Quarterback attrition is coming in waves

Quarterback attrition is coming in waves

GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: Quarterback attrition is coming in waves
Associated Press
October 15, 2007

Even the Elias Sports Bureau, which can dig out the most arcane of facts, couldn't find this one: have two teams ever played almost an entire game with quarterbacks who weren't on their roster the previous week?

That's what happened in Arizona Sunday, when the venerable Vinny Testaverde, who will turn 44 in 29 days and was on his couch on Long Island a week ago watching the Jets and Giants play, led the Carolina Panthers to a 25-10 win in Arizona.

The Cardinals' QB for most of the game was journeyman Tim Rattay, a career backup signed last Tuesday after being released by Tennessee in September.

Both were part of a weekend in which backup quarterbacks played a major role - in the case of Testaverde and Rattay as backups for backups.

Chicago's Brian Griese and Cleveland's Derek Anderson played because Rex Grossman and Charlie Frye had played their way out of jobs, but the rest were out there because of injuries, an alarmingly high attrition rate given that the season is just six weeks old.

Sunday's injury list included Jake Delhomme, Marc Bulger, Josh McCown, Matt Leinart, David Carr and Trent Green. Kurt Warner and Vince Young were injured during games. Two QBs on teams with bye weeks - San Francisco's Alex Smith and Buffalo's J.P. Losman - might have been out if their teams had played.

Clearly, the most interesting sub is Testaverde.

The Cardinals made overtures to him after Leinart went down with a broken collarbone, and Testaverde was ready to go to Phoenix when Carolina called. He signed with the Panthers because he wanted to stay closer to his New York home and his family.

Good thing for Carolina he did.

The Panthers went into the season seemingly well protected at QB after signing David Carr - who had started all but five games in his five seasons with Houston - to back up Delhomme.

Then Delhomme was lost for the season with an elbow injury and Carr hurt his back last week against New Orleans, leaving undrafted rookie Matt Moore the only healthy QB on the roster. Carr returned to the game against the Saints and seemed ready to play against the Cardinals until his back stiffened up on the plane ride to Phoenix.

Enter Vinny, who was informed Saturday night by coach John Fox that he would start..

``We were at the snack after meetings, and he told me he felt good about it, and I told him I felt good about it too,'' Testaverde said. ``Just dial 'em up and we'll go out there and throw it around.''

Indeed he did, finishing 20-of-33 for 206 yards and a 65-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith in the fourth quarter that put the Panthers up for good.

Obviously, Rattay, who came on for the Cardinals after Warner sprained his left elbow in the first quarter, isn't close in pedigree to Testaverde, who was the No. 1 pick in the 1987 draft and threw a TD pass for the 21st straight season (he had one last year in mop-up duty for New England, which cut him in preseason).

Rattay threw three interceptions in relief of the 36-year-old Warner, who had been part of a platoon with Leinart, but seems best as a part-timer.

When he's started in recent years, Warner has been prone to sacks, which make him prone to both turnovers and injury. He was hurt when sacked by Julius Peppers on Sunday.

On the other hand, among Sunday's casualties was second-year man Vince Young, who pulled a quad muscle, an injury common to the most athletic of quarterbacks, which he certainly is. He underwent an MRI Monday and is listed as day-to-day. The Titans replaced him with their Vinny, Kerry Collins, who will turn 35 on Dec. 30.

Testaverde and Collins, as well as Griese and Miami's Green, who sustained a concussion a week ago and is considering retirement, demonstrate a trend in the NFL: when in doubt, go with experience. The rule holds for a backup or, if necessary, as a starter, as Tampa Bay is doing with 37-year-old Jeff Garcia.

That's because it's always hard to find QBs.

There are two great ones in their prime: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

There are a group of rising young quarterbacks: Carson Palmer, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. There are young prospects: Young, Losman, Smith, Jason Campbell, Jay Cutler and Leinart.

However, other than Delhomme, Donovan McNabb, Marc Bulger, Drew Brees and Matt Hasselbeck, there are few capable starters who are neither young nor old.

So because coaches want experience at the position, older quarterbacks have been starting. Naturally, they are more likely to get hurt.

Baltimore, for example, wants to start Steve McNair, 34, but the Ravens have been using him only part-time because of a nagging groin injury. On Sunday, the less-trusted Kyle Boller played in the 22-3 win over St. Louis, perhaps because it was against the battered and winless Rams, who lost Bulger with two cracked ribs.

Garcia is the starter in Tampa after taking over for an injured McNabb in Philadelphia last season and leading the Eagles to the NFC East title.

There's one exception to the correlation between age and injury - Brett Favre, who just turned 38 and on Sunday started his 243rd consecutive game.

In fact, with the Packers at the top of the NFC and good young talent around him, he might outdo Testaverde.

The way it looks today, Favre could still be starting when he's 43 and over the 300-game mark in consecutive starts.

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