Shortage of quality QBs leaves teams incomplete


The call went out for backup quarterbacks in the first week of the NFL season. Rick Mirer answered in the Meadowlands and the New York Jets lost. Eric Zeier answered at Tampa Bay and couldn't rescue the Buccaneers.

Jeff Garcia and Tony Graziani were placed in impossible predica- Chandler ments by the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons, and delivered no miracles.

This is today's NFL, where the shortage of competent quarterbacks figures to deny several teams the chance to compete for the 2000 Super Bowl, the Jets and Bucs among them.

When the Jets lost Vinny Testaverde for the season to a ruptured left Achilles' tendon in the second quarter Sunday, all the hype about their Super Bowl candidacy vanished. Because standing behind Testaverde on the depth chart are Mirer and punter Tom Tupa.

And, at least in Week 1, Tupa was the better quarterback, which tells you how far the No. 2 pick in the 1993 draft has fallen. Mirer, the third quarterback in for the Jets, played long enough to throw a pair of interceptions and set up the New England Patriots for a 30-28 upset win.

Acquired last month from Green Bay, Mirer is working for his fourth NFL team. In 63 career games, he has thrown 41 touchdown passes and 64 interceptions, and has a 20-34 record as a starter. One year after Testaverde's breakthrough season, can Jets coach Bill Parcells rehabilitate his second fallen quarterback in as many seasons? Don't count on it.

The irony is that Parcells had the first pick in the 1993 draft when he was with the Patriots, and wavered over taking Drew Bledsoe or Mirer. Now he has no choice.

In Tampa, a crowd of 65,026 booed quarterback Trent Dilfer off the field in the fourth quarter of a 17-13 loss to the New York Giants. Dilfer was benched after committing four turnovers, two of which were returned for touchdowns. On a team with a Super Bowl-caliber defense, Dilfer is 31-36 as a starter.

Zeier, obtained in a draft-day trade with the Ravens, did not take advantage of his opportunity. He completed three of 11 passes for 14 yards and an interception. Can rookie Shaun King be far behind?

Garcia, meanwhile, was helpless in relief of starter Steve Young in the 49ers' 41-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Graziani replaced Chris Chandler (strained hamstring) for the last play in the Falcons' 17-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, a screen pass against a prevent defense that gained 32 yards but left Atlanta well short of a victory. Chandler is listed as doubtful for Monday night's game at Dallas.

The 49ers and Falcons are two more teams that cannot make a Super Bowl run if their starting quarterback goes down. In the NFL these days, rare is the team that can absorb the loss of its starter and stay afloat.

No auspicious opening

Three members of the quarterback Class of 1999 made their debuts Sunday, but only one could smile about it. Cade McNown, the fifth of five quarterbacks taken in the first round last April, engineered a 74-yard field-goal drive for the Chicago Bears in his only series.

McNown completed six of nine passes for 77 yards on the drive, which gave the Bears a 13-3 lead against the Kansas City Chiefs in a game they won, 20-17. Shane Matthews passed for 245 yards, and remains the starter. McNown will continue to see spot duty.

Tim Couch, the No. 1 pick in the draft for the Browns, received a standing ovation in Cleveland when he replaced struggling starter Ty Detmer in the fourth quarter. Then he threw an interception on his first pass and finished 0-for-3 in the Browns' desultory 43-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Cincinnati Bengals used all three of their quarterbacks after starter Jeff Blake was forced out because of the heat. But Scott Covington, a seventh-round pick from Miami, went in before No. 3 overall pick Akili Smith because he had more practice time.

Smith was 1-for-2 for 11 yards with an incomplete Hail Mary attempt at game's end.

Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb, the second overall choice, and Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper, the 11th, did not play.

Truly offensive

Although the opening week featured several close games -- five were decided by a field goal or less -- there were some brutal offensive exhibitions.

The Giants had only four first downs and 107 yards, and their offense did not cross midfield in the win over Tampa Bay. The Seattle Seahawks had just 31 yards rushing, went 1-for-10 on third down and surrendered six sacks in a stunning loss to the Detroit Lions in coach Mike Holmgren's debut.

But the worst offensive performance in ages was delivered by the Browns. They produced just two first downs and 40 total yards in the team's worst loss since a 55-7 debacle against Green Bay in 1967.

Pittsburgh had 460 total yards, 32 first downs, and ran off 88 plays to Cleveland's 28.

Still, the most amazing statistic to come out of that game was time of possession. The Steelers had the ball for 47 minutes, 49 seconds; the Browns for 12: 11.

By the numbers

For only the third time in team history, the Indianapolis Colts had a running back (Edgerrin James, 121) and two receivers (Marvin Harrison, 121; E. G. Green, 124) with 100 yards in the same game. The last time they did that was 1985 with receivers Wayne Capers, Matt Bouza and running back Randy McMillan. Fifteen teams started different quarterbacks on opening day 1999 than in 1998, not counting Detmer in Cleveland. The Vikings' Randy Moss had just three catches for 24 yards against Atlanta, but also drew 76 yards worth of pass-interference penalties to set up both Minnesota touchdowns.

Two-minute drill Questions

Is it possible the Detroit Lions could be better without Barry Sanders?

Will Ricky Williams' incentive-loaded contract force him to attempt a return to the field before he's ready? Has it happened already?

Did the Kansas City Chiefs make a mistake keeping quarterback Elvis Grbac while letting Rich Gannon become a free agent?


No, the Jets will not be Super Bowl contenders this season, or, perhaps, anytime in the near future.

The massive salary purge the 49ers went through in the off-season has taken a heavy toll. Fortunately for them, they still play in the NFC West.

Yes, the Cleveland Browns will be collecting those seven extra draft picks next spring for missing the playoffs this season.


Instant replay passed its first test after an eight-year absence. It affected the outcome of at least one game, setting up a touchdown in Green Bay's come-from-behind win over Oakland, and had much lesser impact on several other games.

Coach Ray Rhodes challenged a ruling that tight end Tyrone Davis had trapped the ball on a fourth-quarter catch with the Packers trailing, 24-14. The call was overturned, and two plays later the Packers scored to cut their deficit to 24-21. They won on Brett Favre's fourth TD pass of the day with 11 seconds left.

Pub Date: 9/14/99

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