Veteran quarterbacks throw off age with yardage to spare It was good ole season for Cunningham & Co.; NFL year in review

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Chris Chandler spoke for quarterbacks everywhere -- but especially young ones -- when he addressed the difficult learning curve in the NFL last October.

"The best thing for the young guys is to let them make mistakes," he said back then. "It might be painful, but they'll be better in the long run."

Chandler, 33, should know. He lived through the harsh, formative years as a young, struggling quarterback. Ten years and five teams after he debuted with the Indianapolis Colts as a third-round draft pick, he enjoyed a career year with the Atlanta Falcons this season.

He threw for 25 touchdown passes, won 13 of 14 starts and joined a select group of recycled, 30-something quarterbacks who magically transformed their careers.

In a season of brutal officiating, loutish behavior and an unprecedented coaching purge, the reclamation of veteran quarterbacks Vinny Testaverde, Randall Cunningham, Doug Flutie and Chandler was easily the redeeming quality to 1998 for the NFL.

Those quarterbacks, ranging in age from 33 to 36, account for three of the top four seeds in this year's Super Bowl tournament: Cunningham, 35, guided the Minnesota Vikings to the No. 1 seed in the NFC. He won 13 of 14 starts this year after Brad Johnson broke his right fibula, just two years after he sat out the 1996 season, unwanted by any NFL team. In an MVP performance, Cunningham threw 34 touchdown passes and led the league with a 106.0 passer efficiency rating.

Chandler led the Falcons to their first division title since 1980 and a No. 2 seed in the NFC. Traded to Atlanta in 1997, he had a Pro Bowl season a year ago before taking his game -- and the Falcons' -- to a new level.

Testaverde, 35, signed by the New York Jets last June after being cut by the Ravens, won the starting job in Week 7. The Jets lost just once since then to claim the No. 2 seed in the AFC behind Denver. Testaverde broke Joe Namath's team record with 29 touchdown passes, threw only seven interceptions and led the AFC in passing.

Flutie, 36, returned from an eight-year run in the CFL to win Buffalo's starting job in Week 7. He went 7-3 as a starter to send the Bills into the playoffs as the AFC's No. 5 seed after an 0-3 start. He threw for 20 touchdowns and ranked fifth among AFC passers.

As the regular season fades away, here are some observations about 1998 and beyond.

Quarterback roulette

As unique as the circumstances were for the above-mentioned quarterbacks, there are several more intriguing possibilities who will be recycled in the off-season.

Among those veterans expected to become available are Warren Moon of the Seattle Seahawks, Scott Mitchell of the Detroit Lions, Neil O'Donnell of the Cincinnati Bengals, Kerry Collins of the New Orleans Saints, Rich Gannon of the Kansas City Chiefs, Gus Frerotte of the Washington Redskins and Bobby Hoying of the Philadelphia Eagles.

But the two who might make the biggest splash in another uniform are Minnesota's Brad Johnson and St. Louis' Tony Banks. With two years left on a four-year, $15.5 million contract, Johnson no longer fits under the same salary cap with Cunningham's new five-year deal worth $5.5 million per year. And the talented but erratic Banks may have worn out his welcome with the Rams.

No replay, no justice

How bad was the officiating in 1998? Bad enough down the stretch that the NFL convened an emergency session to consider restoring instant replay for the playoffs. The idea was rejected, but replay should make a return in 1999. Here are three reasons why:

Week 7: The Colts lost two end-zone interceptions to incorrect defensive holding calls in a game at San Francisco. Both penalties set up touchdowns that fueled the 49ers' come-from-behind 34-31 win. The league later acknowledged the bad calls.

Week 13: Walt Coleman's crew made two incredibly bad calls in the waning moments at New England that allowed the Patriots to steal a 25-21 win over the Bills. The most grievous mistake came on a fourth-down pass to Shawn Jefferson. It was ruled complete and kept a drive alive even though Jefferson was clearly short of the first-down marker and came down out of bounds. The league acknowledged the mistakes.

Week 14: Testaverde was awarded a 5-yard touchdown run to beat Seattle, 32-31, when only his helmet reached the goal line. It was good enough for head linesman Earnie Frantz, who mistook the white helmet for the brown ball. Again, the league acknowledged the error.

The result of those three incidents is that San Francisco plays Green Bay at home in this week's wild-card game rather than in frosty Wisconsin, and that the Patriots are in the postseason rather than the Seahawks.

The dishonor roll

Then there was the egregious conduct of several so-called stars. The lowlights:

Carolina linebacker Kevin Greene attacked his position coach, Kevin Steele, in the heat of a sideline conversation.

Kansas City linebacker Derrick Thomas drew three personal foul penalties before Marty Schottenheimer pulled him in a 30-7 trouncing by the Broncos.

Packers coach Mike Holmgren cursed out a Green Bay fan on his way to the locker room at halftime against the Eagles.

Carolina running back Fred Lane grabbed his crotch in a vulgar celebration after scoring a touchdown in the Meadowlands.

Cincinnati safety Tremain Mack was sentenced to 356 days in jail -- in the middle of the season -- for violating parole with a drunk-driving charge.

The Saints were guilty of a hazing incident in training camp that required medical treatment for several players, among them rookie tight end Cam Cleeland.

San Diego quarterback Ryan Leaf well, his indiscretions are too numerous to mention.

The rushing revolution

Denver's Terrell Davis became the fourth running back in NFL history to gain 2,000 yards this season (finishing with 2,008), but it was a record season in more ways than that.

There were a total of 20 players (11 from the AFC) who ran for at least 1,000 yards this year. That breaks the NFL's previous high of 16 players, accomplished four years, the last in 1997.

Even in a passing era, the importance of the running game is inescapable. Teams that had 100-yard rushers this season won 102 games and lost only 36. Contrast that to 300-yard passing games. Teams with 300-yard passers won 27 times and lost 24.

Mr. Perfection

The Broncos proved they weren't perfect this year, but the Vikings' Gary Anderson was. The 17-year veteran became the first kicker in league history not to miss a field goal (35) or extra point (59) the entire season.

Anderson, who holds the NFL record with 420 career field goals, also set the single-season scoring record with 164 points,

breaking the old mark of 161 by Washington's Mark Moseley in 1983.

And Anderson holds the regular-season record for most consecutive field goals made. He's at 40 right now, nine past Fuad Reveiz's old standard of 31.

Downsizing

For the fifth time in the last three years, an NFL team decided it was time to move. Having exhausted his patience over #i negotiations with Boston officials, Patriots owner Robert Kraft reached a tentative agreement on Nov. 19 to relocate his team to a proposed $350 million stadium in Hartford, Conn.

The deal was approved by the Connecticut legislature this month, and the Patriots will formally play in Hartford in 2001.

That leaves the NFL without teams in Boston, Los Angeles and Houston. But the league did keep a team in Buffalo when the Bills reached a prescribed goal of $11 million in premium-seat sales in early December.

That released $63 million in state funds for Rich Stadium, which was quickly renamed Ralph Wilson Stadium. Wilson, the team owner, then signed a 15-year lease to stay in Buffalo.

The rookie review

There is no denying the star quality of the Class of '98, starting, of course, with Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss, certain to win Rookie of the Year honors.

Selected with the 21st pick in the first round -- 19 teams passed him over, including Cincinnati twice -- Moss had a rookie-record 17 touchdowns among his 69 catches, and averaged 19 yards per catch.

Moss was not the only home run threat as a rookie, though. Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor, the ninth pick, had touchdown runs of 52, 70 and 77 yards and a scoring reception of 78 yards. With 1,223 rushing yards, Taylor out-gained New England's Robert Edwards (1,115), the 18th pick.

At quarterback, No. 1 pick Peyton Manning was as good as No. 2 Leaf was bad. Manning threw a rookie-record 26 touchdowns for the Colts, and led the league with 28 interceptions. Leaf (two TDs, 15 interceptions) was not even the second-best rookie quarterback. That was Detroit's Charlie Batch, taken 58 picks after Leaf.

Three defensive players who made a big impact as rookies were Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson (five interceptions), Packers defensive end Vonnie Holliday and Arizona defensive end Andre Wadsworth.

On special teams, the Lions' Terry Fair (20th pick) led the NFL with a 28-yard kickoff return average, and Tampa Bay's Jacquez Green (34th) was second in the NFC in punt returns with a 15.1-yard average.

Better late than never

Buffalo's Eric Moulds, the fifth wide receiver taken in the first round of the 1996 draft, had been known more for his kick-return ability than pass-catching skills coming into 1998. In two seasons, he had 49 catches for 573 yards and two touchdowns.

That just made his 1998 season all the more remarkable, though. Hooked up with Flutie this season, Moulds had 67 receptions for an AFC-high 1,368 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 20.4 yards a catch, better, even, than Moss.

The receivers taken ahead of him were Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, Eddie Kennison and Marvin Harrison.

Call it deja vu

In a year when there are six new division champions, it is worth noting that the Broncos won their first Super Bowl on their fifth try last season. Should the Vikings reach Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami next month, it would be their fifth try. And they're still looking for their first win.

And the winners are

A regular season that produced six new division champions in the league also produced these award-winners, according to The Sun's NFL writer, Ken Murray:

Award, Winner, Skinny

Most Valuable Player, QB Randall Cunningham, Vikings, His season seems predestined

Offensive Player of Year, RB Jamal Anderson, Falcons, 16 TDs, 1,846 rushing yards

Defensive Player of Year, LB Junior Seau, Chargers, Best player on the best defense

Comeback Player of Year, QB Doug Flutie, Bills, Who says he's too short now?

Offensive Rookie of Year, WR Randy Moss, Vikings, Could be the MVP, too

Defensive Rookie of Year, CB Charles Woodson, Raiders, Never backed down

Coach of Year, Dan Reeves, Falcons, Earned a No. 2 seed

Executive of Year, Bob Ferguson, Cardinals, Ended 15-year drought

Best free agent, RB Curtis Martin, Jets, Altered balance of power in East

Worst free agent, DT Sean Gilbert, Panthers, Dom Capers' fatal mistake

Pub Date: 12/31/98

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
37°