Former NFL MVP Cam Newton came under fire last month after naming four active quarterbacks “game managers” he believes cannot elevate their respective teams’ ceilings on his YouTube show “4th & 1.” However, based on the performances of those signal-callers in this season’s playoffs so far, perhaps there was some truth to Newton’s assessments.
Here’s how the four quarterbacks Newton talked about have fared since his comments and whether the title was justified for each.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Prescott, the most controversial name Newton mentioned at the time this particular episode of “4th & 1” was released, was viewed as a leading candidate for MVP honors after his blistering start to the season. Despite throwing for an NFL-leading 36 touchdowns to only nine interceptions while racking up 4,516 passing yards, it’s fair to say Prescott is the “game manager” Newton has dubbed him.
Time and time again, Prescott and Dallas roll through the regular season only to have memes of floppy disks containing pictures from their latest Super Bowl win go viral before we even reach conference championship weekend. The 2023 regular season was no different, as the Cowboys finished 12-5 (3-4 against winning teams) before getting steamrolled by Green Bay in the wild-card round.
The box score might indicate that the Cowboys — and Prescott — were more competitive than they were against Green Bay, but it was evident that the three-time Pro Bowler’s two interceptions contributed significantly to their loss. Overall, Prescott finished Sunday’s game with 403 yards, three touchdowns and the two aforementioned INTs. Prescott is now 2-5 in his playoff career, which is already a worse mark than that of his predecessor, Tony Romo (2-4), and heads into the offseason facing questions about his future in Dallas.
Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
To Newton’s credit, he deemed Goff “an elite game manager” whose ability to manage a game makes the Lions an extremely difficult team to beat. Although the entire body of work of the 2016 No. 1 overall pick’s career suggests that Newton’s evaluation is relatively accurate, Goff has blossomed into a top quarterback since the Rams sent him to waste away in Detroit. And unlike Prescott, Goff is a quarterback a team can feel comfortable building around.
While his stellar play in Sunday’s revenge-filled wild-card win over Los Angeles (22-of-27 passing, 277 yards, one touchdown) might make this claim seem impulsive, Goff’s been performing at an elite level since last season. Goff has a 21-7 record as a starter over his last 28 games, including the playoffs, throwing for the second-most yards (7,386) and touchdowns (48) in that span with only 13 interceptions. Additionally, the 29-year-old’s four career playoff wins are tied for the second-most among active quarterbacks since he debuted.
Even so, without another deep playoff run, it might be hard for Goff to fully shake the “game manager” accusations, especially since he was disappointing in Super Bowl LIII. Nevertheless, if he does so with the Lions, who not too long ago suffered a 15-game winless streak, Newton and many others should consider Goff elite without adding “game manager.”
VERDICT: Not justified
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Fox Sports analyst Emmanuel Acho might consider Justin Herbert a “social media quarterback,” but Miami surely wishes it had drafted him instead of Tagovailoa in the 2020 NFL Draft. Tagovailoa will still likely play under his fifth-year option before signing a long-term extension, though he may have cost himself more in future earnings than any quarterback who played on Super Wild Card Weekend.
Just one season after a heartbreaking 34-31 road playoff loss to Buffalo while starting third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson, the Dolphins mustered just seven points at Arrowhead Stadium with Tagovailoa at the helm. Tagovailoa, the league’s leading passer this season, completed just 51.3% of his passes for 199 yards, one touchdown and one interception against Kansas City. The disastrous outing reinforced the notion that he and the Dolphins are not capable of defeating the NFL’s top teams, which already had plenty of evidence to back it up.
As pointed out by ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, Miami finished 1-6 when facing teams with a winning record this season, averaging 15.1 points per game compared to its 10-1 record against losing teams while scoring 35.5 ppg. Of course, football is a team sport, yet this highlights how Tagovailoa fails to step up when it matters most. If he’s not getting it done with a top-three supporting cast in terms of skill position talent, it’s extremely difficult to argue that Tagovailoa is anything more than a game manager.
Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers
While Purdy didn’t play in the wild-card round due to San Francisco clinching a bye, his performance down the stretch leaves room for concern that he might be a game manager. In three games since Newton’s comments, Purdy has posted a 2-1 record as a starter, throwing for 727 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. Both of his wins and all six of his TDs came over the lowly Commanders and Cardinals, while his lone loss and four interceptions notably took place in San Francisco’s 33-19 Week 16 loss to Baltimore.
Even so, since Purdy has already overcome such improbable odds in his two-year career and has still won every playoff game he’s been healthy enough to finish, it seems unfair to deem him merely a game manager. But now that he’s healthy, we should get a clearer picture of who Purdy is and what he’s capable of during this postseason run.