The defeat of the New England Patriots brought the season of the great quarterbacks to a close. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers were ushered to the sidelines by younger, less heralded signal callers. Drew Brees, and Eli Manning never made it to the big dance, ousted by young, extremely talented newcomers like RGIII, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck.
While strength of schedule may have helped push out the Giants, and weak schedule might have made the Patriots look better than the really are, each of the great quarterback teams is severely challenged in the free agent/salary cap era.
When Eli Manning is absorbing $20 million per season it is difficult to assemble the full cast of characters needed to support the quarterbacks efforts. Despite having arguably the greatest quarterback of the last 20 years, the Patriots were unable to overcome weakness in the secondary and the inability to run the ball against a physical Ravens defense. The Giants are also hamstrung in the secondary and at linebacker and have limited ability to fix all of their needs through the draft or free agency.
Great quarterbacks, like the Mannings, Rodgers and Brady, can overwhelm the mediocre teams in the league, but when faced with an opponent that has the ability to build through the offensive and defensive lines and to establish a deeper, more rounded receiving, running back and secondary, the roster weaknesses created by the salary cap become obvious.
The 49ers, with dominant offensive and defensive lines, great linebackers, tight end and running back, made it to the NFC championship with a caretaker quarterback last season. Add a new and dynamic young Kaepernick to the mix and the 49ers become a dominant team.
The aging Ravens were still able to out physical the Patriots with superior defensive line, linebacker and secondary play, and have enough playmakers around Joe Flacco to enable their trip to the Superbowl.
Belichick and Coughlin can only go so far with smoke and mirrors, low cost free agents and young players. Perhaps a healthy Rob Gronkowski would have made last night's game closer, but the Patriots could not stop the Ravens in second half and could not move against their defense.
I wonder when some of the older quarterbacks will realize hat being the highest paid player in the league may soothe the ego, but that their legacy will be written by playoff victories and Superbowl rings that come from spreading the wealth throughout a more balanced and deeper roster.