NFC South: Donovan McNabb

Ronde BarberAP Photo/Chris Gardner 
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. In the next two days we’ll feature: Derrick Brooks’ interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVII, and the 71-yard touchdown catch by Joe Jurevicius in the 2003 NFC Championship Game. Please vote for your choice as the Buccaneers’ most memorable play.

Score: Buccaneers 27, Eagles 10
Date: Jan. 19, 2003 Site: Veterans Stadium

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Which is the most memorable play in Buccaneers' history?

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In the last football game ever played at Veterans Stadium, Ronde Barber came up with one of the biggest plays in franchise history. His 92-yard interception return for a touchdown sealed a victory that put the Buccaneers into the first Super Bowl in franchise history.

The play came with the Bucs holding a 20-10 lead, but Philadelphia was driving. The Eagles had a first-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 10-yard line. That’s when Barber crowded the line of scrimmage to fake a blitz. He then dropped into coverage against the slot receiver and came up with the interception.

"[Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb] fell for it," Barber told the Tampa Bay Times in 2011. “I don't know why. Maybe it was because he just had a great play and thought I was going to blitz. But either way, he believed I was coming and threw it right to me."

The play came with 3 minutes and 12 seconds remaining and put an end to a string of dominance by Philadelphia. The Eagles had won the previous four meetings between the two teams, including playoff losses in 2001 and 2002, the second one prompting the firing of coach Tony Dungy.

But Barber’s play ended all that and it left Veterans Stadium, one of the NFL’s most raucous venues, silent in its final moments.
 

Matt Ryan is player of the week

December, 27, 2012
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There’s more good news for Matt Ryan, who was named to his second Pro Bowl on Wednesday night.

The NFL announced Thursday morning that Ryan has been named the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Week.

That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Ryan had one of his best games of the season in Saturday night’s victory against Detroit. Ryan completed 25 of 32 passes for 279 yards and four touchdowns without an interception.

Ryan opened the game by completing his first 12 passes. He also completed his final 10 passes the previous week against the New York Giants. The 22 straight completions were only two short of the NFL record set by Donovan McNabb.

Rapid Reaction: Falcons 31, Lions 18

December, 22, 2012
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DETROIT -- Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 31-18 victory against the Detroit Lions on Saturday night at Ford Field:

What it means: The Falcons improved to 13-2 and clinched the home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. I know what you’re thinking -- the Falcons went 13-3 and had the home-field advantage two seasons ago and they lost to the Green Bay Packers in the Georgia Dome. It’s a valid point. But would you prefer the Falcons didn’t have the home-field advantage?

Almost perfect: Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan flirted with the NFL record book in the first half. He completed his first 12 passes. Throw in the fact that Ryan completed his final 10 passes in a victory against the New York Giants and he completed 22 consecutive passes. His 13th attempt of the game fell incomplete, leaving him just shy of Donovan McNabb’s NFL record (24 straight completions).

What I liked: Ryan’s performance overall. At least in my book, he has put himself back in the conversation for the Most Valuable Player award.

What I didn’t like: The way the Falcons insist on continuing to try to establish Michael Turner and the running game. Look, it just isn’t working. Either make Jacquizz Rodgers the feature back or just scrap the run totally and put everything in Ryan’s hands. The Falcons had a 21-6 halftime lead, but they were stubborn about Turner and the running game early in the second half and that gave the Lions a chance to get back into the game.

Milestone time: Ryan now has 31 touchdown passes on the season. That ties him with Steve Bartkowski for the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season.

More milestone time: Detroit's Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice's record for receiving yards in a season. It came with the Falcons in command of the game. Strangely, though, the Falcons also were the defense that Drew Brees broke the record for passing yards in a season against last year.

What’s next: The Falcons wrap up their regular season next Sunday, hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Georgia Dome. Coach Mike Smith has to make a decision on if he's going to rest his starters.

Final Word: NFC South

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Week 15 games:

Good news/bad news: Coming off a loss to the Carolina Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons can take solace in the fact they’ve won their previous 11 games immediately after a loss. The Falcons have not lost back-to-back games since 2009. They also are playing in the Georgia Dome, where they’ve won 10 straight games (the NFL’s longest active home winning streak). So everything appears to be in Atlanta’s favor. Until you consider this -- the Falcons have not won a home game against the New York Giants since 1978.

[+] EnlargeJulio Jones
Josh D. Weiss/US PresswireWith three more receiving yards Julio Jones will reach 1,000 yards for the season.
Terrific tandems: The meeting between the Falcons and Giants will feature the two most prolific pairs of wide receivers in the NFL since the start of the 2011 season. In that span, Atlanta’s Roddy White and Julio Jones have combined for 4,392 receiving yards, while New York’s Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks have combined for 4,384 yards. By the way, Jones needs only three receiving yards to reach 1,000 for the season. That would make Jones and White the first pair of Atlanta receivers to hit 1,000 yards since Tony Martin and Terance Mathis in 1998.

A record they don’t want: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are allowing 311.6 passing yards per game. At that pace, they would give up 4,986 passing yards by the end of the season, which would be an NFL record. The current record was set last season when the Green Bay Packers gave up 4,796 yards.

A record he doesn’t want: New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees leads the league with 32 touchdown passes and is tied with Andrew Luck for the league lead with 18 interceptions. Since 1970, Lynn Dickey (1983) and Brian Sipe (1979) are the only quarterbacks to lead the league in both touchdowns and interceptions.

Intentional grounding: The Carolina Panthers have been making the most of quarterback Cam Newton's running ability. He leads the team with 640 rushing yards. The last quarterback to finish a season as his team’s leading rusher was Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb in 2000.

Pat Yasinskas' QB Watch

December, 21, 2011
12/21/11
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Cam Newton, Andy DaltonUS PresswireThe Panthers (with Cam Newton) and Bengals (with Andy Dalton) are two examples of teams that successfully used the draft to fill a void at quarterback.
In the past few months, we’ve seen the Panthers, 49ers and Bengals discover they’re just fine at quarterback. In those same few months, we’ve seen even more teams discover that they’re not in great shape.

That’s why the 2012 draft and free-agency period could provide a shopping spree for teams looking for starting quarterbacks. I’m looking around the league and seeing that roughly a quarter of the 32 teams could change starters in 2012.

Maybe they'll find solutions in the draft, as the Panthers did with Cam Newton and the Bengals with Andy Dalton. Or maybe they'll take a guy who has been around for a while, put him in the right situation and find out he can play, the way the 49ers did with Alex Smith.

But neither method is foolproof. Drafting a quarterback early doesn’t always work. That’s why I’m putting the Vikings and Jaguars on my list of teams that might look for a starter in the offseason. Bringing in a veteran, as the Cardinals did with Kevin Kolb, didn’t bring any dramatic changes, and that’s why Arizona also is on my list of teams with uncertain quarterback futures.

Let’s run through the list, in no particular order.

Redskins. Who really thought it was a good idea to go into a season with John Beck and Rex Grossman as your only options? Owner Daniel Snyder and coach Mike Shanahan must realize now that they’re going nowhere with journeyman quarterbacks. That’s why they have to find someone who can be a franchise quarterback.

Seahawks. Same story as the Redskins. Pete Carroll generally had more talent and depth in his quarterback groups at USC than he did when he decided to go with Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst. Letting Matt Hasselbeck go wasn’t necessarily a bad move, but heading into a season with guys who never have been and never will be any good made no sense.

Dolphins. The tandem of Chad Henne and Matt Moore was as uninspiring as what the Seahawks and Redskins brought to the table. That’s why the Dolphins will be looking for a new coach. Moore has played pretty well at times, but ownership seems intent on making a big splash to bring some life back to this franchise. The quickest way to make waves is to add a high-profile quarterback, but keeping Moore around as a backup is a nice insurance policy.

Colts. Had Indianapolis had a backup like Moore, this season wouldn’t have been so disastrous. Everything fell apart as soon as it became apparent that Peyton Manning wouldn't play because of a neck injury. The Colts could get a healthy Manning back, or they could draft Andrew Luck. But, if they let Manning go and draft Luck, they should go out and get a backup who is capable of starting.

Vikings. They tried to use Donovan McNabb as a bridge to first-round draft pick Christian Ponder. The bridge quickly collapsed, and Ponder was thrown in over his head. Ponder may eventually turn into a decent starter, but we’ve seen no solid evidence that will happen. That’s why the Vikings need to have an alternative.

Jaguars. You can put Blaine Gabbert in the same category as Ponder. The jury is still out on him. Like Miami, this is another franchise that will hire a new coach and try to energize a fan base. Just a thought here, but there’s a hometown guy who could sell out the stadium every week, if he somehow becomes available. (See below.)

Broncos. Tim Tebow has pulled off miracles by putting the Broncos in playoff contention. The guy has all sorts of intangibles, but he doesn’t throw like an NFL quarterback. That’s why it looks as though John Fox and John Elway are forcing smiles every time Tebow leads them to an awkward victory. You get the sense that, deep down, Fox and Elway would rather have a conventional quarterback.

Cardinals. The Cardinals thought they found their franchise guy when they traded for Kolb. He hasn’t played like a franchise quarterback, but the Cardinals don’t necessarily have to go outside on a shopping trip. John Skelton has played pretty well in relief of Kolb. Come training camp next summer, let Kolb and Skelton compete and settle this thing once and for all.

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Pat Yasinskas' QB Watch

October, 12, 2011
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Kevin Kolb, Donovan McNabb and Michael VickUS PresswireBig offseason splashes at the quarterback position haven't paid off for Arizona (Kevin Kolb), Philadelphia (Michael Vick) or Minnesota (Donovan McNabb).
Aside from the drafting of Cam Newton, the biggest quarterback news of the offseason was the trade of Kevin Kolb to Arizona, the trade of Donovan McNabb to Minnesota, and Michael Vick signing a new six-year contract with Philadelphia.

How are those moves working out for the Cardinals, Vikings and Eagles?

In one categorical word: Disastrously.

Each team is 1-4, and each quarterback has been a big reason his team has struggled. Consider it proof that even if a guy has played well -- in limited or unlimited experience or has had success in a current system -- the buyer should beware when handing out huge currency for quarterbacks.

The Eagles gave Vick a contract worth $100 million, including $40 million guaranteed. The Vikings voided the remaining four years on McNabb's contract with the Redskins, but still agreed to pay him at least $5.05 million this season. McNabb also can earn an extra $2.25 million if certain playing-time and statistical incentives are met. Once the Cardinals got Kolb, they handed him a $10 million signing bonus and an extension through 2016 that averages $12.4 million per year.

But we're talking currency, not just money, when adding up the full tab on these three quarterbacks. The Cardinals shipped cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and their second-round draft pick in 2012 to the Eagles. The Vikings sent the Redskins their sixth-round pick in 2012 and a conditional sixth-round pick in 2013. In the case of Vick, the Eagles didn't have to give any player or draft-pick compensation to keep a player already on their team, but they invested a ton of salary-cap room at one position for six years.

What are they getting in return? Not much. Vick, who was better than he's ever been while starting 12 games last season, has been dreadful since leading the Eagles to a season-opening win against Baltimore. Through five games, he's committed 10 turnovers. All last season, he had nine.

Vick has put coach Andy Reid on the hot seat for putting all his eggs in one basket. But McNabb and Kolb seem to be doing their best to make their former coach look smart.

In 2009, McNabb, Vick and Kolb were all property of Philadelphia. Before last season, Reid decided to trade McNabb, his longtime starter, to Washington. He kept Vick and Kolb, and Vick emerged as the starter. That made it seem like Vick was the answer and the Eagles traded Kolb as soon as the lockout was lifted.

Reid knew McNabb better than anyone else and he shipped him off to Mike Shanahan, who knows a thing or two about quarterbacks. Shanahan quickly decided McNabb was washed up. But new Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier didn't heed the warning signs from Reid and Shanahan. He brought in McNabb to be a bridge until first-round draft pick Christian Ponder is ready.

McNabb's a bridge over troubled waters. He's thrown only four touchdown passes, been intercepted twice and sacked 11 times. But McNabb's looking like a gem compared to Kolb. In their head-to-head meeting Sunday, Minnesota defeated Arizona 34-10 in a game that had a lot more to do with Adrian Peterson and Minnesota's defense than McNabb.

Kolb threw two interceptions and was sacked four times. That's nothing new. In Arizona's first two games, he threw for four touchdowns and one interception. In his last three games, he's thrown for one touchdown and been intercepted five times.

The Eagles, who once seemed to have an embarrassment of riches at quarterback, simply have been an embarrassment. So have the Vikings and Cardinals, who aren't getting anything close to what they paid for.

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Pat Yasinskas' QB Watch

October, 5, 2011
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Stafford/Freeman/SanchezUS PresswireWhile Mark Sanchez, right, got off to a fast start as a rookie, it's Matthew Stafford, left, and Josh Freeman who have gotten off on the right foot in 2011.
There's an old saying in NFL front offices that you can't truly judge a draft until two or three years down the road.

Makes plenty of sense because some guys flash early and then disappear. Other guys take a while to bloom.

But now that the statute of limitations on the 2009 draft has expired, let's go ahead and start the judging. That draft featured three quarterbacks in the first round -- Matthew Stafford at No. 1 overall to Detroit, Mark Sanchez at No. 5 to the New York Jets and Josh Freeman at No. 17 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sanchez flashed quickly, starting right away and taking the Jets to the AFC Championship Game, but a quarter of the way into his third season, one thing has become very clear.

“Sanchez is a distant third to those other two guys," said Tony Softli, who worked in the personnel departments of the Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams.

The Jets are off to a 2-2 start and Sanchez has put up anemic numbers (six touchdowns, five interceptions and 1,005 passing yards).

“He's holding that team back now," said Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson, who previously worked in Cleveland's front office. “People say I'm a Sanchez hater now. But the funny thing is, I liked him the best of the three before that draft because I thought he had 'it.' When he went to the Jets, I stopped liking him so much because I don't think he has the physical ability to play in the kind of weather you get in New York."

But Sanchez had to be doing something right to get to those two AFC Championship Games, didn't he?

“Sanchez fell into a situation where he came to a team that had a good running game and good receivers," Softli said. “He just had to manage a game, and now things seem to have changed. I don't think he's a guy that can win on his own and win big. Can he develop into that? Probably yes. But he's not there yet."

Funny, but Stafford and Freeman, who started much more slowly, have soared right past Sanchez. Freeman, who showed lots of promise in a 2010 season that was his first as the full-time starter, has the Bucs sitting at 3-1 and tied with the New Orleans Saints for first place in the NFC South. Stafford, who dealt with injuries in his first two seasons, is healthy and that's a major reason the Lions are 4-0 for the first time since 1980.

So who's the best quarterback from the Class of 2009?

“You're splitting hairs on that one because they're both the kind of guys you want to build a franchise around," Williamson said. “There are probably six elite quarterbacks in the league right now and Stafford and Freeman can get there. I'd take them over guys like Michael Vick, Tony Romo and Eli Manning. I love them both, but I'd say Stafford right now. Stafford might throw the ball better than anyone in the league other than Aaron Rodgers. He's got velocity, he's on target and he can do it with people all over him. I take him because he's a little more pin-point than Freeman."

Softli's high on Stafford as well, but said he thinks Freeman is the best of the Class of 2009.

“Josh has freakish size and athletic ability," Softli said. “But, in the 15 years, I said in interviews and meetings with quarterback prospects, Sam Bradford was the smartest guy I ever saw and Josh was a very close second. I mean, Matt Ryan, Tim Tebow and Joe Flacco are in my top five in that department, but Josh and Sam were clearly above them. So much of playing quarterback is about intelligence. That's why I'm going with Freeman. He's got more fourth-quarter comebacks. He's also a runner, a great leader and he's remained healthy throughout. His will to win is absolutely exceptional."

Sounds like we might have to bend that rule of thumb a bit and give Stafford and Freeman a little more time to sort things out before claiming a winner from the Class of 2009.

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Final Word: NFC South

September, 16, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

One piece of history matters. Michael Vick’s return to Atlanta is grabbing the headlines, but this isn’t a grudge match between Vick and the team he began his career with. Vick has been out of Atlanta for a long time, and he and the Falcons have done a nice job of moving forward. But there is one bit of history that could factor into this game. In Vick’s first game against the Falcons in 2009, he was Donovan McNabb’s backup. Matt Ryan was injured and did not play for the Falcons. Vick played a little and threw for a touchdown and ran for one. Some Atlanta players and members of the coaching staff felt Philadelphia coach Andy Reid was rubbing it in to Atlanta, and that hasn’t been forgotten.

[+] EnlargeLeGarrette Blount
Kim Klement/US PresswireThe Bucs could use a big game from running back LeGarrette Blount in Minnesota.
The Bucs have to learn to play with the lead. Tampa Bay abandoned its running game last week and relied on quarterback Josh Freeman to pull off comebacks too often last season. Freeman can’t do that all the time. The Bucs need to get running back LeGarrette Blount involved in the offense from the start against Minnesota, and they need to keep him involved throughout the game. Blount carried only five times in the opener. That’s about 20 fewer carries than he needs to be truly effective.

Look for changes in Atlanta’s secondary. The Falcons weren't thrilled with their secondary in the preseason, and that’s why they signed cornerback Kelvin Hayden and safety James Sanders. Both are veterans and have been given a little time to learn the system. After last week’s poor defensive outing against the Bears, don’t be surprised if you see more of Hayden and Sanders. Safety Thomas DeCoud had a particularly rough outing against the Bears, and it wouldn’t be shocking if the Falcons start Sanders in his place.

The New Orleans defense needs to make plays. The Saints got run over by the Packers in the opener. Lots of teams have had trouble with Green Bay’s offense. But the Saints didn’t make a single big play on defense. Coordinator Gregg Williams needs to get his unit to force Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler into making some mistakes. The Saints need to create some turnovers in this game.

The Panthers will run the ball. Yes, rookie Cam Newton threw for 422 yards in his debut, and that was very encouraging. But Newton is not going to do that every week. Carolina has two excellent running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The Panthers need to get them involved in the offense and try to control the clock. Newton is not ready to win a shootout with Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. He needs his running backs to help keep Rodgers off the field as much as possible.

Week 2: NFC South stats and stuff

September, 14, 2011
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Let’s turn to ESPN Stats & Information for some notes and nuggets for Week 2.

New Orleans Saints vs. Chicago Bears
  • The Saints lost their Thursday opener to Green Bay. The last time the Saints lost the Thursday season opener was in 2007, when they began the season 0-4.
  • The Bears are trying for the their second straight 2-0 start. Each of the past two times the Bears started 2-0, they've advanced to at least the NFC Championship game (2010 and 2006).
  • Chicago has won its last four games against New Orleans, including the playoffs. The Bears have been a thorn in the Saints' side, especially in postseason play. They ended the Saints 1990 season with a Wild-Card victory and advanced to Super Bowl XLI with a win in the 2006 NFC Championship.
  • Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler completed four screen passes for a league-high 116 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons Sunday. Cutler ranked second in the league in passing yards on screen passes in 2010 and the Saints have allowed a higher percentage of screens to be completed than any other team in the NFL over the past two seasons (90.9). Cutler also came out of the gate firing on screen passes in 2010. Cutler went 6-for-6 with 126 yards and a touchdown on screens Week 1 against the Lions. Cutler threw for just 176 yards and no touchdowns on screen passes after Week 1.
Carolina Panthers vs. Green Bay Packers
  • In Week 1, Cam Newton became the first player in NFL history to throw for 400 yards in his debut, and second rookie (Peyton Manning in 1998) to throw for 300+ yards in his team's season opener.
  • ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rankings measure all facets of a quarterback's play (passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, penalties) and accounts for when each play happens in a game. The final rating is on a 1-100 scale. In Week 1, both Aaron Rodgers (second at 91.1) and Newton (fifth at 75.7) were among the league leaders.
  • Newton completed nine of 13 attempts for a league-high 279 yards and 2 touchdowns on passes thrown 15 yards or more downfield Sunday. The nine completions were the second-most in the NFL in Week 1 (Drew Brees, 10) and the Packers have allowed the third-most completions 15 yards or more downfield since 2008.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Minnesota Vikings
  • Tampa Bay has won each of its last four games against Minnesota. The Buccaneers’ win streak is their longest against the Vikings in team history. Prior to this run, the Bucs had not won more than two straight against their former divisional rival. It’s the first game between the teams in Minnesota since Week 1 of the 2005 season.
  • This is the first regular-season game back at the Metrodome since the roof collapse from a snow storm on December 12. The Vikings played their final two home games in Detroit at Ford Field (lost 21-3 to Giants) and at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis (lost 40-14).
  • The Donovan McNabb era got off to a rocky start as he was seven for 15 for 39 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 24-17 loss to the Chargers in Week 1. McNabb has lost four straight starts dating to last season.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles
  • Michael Vick returns to Atlanta as a starting quarterback for the first time after spending six seasons with the Falcons from 2001-06. He started 67 regular-season games and five playoff games with the Falcons and was selected to three Pro Bowls. When Vick played in Atlanta with the Eagles in 2009, he was a backup quarterback but did record a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown in the Eagles' win.
  • Since finishing the 2010 regular season with the NFC’s best record at 13-3, the Falcons have lost two straight games (including last season’s Divisional Playoffs loss to the Packers) by a combined score of 78-33. Over that span, the Falcons’ 23 offensive possessions have resulted in eight punts, seven turnovers, three touchdowns, two field goals, one turnover on downs and the end of the half/game twice.
  • The Falcons are 1-6 against the Eagles since 2000 with their only win coming in the 2005 season opener in Atlanta. Among teams the Falcons have played at least four times since 2000, their 1-6 record against the Eagles is their worst against any team.

Pat Yasinskas' QB Watch

September, 14, 2011
9/14/11
12:00
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Cam Newton and Andy DaltonGetty ImagesCarolina's Cam Newton, left, and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton are the latest examples of quarterbacks who started the first game of their rookie seasons.
There’s an ancient NFL proverb that says you shouldn’t play a rookie quarterback right away. If you do, the logic goes, you might ruin him.

In breaking and somewhat related news: The world is flat.

Yeah, Christopher Columbus shot the second one down, and let’s turn to Cam Newton and Andy Dalton to take care of the first. Let’s label the exhibits Rookie QB 1 and Rookie QB 2.

Just look at the evidence Newton and Dalton put on the field Sunday as the only two rookie quarterbacks to start the season. Newton threw for 422 yards, the most ever by a player making his NFL debut.

And this was a guy who some fans and draft gurus said wouldn’t be able to run an NFL offense?

Then there was Dalton. He wasn’t as flamboyant as Newton, and he left the game with an injury. But, before he did, Dalton was a very efficient 10-of-15 passing for 81 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions to help the Cincinnati Bengals kick off the post-Carson Palmer era with a victory against Cleveland.

And Dalton slid all the way to the second round of the draft?

There’s a lesson to be learned from what Newton and Dalton did on Sunday. You can start a rookie quarterback right off the bat. And this theory’s not exactly brand new.

Take a look at recent years. Sam Bradford, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez have played quickly and fared well. As a matter of fact, can you name the last early draft pick who truly got "ruined" by playing too soon?

I say it’s David Carr, and that was a long time ago and in unique circumstances. Carr was playing on the expansion Houston Texans, who never really did anything to build a quality offensive line during his tenure.

You can throw out names like Joey Harrington, JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young and Alex Smith. But I think those were guys who were going to struggle no matter how soon they played.

Yeah, maybe in a dream world you can let Aaron Rodgers sit behind Brett Favre for a few years. But the NFL’s not a dream world, and maybe it’s time for those still clinging to the myth that a quarterback has to sit to let go.

Maybe it’s time -- or at least close to time -- for the Vikings, Jaguars and Titans to realize they’ve got nothing to lose by playing Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker sooner rather than later.

In a new age when first-round rookie contracts are limited to four years with an option for a fifth, there’s a sense of urgency to find out what a quarterback can do. Yeah, you can make the argument that’s throwing a guy to the wolves. But the Panthers threw Newton to the Cardinals and the Bengals threw Dalton to the Browns and no one got ruined.

This is the inaugural edition of Quarterback Watch. We’ll be here every Wednesday throughout the season, examining the trends and themes involving quarterbacks and looking at whose stock is on the rise and whose is declining.

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As we wait for the labor situation to get sorted out, let’s take a look at the highlights from Friday’s NFC South chat.

Dennis (Denver): If the money is equal, do you think DeAngelo Williams stays in Carolina or comes to Denver?

Pat Yasinskas: Everything I know says DeAngelo likes it in Charlotte.

Jon (NewYork): It seems to me everyone is sleeping on the Saints for some reason and I really don’t know why? Our D played outstanding and our offense just got more scary with more RB help. Does it really take one playoff upset for everyone to forget where you were two years ago?

Pat Yasinskas: Yeah, but maybe it's better to fly under the radar and not have the attention and expectations.

John (Raleigh, NC): Pat, isn't Donovan McNabb a perfect fit for the Panthers? He's the same style QB as Cam, will probably only be playing for another 2 years, has been a great mentor for other QB's in the past, and still has the ability to be an effective QB immediately. What do you think the odds are that the Panthers snag him?

Pat Yasinskas: Problem is if you bring in McNabb, he probably starts for a year, maybe two and Cam doesn't even get on the field.

Matt (Charlotte): Pat do you think that the panthers might go after Lance Moore who I think will be a great fit in Carolina?

Pat Yasinskas: If he gets out of New Orleans, I like the fit. But I'm not sure he gets out of New Orleans.

Peder (Sweden): Hey Pat, why is it a slim chance for the Bucs to bring in Nnamdi Asomugha or Johnathan Joseph? We need to get to the cap floor and behind Talib and Barber we're in trouble. Also, Talib might be going to prison. i don't think that it makes any sense to NOT sign one of these players.

Pat Yasinskas: I'd say Nnamdi is a long shot. But I wouldn't say that on Joseph.

John (Jackson, MS): Do you see the Bucs taking a step back this year?

Pat Yasinskas: I know some people say they had a soft schedule last year and might have had some young guys who overachieved. But, no, with the QB they've got, I don't see them taking step back. I think Freeman keeps them moving forward.

Christian (Denver): Why would Richardson even say that Smith is not on the forefront of his mind. The guy has always been known to fly off about the smallest things. Just seems stupid to give him the ammunition.

Pat Yasinskas: Might have been said by design.

Here’s the complete transcript from Friday’s NFC South chat.

NFC South links: McNabb a fit for Panthers

July, 6, 2011
7/06/11
9:52
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Atlanta Falcons

The Sporting News' D. Orlando Ledbetter predicts the Falcons will win the NFC South in a team preview for the 2011 season.

The Falcoholic's Dave Choate picks through the team's candidates for defensive breakout player.

Tony Gonzalez is prepared for life after football. He co-founded All-Pro Science, a sports nutritional supplement company, in 2009 and the company's taking off. "We have, I think, a customer base of 20,000 now and it's growing all the time," Gonzalez said.

Carolina Panthers

If the price is right, Donovan McNabb could be a good fit for the Panthers, writes Cat Scratch Reader's James Dator.

USA Today came up with the five most pressing questions facing the Panthers heading into next season, including whether Ron Rivera was the right head coach to hire.

New Orleans Saints

WWLTV.com's Bradley Handwerger identifies seven players the Saints need to re-sign once the lockout ends.

Darren Sharper and Roman Harper plan to host a football camp July 18-19 in Metairie, La.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs potential free-agent guard Davin Joseph: "If [the Bucs front office] were to say they were committed to signing back guys we played with last year, it would definitely influence me to stay. Guys like [Jeremy] Trueblood, guys like James Lee, guys on defense like Barrett Ruud. If you're bringing guys like that back here, I know it's a sign in the right direction instead of trying to switch up the whole roster to make it different."

Former Bucs receiver Michael Clayton still has close ties to the team.

Gonzalez prepares for life after football

QB Power Rankings IllustrationESPN.com IllustrationNew England's Tom Brady received six of the eight first-place votes to edge out Peyton Manning.
ESPN.com’s NFL writers rank the top 10 quarterbacks in the league today.
Next week: Top 10 safeties.


Take eight football writers scattered from Seattle to Tampa and ask them to come up with a list of the top 10 quarterbacks in the National Football League.

Sounds easy enough, in theory. You take the golden gunslingers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and let everyone else fall naturally into order after that. Well, it didn’t quite work out that simply in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings for quarterbacks.

Heck, we couldn’t even come up with a top 10. We’re going with a top 11 because Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Dallas’ Tony Romo tied for No. 10 with five points each in our voting system.

Even at the top, there was more disagreement than you might expect. Brady emerged as No. 1, but it wasn’t unanimous and, although Manning finished a strong second, two ballots had a man some consider the best quarterback ever at No. 3.

But let’s start analyzing the rankings by focusing on just Brady and Manning. Six voters put Brady at No. 1, but Paul Kuharsky and Mike Sando put Manning in the top spot. Let’s hear them out.

“Brady's fantastic, let's start with that,’’ said Kuharsky, who covers the AFC South, also known as “The Division Manning Built and Owns." “But no one is asked to do more or does more as a quarterback than Peyton Manning. He almost plays a different position. And while Brady's got three rings to Manning's one and is the reigning MVP, look at their touchdown and interception numbers in their last four playoff games. Manning's are better.’’

Sando has no horse in this race, because voters unanimously agreed the NFC West is the division that forgot quarterbacks, at least until Sam Bradford gets another season under his belt.

“Brady has the better stats over the last couple seasons, but the Colts would undoubtedly be far worse off than the Patriots if both teams had backups under center,’’ Sando said. “Once that was established, Brady's recent postseason struggles became a deciding factor. These quarterbacks have, to an extent, switched roles recently. Manning has won a championship more recently than Brady has won one. Brady has seven touchdowns, seven picks and one victory in his last four playoff games. Manning has seven touchdowns, two picks and two victories in his last four.’’

For rebuttal, let’s head up to the AFC East, to the man who covers Brady and the New England Patriots.

“I'm not sure why everybody needs to consider career achievements when filling out a Power Rankings ballot,’’ Tim Graham said. “Power Rankings are a snapshot of the moment and are expected to change regularly, not encompass years of work. But if the reason for selecting Manning ahead of Brady is recent playoff performances that go back a few years, then Ben Roethlisberger should be ahead of Manning with that logic. Roethlisberger has been to a pair of Super Bowls and won his second title more recently than Manning's only championship.’’

We’ll come to Roethlisberger in just a moment, but nobody put him ahead of Manning on his ballot. Kevin Seifert and I each put a quarterback ahead of Manning.

Seifert put Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers at No. 2.

“Mostly, I didn't think I could face NFC North blog readers if I voted any other way,’’ Seifert said. “Seriously, I think the big advantage Manning and Drew Brees have over Rodgers is time. They've been playing longer and therefore have mostly better career numbers and a bigger frame of reference for knowing how they will perform in the long term. But when you take out longevity, Rodgers is right there with them. All three have one Super Bowl victory. Rodgers has a higher career passer rating than any quarterback in the history of the NFL with qualified attempts, better than Manning and Brees and Brady for that matter. So to break the tie, I think you can look at what they did most recently. I think Rodgers had a better 2010 season than Manning or Brees, and that's how I would justify this order.’’

I put Brees at No. 2 and don’t really want to write a story in which I quote myself, so I’ll just say Brees and Manning each have one Super Bowl ring and Brees’ numbers over the last four years are just as good or better in most categories. Plus, Brees hasn’t spent most of his career surrounded by the likes of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Edgerrin James.

In the final analysis, Brees finished third and Rodgers fourth. Roethlisberger, who has two Super Bowl rings, came in at No. 5. San Diego’s Philip Rivers, who has zero Super Bowl rings and some gaudy statistics, is No. 6. Relatively speaking, the order from Brees to Rivers, the guy who took his place with the Chargers, was pretty clear-cut.

After that, we had some close calls, strong differences of opinion and one very big coincidence. At No. 7, we’ve got a tie between Philadelphia’s Michael Vick and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who each finished with 26 points. For those who don’t see the irony in that, Vick was the face of Atlanta’s franchise for a long time and Ryan now holds that role.

Eli Manning of the New York Giants came in at No. 9, and Flacco and Romo tied for the final spot. Only three other quarterbacks received votes. They were Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman, who I think could be near the top of this list in another year or two, Houston’s Matt Schaub and Kansas City’s Matt Cassel.

On to some other notes about the Power Rankings.

Michael Vick
Michael DeHoog/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesOne recent year of success wasn't enough to put Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on John Clayton's ballot.
The Vick factor. Despite a hugely productive season last year, Vick was left off one very important ballot. John Clayton, the dean of all of us, didn’t have the Philadelphia quarterback on his ballot and was the only one of us who didn't.

“The only reason Michael Vick didn’t make my top 10 is because I, after an offseason of thinking, have Michael Vick as my No. 11 quarterback,’’ Clayton said. “That still makes him elite. I have 12 elite quarterbacks. Vick moved into the elite category with his performance last year, but it’s just one year. He can clearly move up the list this season, but he’s in the mix and knocking on the door of the top 10. A year ago, he wasn’t a consideration.’’

Fighting the Eli fight. Speaking of Clayton, let’s continue to ride that train as we discuss Eli Manning. Seifert, Sando, Graham and I didn’t even include Manning in our top 10, but he still made the list.

“I will continue to fight the argument Eli Manning is an elite quarterback,’’ Clayton said. “I moved him to No. 8 above Tony Romo, but if Romo had a full season last year, he might have been ahead of Eli. Remember that Carson Palmer, Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb dropped from my elite quarterback categories, which moved guys like Eli up in the mix. Eli has a Super Bowl ring. He’s a 4,000-yard quarterback. He wins.’’

No tiebreaking here. Speaking of Romo: Clayton and Sando each had him at No. 9. AFC North blogger James Walker had Romo at No. 10. That was good enough to get Romo five points and a tie with Flacco. One interesting note here: Flacco wasn’t on Walker’s ballot. I respect James for not doing the easy thing and being a "homer," although I’m sure some Baltimore fans might have different opinions.

"Joe Flacco is a good quarterback, but I don’t consider him an elite, top-10 quarterback just yet,’’ Walker said. “I need to see more consistency, especially in the playoffs and other big games against the Steelers. Flacco has a lot of natural ability, and I believe he’s ready to break through. But, in my book, Flacco needs to first prove it on the field in the biggest games to be elite.”

The final analysis. If you look at this list from a distance, you could say the Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots are the big winners. The Patriots, of course, have Brady, but they also drafted Cassel, whom they later traded to Kansas City. If you want to get really technical, the Chargers drafted Brees and Eli Manning and worked a draft-day trade with the Giants to end up with Rivers. If you count the few minutes Manning and Rivers were crossing paths, you could say the Chargers, at one time or another, had three guys on this list. You also could say the Falcons drafted Vick, Ryan and Schaub, who finished in a tie with Freeman for No. 12.
I said last week the Carolina Panthers need to take Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the first overall pick in the upcoming draft. I also said there are pretty good indications the Panthers are at least giving very serious thought to using the pick on Newton or Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

Nothing’s changed in my eyes and my ears tell me nothing’s changed in how the Panthers are thinking.

But as I was working ahead on our weekly Draft Watch post, I realized something that adds even more reason for the Panthers to go ahead and draft a quarterback. I thought about the rest of the NFC South.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe Panthers may try to follow fellow NFC South members and try to get a franchise quarterback like Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert.
What’s the first thing New Orleans coach Sean Payton, Atlanta coach Mike Smith and Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris did when they were hired? The methods varied and they each had some help from their general manager, but Payton, Smith and Morris went out and got a franchise quarterback.

You can’t argue with the results. Payton won a Super Bowl title, Smith has had three straight winning seasons and Morris took the Bucs from 3-13 to 10-6 last season.

You know Payton got Drew Brees, Smith brought in Matt Ryan and Morris found Josh Freeman. But what you might not realize is how specifically each of those three coaches targeted each of those three guys.

Coming into New Orleans the season after Hurricane Katrina, Payton decided quickly he wasn’t going to go draft Matt Leinart. In his book “Home Team,’’ Payton describes at length how he and general manager Mickey Loomis saw a rare opportunity to get an established franchise quarterback. The San Diego Chargers were letting Brees walk into free agency because they had Philip Rivers and Brees was coming off major shoulder surgery.

In his book, Payton wrote that the Saints were competing with the Miami Dolphins for Brees. Payton and Loomis decided they had to “overpay’’ to get Brees to avoid the comforts of Miami and come to a city and a franchise that was in a total rebuilding mode. The Saints jacked up their offer, got Brees and it turned out to be the best move in franchise history.

When Smith took over, the Falcons had needs just about everywhere. But Smith and Dimitroff realized you might as well start building a program with a quarterback and they took Ryan with the third overall pick, after spending some nervous nights worrying the Dolphins and Rams might botch their plans. But Miami and St. Louis passed on Ryan and Atlanta’s been winning ever since.

It was basically the same thing in Tampa Bay. Although fans and media were screaming for defense, mainly because that’s what the Bucs had trained people to do since the franchise started, general manager Mark Dominik and Morris decided they had to get a quarterback. There are some, mainly Doug Williams, who will tell you the Bucs wanted Mark Sanchez. But Dominik and Morris have said all along Freeman was the guy they wanted. In fact, they initially were slated to draft at No. 19. But, fearing someone would jump into the No. 18 spot to get Freeman, the Bucs moved up to No. 17 and got their quarterback.

New Carolina coach Ron Rivera comes from a defensive background. But, in his hiring process, it was established the organization now realizes the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. General manager Marty Hurney is fully committed to giving Rivera the kind of quarterback he needs to win.

Could there be someone like Brees out there if the lockout ends and free agency and trades are allowed? It’s not real likely. The names you hear might be available are guys like Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer, Vince Young and Kevin Kolb. McNabb was a franchise quarterback for a long time, but he’s on the downside of his career. Palmer might have briefly been a franchise quarterback, but his career has regressed. Young was drafted to be a franchise quarterback, but hasn’t come close. Kolb’s basically a career backup with some upside, but it’s a stretch to envision him as a franchise quarterback.

More and more I think Hurney and Rivera need to do what the other three franchises did when their current regimes started. They need to go out and get a franchise quarterback and it’s looking like the draft is the only spot to do that this year.

Brett Favre with Panthers? Not

March, 29, 2011
3/29/11
12:23
PM ET
With all due respect to the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the real March madness started Sunday.

It came when St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Charley Walters threw out this line near the bottom of his column.

“Don't discount the possibility of Brett Favre, who turns 42 in October, returning next season, but not with the Vikings. Maybe Carolina.’’

Yep, it’s time for one of the rites of spring – talk of yet another Favre comeback. I can't argue with Walters that there's a possibility Favre may play next spring. Recent history has shown us that’s a possibility.

But playing in Carolina?

Not happening. Here’s why: Even when a younger Favre was making his previous comebacks, the Panthers had no interest in him. They needed improvement at quarterback then and they need it now. Plus, the Panthers weren’t holding the No. 1 draft pick during any of the previous Favre comebacks.

They’re shoulders-deep in a youth movement right now and a grandfather at quarterback doesn’t fit the profile. The Panthers will either draft a quarterback (Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert) or go out and trade for one or sign one as a free agent. When the lockout ends, guys like Carson Palmer, Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb could be available.

Those guys aren’t rookies, but they’re a lot younger than Favre. New coach Ron Rivera has a bit of a honeymoon period and doesn't need to do anything desperate. He and general manager Marty Hurney know this is the time to get a quarterback for the long term and they’re not looking to lure anyone out of retirement.

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