Friday, November 24, 2006

Year of the Second-String QB

Job security of NFL quarterbacks has always been a fragile thing, but has the revolving door of starting QBs ever been this active in one season? Yesterday on Thanksgiving, we were treated to three games, and in each, the winning quarterbacks had started only 7, 5, and 3 games respectively.

Detroit Lions reject Joey Harrington came back to his former home and led the Dolphins to a convincing 27-10 victory over his old team. It was Harrington's fourth straight win as starter, something he never did as Lions QB, improving his record to 4-3 as starter after taking over for the ineffective Daunte Culpepper.

After his near-flawless 5 TD effort against the hapless Buccaneers, Cowboy QB Tony Romo is now officially the hottest quantity in the NFL, and has ascended to rock star status in Dallas, much to the dismay of Bill Parcells. He is now 4-1 as starter, and his insertion into the starting lineup has given the Cowboys a new identity, as an exciting offensive team that is a threat to score on any given play.

And finally, Trent Green, who was projected to be the Chiefs starter going into the season, got his his second win since coming back from a horrific concussion in the opening game against the Bengals. And while he looks to be Kansas City's starter the rest of the way, backup QB Damon Huard was integral in keeping the Chiefs season alive after an 0-2 start, by going an impressive 5-3 in his time at the helm.

This season, 11 teams have turned to quarterbacks who were not projected to be their starters to start a game for them. The erstwhile second-string QBs have gone 28-31 for a winning percentage of .474. That may not sound impressive, but the quarterbacks who were replaced have gone 20-37, a percentage of only .350. And not to rag on Andrew Walter too much, but 6 of the 31 losses by the "backups" were by the Raiders' Walter, who has been hamstrung by an outdated offensive system and a subpar offensive line.

Several of the QB moves have very possibly signaled the end of the road as a starter for the benched signal caller. Drew Bledsoe of the Cowboys, Mark Brunell of the Redskins, Kurt Warner of the Cardinals, and Kerry Collins of the Titans may now be relegated to sideline status for the rest of their careers. This means of course, that most of the QB changes have been successes - Romo, Vince Young of the Titans, and Arizona's Matt Leinart are now entrenched as starters, while Washington's Jason Campbell will likely get to that point soon.

Then there are the quarterbacks who have stepped in at least in part because of injury. Bruce Gradkowski of the Bucs has been OK as starter, but he has played well enough to at least merit a debate as to whether he should be the #1 QB again next year. Harrington and David Garrard of the Jags were inserted partly because of injuries to the opening-day QBs, but are likely to stick in the lineup for the long-term because they've just been plain better than Culpepper and Byron Leftwich respectively.

Now, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady shouldn't be looking over their shoulders, but this season has shown that the level of talent in the NFL, in this case at the quarterback position is so evenly matched, that no starter should take his job for granted, regardless of past accomplishment and/or contract status.

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