. Jets), and the results are either too mixed or half the pairing is deficient with some of the others: Mike McCarthy-Aaron Rogers (Green Bay), Norv Turner-Phillip Rivers, Jeff Fisher-Anybody (Tennessee), Wade Phillips-T0ny Romo (Dallas).
Your thoughts? Would you rank Smith-Ryan higher or lower?