For some quarterbacks, the end of the season is sweet release from the stinging pain of indignity: they won't be subjected to sucking each week in front of 70,000 people; they won't be called out by their fans in the supermarket; and they won't get cut in line at Burger King by snot-nosed 8-year-old boys wearing the back-up quarterback's jersey.
But for other quarterbacks, the end of the regular season is a new beginning. For some, the postseason lies ahead, and with it a chance to put up big numbers, win big games and hone their legacies like Michelangelo chipping away at marble for us to marvel through the ages.
Here's a look at those quarterbacks riding off into the playoffs in style, and those riding off into the sunset of the 2009 season and, perhaps, of their careers as pro football players.
Week 17's Top Four: Riding off into the playoffs
– Sure, his clutch season-ending effort came against a Giants team that folded its tents faster than Bedouins escaping a sand storm. But give credit to BrettFavre. Knowing his Favrkings needed a win to potentially nail down a bye and a home playoff game, he completed 80.6 percent of his passes for 316 yards and four TDs in barely three full quarters in a 44-7 wipeout win.
Tony Romo, Cowboys
– In past years, December spelled the end for Romo and his mates. But this year, the Cowboys are galloping into the playoffs in style. Romo hit on 24 of 34 (70.6%) for 311 yard, 2 TD and a 106.4 passer rating in a shutout of the rival Eagles. The effort lifted Dallas to its third straight win and was Romo's third straight week completing more than 64 percent of his passes.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers
– In a game that meant little in the big scheme of things, Green Bay's heir to the throne of BrettFavre ripped up the Arizona defense, completing 21 of 26 passes (80.8%) for 235 yards, 9.0 YPA, 1 TD, 0 INT and a 117.1 passer rating to close out the most effective passing season (103.2 rating) by a Green Bay signal caller since The Greatest Quarterback of All Time
(Bart Starr) posted a 105.0 rating for the Pack in his MVP season of 1966. Rodgers heads into the playoffs supported by the NFL's No. 1 Defensive Hogs
and a chance to erase the memory of What's His Name among Packers fans.
Tom Brady, Patriots – The 2009 regular-season fizzled to an end for the future Hall of Famer. New England lost at Houston, Brady played poorly (186 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 70.4 rating) and he lost his top battery-mate, Wes Welker (perhaps for good), with a freak devestating knee injury. But Brady capped his recovery from his own catastrophic knee injury in 2008 with an AFC East title, NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors (announced Wednesday) and a chance for the best big-game quarterback of his generation to add to his legacy. His 2009 season enhances the legend. A fourth Super Bowl ring would cement it.
Week 17's Bottom Four – Riding off into the sunset
Kyle Orton, Broncos – The Denver quarterback looked like a potential franchise guy for the first six weeks of the season. He looked like the journeyman he's always been the rest of the way. Orton tossed three INTs and posted a measly passer rating of 65.4 in the team's must-win home finale – an embarrassing 44-24 loss to the lowly Chiefs.
JaMarcus Russell, Raiders – Oakland had a chance to win heading into the last game of the year against the 8-7 Ravens. But those hopes ended the moment Russell walked on to replace Charlie Frye in a hail of picks, fumbles and sacks in a 21-13 loss. Russell finishes the year with nine starts, 12 appearances, three TDs, 11 picks, nine fumbles (six lost) and a passer rating of 50.0. At least he knows he needs to get better: Russell skipped the team's final meeting in favor of a trip to Vegas to prove his commitment.
Kyle Boller, Rams – The former first-round draft pick's career probably came to end Sunday, in his last game as the third-string quarterback for one of the worst teams in NFL history. Boller came in to replace ineffective second-stringer and rookie Keith Null, and proved that there wasn't much left in the old tank. Boller completed 4 of 11 for 23 yards (that's 2.1 YPA for those of you keeping score at home), and 0 TD. But at least he didn't throw a pick. Boller ends the year (and perhaps his career) with 899 yards passing, 3 TD, 6 INT and a 61.2 passer rating in seven appearances for the 1-15 Rams.
Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks – The Seahawks represent everything that's ephemeral in the Not For Long League. In 2005, they were the 13-3 NFC champs led by record-setting running back and league MVP Shaun Alexander and Pro Bowl QB Matt Hasselbeck. Alexander's career fizzled in 2006 and he was out of football by the end of 2008. Hasselbeck may soon follow. He completed just 15 of 30 for 175 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and a 65.3 passer rating in the season finale. He ends the year (and, like Boller, perhaps his career) with a very forgettable season for the very forgettable 5-11 Seahawks (17 TD, 17 INT, 75.1 passer rating).