In week one of the 2008 NFL season, the New England Patriots suffered a major setback. Quarterback Tom Brady was injured and lost for the entire year. As a result, the Patriots were forced to call upon their untested backup, Matt Cassel, to carry the team through the entire schedule. Although the Cassel-led Patriots managed to win 11 games last year, they still fell short of a playoff appearance. Coming off of an undefeated 2007 regular season that ended with a very dramatic loss in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants, 2008 was supposed to be a year of redemption for New England. Instead, the loss of their star quarterback to injury became the Patriots’ defining event, and the team never fully recovered.
Fast-forward to the opening weekend of the 2009 season, where the Carolina Panthers had to address quarterback issues of a different kind. Their offensive leader, veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme, managed to escape the game without suffering physical injury. In hindsight, however, suffering an injury may have been the more merciful option for exit from the game. Delhomme, who ended his 2008 season in the NFC playoffs by throwing FIVE interceptions in their loss to the Arizona Cardinals, had hoped to start the 2009 season off on a much more positive note. Unfortunately for Delhomme, the opposing defense of the Philadelphia Eagles had other plans, as Delhomme threw for another FOUR interceptions before finally being benched.
Although Delhomme responded with a marginally improved performance during week two (308 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception in their loss to the Atlanta Falcons), questions abound regarding the long-term viability of Delhomme and his future as the quarterback for the Panthers’ team.
The situations for the 2008 Patriots and the 2009 Panthers were very different. On one hand, a team lost their star player to a season-ending injury, and was then forced to look to a very inexperienced backup player to fill that star’s shoes. On the other, a team must choose between an experienced veteran who may or may not be able to successfully compete in the NFL any more, or an inexperienced backup whose performance may not be much better than that of the veteran.
Both are bad situations to be in, but which is worse?
Is it easier for a team to overcome the setback of losing a superstar player to a season-ending injury early in the year, or to overcome the setback of having to rely on a veteran leader who is no longer able to perform at the same successful level that they used to?
Loyal Homer will argue that it is easier to overcome the slow demise of a veteran leader. While that leader’s play might be spotty and inconsistent, there are also still going to be glimpses of the player that ‘was’. Occasional moments of success from a tested veteran are still better than relying upon an untested backup to assume 100% of the responsibility on the field.
Sports Geek will argue that a season-ending injury to a star player is easier to overcome. The definitive knowledge that a star player is going to be unavailable, and the subsequent acceptance that others on the team will have to step up their performance, is better than the uncertainty and unreliability that comes from a veteran leader who may be on their way out of the game altogether.