It's part of the coachspeak handbook originated, we think, by Bill Parcells 20 years ago when he said of a promising rookie: ``Don't put him in Canton yet.''
Tony Romo, who had been deified for four weeks, demonstrated the truth of that adage Monday night when he threw five interceptions and lost a fumble in Buffalo.
Writers and broadcasters, Al Michaels in particular, have long put players in Canton who aren't even good enough to make the first ballot. Remember, please, that young quarterbacks are unfinished products, often prone to roller-coaster rides - great one week, horrible the next. Or, as the middle-aged (for quarterbacks) Drew Brees is demonstrating this season, some can be great one year, horrible the next.
Right now, there are three great quarterbacks in the NFL - just three. In order of seniority: Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. And that's despite Brett's very Favreian interception last Sunday night that probably cost the Packers a win against the Bears.
In the wings: Cincinnati's Carson Palmer.
Behind them is a group of younger guys who may someday be in the Favre-Manning-Brady class, but more likely will not be. All may be good to excellent, but not Hall of Fame worthy.
In no particular order:
- Tony Romo, Dallas. Romo proved a lot of positive things Monday night after his meltdown of five interceptions, two returned for touchdowns, and a lost fumble. Some young quarterbacks never recover from such outings. Romo not only recovered, he led the Cowboys back from a 24-13 deficit to a 25-24 win.
Romo has been compared to Favre. But his game in Buffalo was more like John Elway, who folks remember for his last-minute winning drives. What they don't remember is that quite of few came in games in which Elway was ordinary to awful in the first three quarters.
No, Romo is not Elway, who IS in Canton. But we're likely to see more of the Romo from the season's first four games than the Romo of the first three quarters in Buffalo.
``It's just experiences you go through,'' he said this week. ``You see things differently and as you experience them, you start to process information in your brain and you store it away for the future on some of the mistakes that you made and you say, 'You know, why did I do that?' And then you go back, you fix it. It's a process that you go through as a younger quarterback. You obviously hope to not have too many of those games, but it's something where it's not always going to go smoothly.''
Intelligent comment. Recognizing the problem is one way to fix it.
- Vince Young, Tennessee. His immense talent and last season's finish, when he went 8-5 as a starter and led a team headed for 4-12 to 8-8, had people putting him in Canton.
Not yet, please, as Young demonstrated last week against a bad Atlanta team at home, when he threw three interceptions and almost gave the game away. Then the Falcons' Joey Harrington returned the favor.
Young's physical talent makes him the most likely candidate for elite status. Jeff Fisher and offensive coordinator Norm Chow are as good a coaching combination as he could get. Beyond that, if college trends reach the NFL and running becomes more a part of a QBs game, Young is perfectly equipped for it.
d a round or two lower.
He's only made 11 starts, far too few to make any definitive judgment. But he's 3-1 this season and seems to be a much better prospect than Patrick Ramsey, the last QB the Redskins used a late first-rounder on.
- The 2004 Troika of Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh; Philip Rivers, San Diego; Eli Manning, New York Giants.
Roethlisberger is another example of anointing a guy before he's ready. He was wonderful his first season, won a Super Bowl in his second, then slipped back last season because of injury and illness. This year, he's doing what he should in a run-based offense, minimizing mistakes as he learns it's OK to punt when you have one of the NFL's best defenses on your side.
Rivers sat for two years, then started last season and was an instant success, completing 61.7 percent of his passes, throwing for 22 TDs with just nine interceptions and making the Pro Bowl. This year, the coaching staff is new, the Chargers are struggling and until last week, Rivers was pretty bad. Will he ever be great? Right now, he has LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates. If they're not there, maybe he's just good. Or maybe he's ordinary. Most likely, he's very good.
Manning has endured a triple burden few players could handle:
1. He's constantly compared to Peyton. He's not his brother and never will be.
2. The Giants gave up multiple draft picks to San Diego to get him. One of those picks turned into Shawne Merriman and another into Nate Kaeding. New York could have gotten either Rivers or Roethlisberger with its own pick and would likely be as well or better off with either.
3. He plays in New York, where as soon as the baseball season ends, everything he does is under a hypercritical media microscope. He has the added burden of ex-teammate Tiki Barber bloviating weekly on the Giants, and a huge media contingent to play the Eli-Tiki game.
With all that, he really is pretty good, among the top dozen QBs in the NFL, if not higher. He is erratic, not as accurate as he should be and still throws inexcusable interceptions, as he did at the end of the first half last week against the Jets. But he is surprisingly agile (only five sacks this year) and usually better in the second half, when he has pulled off several late Elwayesque wins. Throw out 2004, when he lost his first six starts, and he is 22-15 in the regular season on a team with only slightly better than average talent and an often dysfunctional locker room.
Romo, Roethlisberger, Rivers and Manning all are at points in their careers where they can get better. So can Campbell. Young, in his second year, can get much better.
But nothing is guaranteed, as Michael Vick's career demonstrates.
Forget Vick's current off-field problems and look at his performance.
He was the first overall pick in 2001, a great gate attraction and an incredible athlete. But has he ever been a top-drawer NFL quarterback? Not really.
Yes, he rushed for nearly 4,000 yards in six seasons, but his passer rating was a pedestrian 75.7 and he had just 71 TD passes, an average of 12 per season, four fewer than Brady has in five games this year.
So don't put anyone in Canton yet. Not until five years after his career has ended and he is elected to the Hall of Fame.
---
DIRTY DOZEN: The top six and bottom six teams based on current level of play:
1. New England (5-0). No one is close right now.
2. Indianapolis (5-0). A 19-point win without Harrison, Addai and Sanders is pretty impressive.
3. Dallas (5-0). Throw out the Buffalo game.
4. Pittsburgh (4-1). Looked like the Steel Curtain against Seattle.
5. Green Bay (4-1). The Chicago loss was one that was due, although it should have been a win.
6. Jacksonville (3-1). Allowed just 41 points in four games.

27. Buffalo (1-4). Nice tries don't really count.
28. Denver (2-3). Two seconds away from being 0-5.
29. Atlanta (1-4). Had a plus-4 turnover differential in Tennessee and still lost.
30. New Orleans (0-5). Brees' passer rating is 57.4.
31. St. Louis (0-5). Snowballing injuries on a team that wasn't good when healthy. 32. Miami (0-5). And now the Dolphins turn to Cleo Lemon.

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