For all the excitement over the electrifying Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield, two of the baby-faced, new-age quarterbacks bringing their spread DNA from college towns to NFL cities, old standbys still stood out in 2018.
“I still see older guys that are making an impact,” said Broncos linebacker Von Miller, one of those seasoned stars who shined in 2018. “I mean, we’re old, but we’re not OLD. The thing is, the young guys are playing at a higher level.”
So are plenty of the “old” guys.
Miller’s 14½ sacks are his most in six seasons and pushed him past Simon Fletcher’s franchise marks for most regular-season sacks in a career (98) and most career sacks including playoffs (104½).
Of course, there were the greybeard quarterbacks benefiting from fewer practices and less pummeling, favorable rules and a league bent on protecting them like the golden geese they are.
Drew Brees will be 40 on Jan. 15, and if things go as he hopes, he’ll be preparing for the Saints, who own the league’s best record at 13-2, to host the NFC championship.
At 37, Philip Rivers is having his best season in a decade and still has a chance this weekend to land the Chargers ahead of Mahomes and the Chiefs in the AFC playoffs.
Ben Roethlisberger, 36, could still steer the slumping Steelers into the playoffs, although they’ve been surpassed by the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens.
And Tom Brady , who was getting college recruiting letters when Mahomes and Mayfield were born in 1995, is starting to show signs he’s 41, but nevertheless has the Patriots positioned for a ninth consecutive first-round bye.
It wasn’t just the better-protected passers who excelled in 2018. Several seasoned position players showed the kids a thing or two, including vintage running backs Adrian Peterson, 33, Frank Gore, 35, and Darren Sproles, 35.
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri , who turns 46 this week, surpassed Morten Andersen’s all-time mark for field goals in September, and a month later broke Andersen’s NFL career points record.
Providing the perfect target for Mahomes’ high-flying run-pass-option repertoire is 29-year-old Travis Kelce, who needs 54 receiving yards Sunday against Oakland to break Rob Gronkowski’s single-season record for tight ends of 1,327.
Last week, Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz, 28, surpassed Jason Witten’s single-season receptions record for tight ends and now has 113 catches for 1,148 yards.
Twin centers Maurkice and Mike Pouncey had stellar seasons at age 29. Mike, with the Chargers, earned his fourth Pro Bowl, and Maurkice, with the Steelers, earned his seventh.
Miller was one of two Broncos who will be 30 next year who had spectacular seasons even if their team didn’t. Cornerback Chris Harris Jr . had one of his best seasons following Aqib Talib’s trade before breaking his right leg earlier this month. He said he’ll return to play in the Pro Bowl alongside Miller, the game’s reigning MVP.
“For my 11 games, shoot, I had stats that some people barely have in a full season,” Harris said. “I feel like this is one of my best seasons.”
He can’t believe next season will be his ninth, either.
“Oh man, I really feel young, though. I’m not even looking at it as the years or anything like that. I’m just looking at how my body feels, and my body feels great,” Harris said. “I’ve invested a lot in it to make sure I can play forever.”
Miller, also completing his eighth NFL season, figures he also has an eternity left.
“I’m not even halfway through yet,” he said.
As the president of the pass-rushing fraternity , Miller scans the NFL landscape and smiles at some of the seasons his brethren are having.
Khalil Mack , 27, invigorated the Chicago Bears and led them to their first playoff appearance in eight years. J.J. Watt , 29, came back from an injury-riddled 2017 season to help lead the Texans’ resurgence. And Aaron Donald , 27, signed a $135 million deal on the eve of the season, then quickly made it look like a bargain for the Rams by posting a league-leading 19½ sacks.
Other older players who aren’t acting their age yet include:
—Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, 28, who made his eighth Pro Bowl.
—Falcons receiver Julio Jones, 29, and center Alex Mack, 33.
—Ravens free safety Eric Weddle, 33, and guard Marshall Yanda, 34.
—Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins, 30.
—Cowboys 28-year-old O-linemen Zack Martin and Tyron Smith.
—Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, 35, who has 25 touchdown throws and only two interceptions, and linebacker Clay Matthews, 32.
—Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, 29.
—Steelers speedy receiver Antonio Brown, 30.
—Titans punter Brett Kern, 32.
—And Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, 28, who led Seattle’s revitalized defense after the “Legion of Boom” was broken up.
Source: The Associated Press