DALLAS — Add Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts to the list of problems, not just for the Cowboys — we saw that, specifically, on Oct. 16 and, realistically, all season — but for Dak Prescott’s future.
On Sunday, in much easier fashion than one might have imagined as the 49ers ran out of quarterbacks, Hurts joined the popular “Made it to the Super Bowl at 24” Club. The number refers to a quarterback’s age at the start of the season in which he reached his first Super Bowl. Among active quarterbacks who have made it to the big game, 24 is the preferred number. Hurts joins Joe Burrow, Jared Goff and Russell Wilson in this particular club. Tom Brady was also a member until Wednesday’s retirement announcement, and we shall see if he sticks the landing on this one.
The problem for Prescott is that with nothing to show in terms of postseason advancement after seven NFL seasons, he has shifted into the “Made it to the Super Bowl in My 30s“ Club. Or at least he aspires to gain admission. This is called the Matt Ryan Phase of a quarterback’s career — not particularly promising, but there is some hope as I will explain later.
Throughout history, quarterbacks tend to reach their first Super Bowl fairly early in their careers, if they are to get there at all. Troy Aikman was 25 at the start of the 1992 season. In fact, Aikman was finished going to Super Bowls (after earning three rings) by age 29. Roger Staubach honored his Navy commitment and did not even play for the Cowboys as a backup until he was 27. But he went to work quickly, once Tom Landry moved him past Craig Morton on the depth chart. Staubach was 29 when Dallas finally put its “Next Year’s Champions” label to rest and won its first championship in dominant fashion against Miami.
There are 11 quarterbacks that were active in 2022 who have started in Super Bowls. The range extends from the most decorated player of all time (Brady) down to Joe Flacco and Nick Foles. Ten of the 11 reached that first Super Bowl while in their 20s. Two other contemporaries who at least sought work last year — Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick — were 26 and 24 when they took teams to Super Bowls.
The outlier is Ryan, who was the 31-year-old quarterback of the Falcons (and league MVP) when Atlanta played New England in that ill-fated Super Bowl trip.
Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, who appears determined to set all kinds of new records even if he can’t match Brady’s seven Super Bowl rings, was 23 in his first Super Bowl trip. At 27, he’s going for a third time.
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers surely looked like he had many Super Bowl trips ahead of him when he brought the Packers to Arlington at age 26. That was 12 seasons ago. Now the Packers are thinking about trading him.
Historically, the great ones got to Super Bowls quickly — Joe Montana (25), Terry Bradshaw (26), John Elway (26). Same for Joe Namath making AFL history (25).
What does any of this really mean for Prescott? Nothing more than he is swimming against the considerable tide of history. Success comes early for most, but not all, of the league’s outstanding quarterbacks. With Prescott turning 30 in July, if you prefer not to think of this as his Matt Ryan Phase, consider Hall of Famer Peyton Manning or future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. Both were 30 when they finally made it to a Super Bowl.
Manning and Brees are superior players to emulate, for sure. But it should be mentioned that Manning took the Colts to a conference championship game in the 2003 season when he was 27. Brees did the same for New Orleans in 2006. They had a running start that Prescott lacks.
We don’t know who will serve as Prescott’s third offensive coordinator, following Scott Linehan and Kellen Moore. We do know that head coach Mike McCarthy intends to call plays once again, and that’s what he was doing when Green Bay made it to Arlington 12 years ago to beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
Right now I think Cowboys fans would settle for that first visit to a conference championship game since “Braveheart” won a Best Picture Oscar. Surely it helps that most of the talented young quarterbacks compete in the AFC. It doesn’t hurt that one playoff competitor (Brady) at least tiptoed into retirement Wednesday.
But the 2022 season was all about another youngster establishing himself as the man to beat in the NFC. Hurts figures to be a problem for the Cowboys for several years to come. Now it’s left to Dak to prove himself by joining a more unlikely Super Bowl club.