Rookies for the win! Through Sunday, NFL rookie quarterbacks have led their teams to 22 wins. The record for a year is 23, a mark that will almost definitely be tied next week when the Dolphins and rookie QB Ryan Tannehill play the Seahawks and rookie Russell Wilson.
More than any year in memory, rookies are breaking out across the NFL. Here are the four rookies that impressed us the most this week:
1. Robert Griffin III, Washington: Look out "Tebowing," here comes "Griffining." Washington fans love RGIII and his post-touchdown celebration move is approaching fad-status. After long touchdown passes, Griffin has been seen in a sprawled-out, snow-angel-like position as a celebration, dubbed "Griffining" by hometown fans. Griffin electrified fans early in the year before suffering a concussion in early October and some rough games in November when he was famously betrayed as much by his receivers (nine drops against Pittsburgh!) as by his talent.
He was back in electrifying form Sunday, shredding the hapless Eagles for 200 yards and four touchdowns on 14 for 15 passing, a combination that through NFL statistical alchemy translates to a "quarterback rating" of 158.3, the highest-possible score (and, no, nobody understands it). Griffin's perfect game was just the NFL's 11th in the last 10 years, and his 84 yards rushing were, by far, the most ever in a "perfect" game.
2. Andrew Luck, Colts: The Colts' game with New England was billed as a changing of the guard among elite quarterbacks, from the Patriots' Tom Brady to Luck. Unfortunately, Brady isn't ready to go off-duty. Brady's Patriots hammered the Colts, 59 - 24. Luck's stats were impressive, but flawed: He threw for 334 yards and two touchdowns on 27 for 50 passing, but also three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Still, Luck managed some NFL history: It was his fifth game of more than 300 passing yards, the most for a rookie in NFL history. And anyone looking to see the future of the NFL got a glimpse of it early in the third quarter when, with the game still within reach, Luck delivered a play only he could pull off.
Trailing 31 - 17 and facing third-and-12 at his own 18-yard line, Luck spotted fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton breaking free downfield just as 6-foot-2-inch, 260-pound Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich caught Luck by the jersey and wrapped his arms around the rookie's waist.
Luck not only didn't go down as Ninkovich clung to him, he took two steps forward, pumped the ball and delivered a perfect 16-yard pass to Hilton. The best Ninkovich could claim was that Luck's spiral was a little wobbly. Simply put, normal quarterbacks don't wear linebackers. But Luck, at 6 feet 4inches tall and weighing in at 235 pounds, is no normal QB. As Ninkovich can attest, there may be no holding him back.
3. Justin Blackmon, Jaguars: Prior to Sunday, Blackmon had a paltry 250 yards receiving in his first nine games, but almost matched that Sunday, catching seven passes for 235 yards against the Houston Texans, including an 81-yard touchdown catch. The Texans had been the No. 3 team in the NFL against the pass, though their defense might be forgiven for being a step slow against the previously-awful Jaguars after a Monday Night slugfest with Chicago six days earlier.
4. Doug Martin, Buccaneers: Martin has rushed for 1,000 yards in his rookie season, the third best in the NFL, including a 251-yard, four-touchdown explosion against the Raiders two weeks ago. Sunday, he powered the Bucs through a fourth quarter comeback over Carolina with 138 yards.
Two Things You Must Know for Your Monday Night Football Party
1. Ouch! Head Injuries: Sorry to get all serious, but there's no other topic to discuss for tonight's Bears-Niners than this one: concussion. 2012 is the NFL's Year of Concussions and this game might be its Super Bummer Bowl. Both teams' starting quarterbacks—the Bears' Jay Cutler and the Niners' Alex Smith—were knocked out of games last week with concussions, the highest profile of at least nine players to suffer concussion last weekend. Cutler is still out and Smith's status was questionable all week, though it looks like he will play. Concussions and other head injuries have dominated NFL off-field news this year as former players launched lawsuits against the league related to head injuries in their playing days amid mounting medical evidence that concussions cause long-term brain damage. Several untimely deaths of former players, some by suicide including Hall of Famer Junior Seau last spring, have brought the topic to a boiling point in NFL circles.
2. It's Going to Rain: Like we said, bummer of a game.