The first week of football is constantly full of surprises, from upsets to injuries, but few were as large as Jameis Winston owning the Atlanta Falcons. He began the game going 3-7 with an interception, but then turned it on from the second quarter on ending up with 281 yards, four touchdown passes to four different receivers, and a QB rating of 122.1. Just like that the Bucs are starting the season atop the NFC South and Jameis Winston seems like his second year is not going to be influenced by any type of regression.
So that leads us to some bad news for some columnists out there that adore to rely on a certain trope, particularly in football: there is no such thing as a sophomore slump for quarterbacks. Yes, anecdotally, Cam Newton may not have been good in year two, but, mathematically, it checks out that the sophomore slump is basically a terrifying story. It’s the beast under the bed of a football enthusiast.
In 2012, the numbers were crunched. The overall findings were that the sophomore slump was a real thing, statistically, until the 1980s, but hadn’t been true since (great work, 1984 Dan Marino). The writer, Scott Kacsmar of the study, concluded:
“That is the NFL today. Rookies now have expectations, because they can be met by them. There’s no sophomore slump. This is the year you take it to the next level, because that’s what you are supposed to do.”
Names like Mike Glennon and Zach Mettenberger were not great in year two, but they were not placing the world on fire as rookies either. The crack at year two of Matt McGloin disappeared the first time Derek Carr put on his Raider gear. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl in Russell Wilson’s second season, and his advancement was a part of that, surely. Andrew Luck has been carrying the Colts on his battered body since Day 1. Ryan Tannehill is a mini Andrew Luck.
He might turn things around in Cleveland, although injuries derailed the second year of Robert Griffin III as much as anything – of course he needs to get over his latest injury for that. Blake Bortles threw three times as many touchdowns in his second year. Of recent year two disappointments, Nick Foles and Geno Smith, their drawbacks were a mix of market correction (Foles came out of nowhere, NFL defenses were not unprepared the next season) and madness (J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets). However, as a group, that is marked progress.
So, what is the prognosis for the two quarterbacks who fit the bill for the rest of the 2016 season: Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston?
Winston’s a safe bet to see continuing development, and if Week 1 is any indicator, he’ll be a celebrity before Election Day. Continuity like that is how quarterbacks are developed by franchises.
It helps that the Bucs offense was in the league’s top five last year. Doug Martin should continue to take some pressure off of Winston and, if he can stay healthy, bounced back. Winston was sacked less than two times a game last season, and by most observations, the line’s gotten more athletic and better. The final tally from Sunday: Jameis’s jersey stayed quite clean. The offense raised its tempo this preseason with very promising results and that success continued in Week 1. If it can be kept together by Roberto Aguayo, the Bucs’ offense will be good enough to keep them in every game and let them make a run at a wild card position.
Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota’s 2016 advent was basically his rookie year in a nutshell after a first season filled with ups and downs. He torched Winston and the Bucs in the first game of 2015 for four touchdowns and a perfect quarterback rating, but he ended the season with his second MCL sprain (the two injuries restricted him to 12 games). In Week 1, playing in just his 13th game, Mariota played extremely well, throwing for 271 yards and two scores while completing over sixty-one percent of his passes. His one mistake was a killer though: a pick-six on a play he tried to push that pretty much sealed the match for the Vikings. There was enough there though to believe that Mariota’s going to prevent the dreaded sophomore slump label too, though.
The sophomore slump may only exist anecdotally, but if it happens to Mariota, it won’t be his fault—unless you think folks can command the ligaments in their knees.