At the start of Netflix’s eight-part documentary, Quarterback executive producer Peyton Manning says that he feels there is no harder position in sports than being a point man running an NFL offense. Manning had a storied 18-year career, including winning two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos, five NFL MVPs, and being known as one of the greatest tacticians the game has ever seen. It’s a lot of weight to carry on your shoulders to know that eleven other men look to you for guidance – knowing the fate of a particular game or entire season rests on your decisions.
One of the main reasons this documentary is so engaging, besides the access and approaching this view of the 2022-2023 season from different facets of the game, are the subjects themselves. We get to see three quarterbacks at different stages of their careers mired in different expectations. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is arguably the face of the league and ascending to legendary conversations in only six seasons. Kirk Cousins has always been considered a good quarterback, but there were questions surrounding his elite status and whether he could take the Minnesota Vikings to that next level.
Lastly, there is Marcus Mariotta, who was looking for a second chance at a starting job with the Atlanta Falcons after being benched with the Tennesee Titans and backing up Derek Carr with the Las Vegas Raiders for two years. Of course, there are different levels of success, and ultimately, Mahomes and the Chiefs’ story would conclude with a Super Bowl LVI win against the Philadelphia Eagles. But all three stories told in this documentary feel important. Not only do the audience and sports lovers alike get the players mic’ed up on the field during games, but we also get to see each of these men at home with their families.
That’s where Quarterback excels as the personal stories serve as a bridge to the stories on the field. With Cousins, not only is he competitive, but he’s a very family-oriented guy. His wife Julie mentions picking out his clothes for home games and shopping at Target and Sam’s Club. His preparation extends to having a day off reading books and spending time with loved ones so he doesn’t lose himself off the field. It’s a different story once he’s locked in – as shown in extended fashion when the Vikings pulled off the largest comeback in NFL history against the Indianapolis Colts. in a week 15 matchup after being down 33-0.
Even as the Vikings ascended, the chatter about Cousins continued, which he acknowledges at points. For Mariotta, it was to regain the promise he has the second overall pick of the 2015 draft. Even with new starts, things aren’t guaranteed – Mariotta got a chance to show his stuff, but with the Falcons drafting Desmond Ridder in the fourth round that year, the clock is ticking. It may not seem Mahomes had any roadblocks. Still, there were questions about the Chiefs losing Tyreek Hill and how he would measure up against talented rival quarterbacks like Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen and Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow (at that point, Mahomes had not beaten Burrow). In particular, you see his passionate side in a week five matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders.
With Quarterback, specific themes are shown to give you a better look at what this job entails. There’s the body maintenance aspect, even as the game has changed the rules to protect the quarterback position better. While the Chiefs were on their Super Bowl run, Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain. Cousins has to deal with a rib injury that looked extremely painful. There are also the cerebral aspects of learning the playbook and reading coverages to find weak points in the defense. None of this is explained in a way that non-football fans can’t understand – it’s engaging in how the audience sees each player's preparation.
Without showing too many tricks of his trade, Mahomes gives everybody a peak of how the Chiefs improvise and tweak play calls. A documentary like this could have easily been a uniform, drab experience, but you come out of it looking at these players as whole people. It’s not only the team family you get to see them interact with – it’s their families and friends. All three men must balance being husbands and fathers on top of being the point man in the huddle every game.
At best, this series is a good entryway into the upcoming football season in a documentary field looking to humanize the athletes we cheer for during their respective seasons. It takes a lot to go back onto the field after being knocked around by 300+ pound men who move as fast as you do – somehow, these men are wired to do just that while walking a tightrope of their professions and home life.