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Snap judgments

Struggling quarterbacks headline Week 2 story lines

Posted: Sunday September 17, 2006 7:55PM; Updated: Monday September 18, 2006 1:17PM
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Chris Simms has thrown six interceptions and led the defending NFC South-champion Buccaneers to three points in two games.
Chris Simms has thrown six interceptions and led the defending NFC South-champion Buccaneers to three points in two games.
Which of these 0-2 teams is most likely to turn it around?
Miami Dolphins
Carolina Panthers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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The three most important positions in the NFL? That's easy. It's quarterback, quarterback and quarterback. If you don't have one playing well, your team isn't playing well. The opposite is true as well; the correlation is that strong. Check out the litany of struggling passers around the league in Week 2 and how they have dramatically affected their teams' start to the season:

• Miami's latest post-Dan Marino hopeful, Daunte Culpepper, absorbed five first-half sacks, fumbled twice and threw an inexcusably horrid interception at the Buffalo 7. He finished with seven sacks and that interception, and was roundly booed in the fourth quarter of the Dolphins' 16-6 loss to the Bills. He has thrown just one touchdown pass this season, and don't forget, Miami's offense was facing a Bills defense that started two rookie safeties in Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson.

Coming on the heels of his shaky fourth quarter in the Fish's opener at Pittsburgh -- and for that matter, his woeful seven-game season in 2005 -- you have to question if Culpepper is approaching a crisis in confidence.

Unsurprisingly given their quarterback's desultory start, the supposed Super Bowl-contending Dolphins are 0-2 and already in a hole. I wonder if anybody in Miami is pining for Jay Fiedler?

• Tampa Bay's Chris Simms threw three more interceptions this week, giving him six in his first two games. One of those came at the Atlanta 1, blunting one of the Bucs' few scoring chances so far this season. Another Simms pick, returned for a touchdown by defensive back Kevin Mathis, was reversed via instant-replay challenge.

Tampa Bay has scored all of three points in losing its opening two games by a combined 41-3 to the Ravens and the Falcons. Suddenly the 0-2 Bucs look like a 2005 fluke who have no chance of defending their NFC South title this year, and Simms is bearing the brunt of Tampa Bay's offensive power outage.

• Not to get too nostalgic, but I'm gonna miss the Aaron Brooks era in Oakland. All four-plus, point-less quarters of it. Brooks left the Raiders' 28-6 loss at Baltimore with a first-quarter shoulder injury, but if he hadn't, he doubtless would have been benched in favor of backup Andrew Walter. It was just a matter of time.

It didn't take long for the Raiders to see Brooks for what he has always been: one of the most underachieving, mistake-prone quarterbacks in recent NFL history. Before he even threw a pass Sunday, he lost two fumbles on the Raiders' first two possessions, an opening that only echoed the dog of a performance Brooks put on last week at home against San Diego.

Make no mistake: Unlike the other aforementioned teams with struggling quarterbacks (Miami and Tampa Bay), the Raiders had no realistic playoff hopes this season. But with Brooks pulling the trigger so far, they have looked like one of the worst teams in NFL history.

• Which brings us to Eli Manning. What? What's Manning doing on this dubious list, after rallying the Giants from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 30-24 in overtime at Philadelphia? It may have been the finest hour of his three-year career.

But it certainly wasn't the finest 3˝ hours of that career. Our point is this: Manning on Sunday proved our thesis with both his failures and his stunning late success. For three quarters against the Eagles, he was mostly miserable, taking six sacks, fumbling once and throwing a costly interception. He had only 94 of his eventual 371 yards passing in the first half, and for most of the day he consistently overthrew receivers he should have found in his sleep.

Ah, but when he was good, so were his Giants, fighting back from near-oblivion with 17 fourth-quarter points before Manning avoided yet another Philly blitz and won it in overtime with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress on third-and-11. When you take eight sacks and still win, you've had a very strange day at the office.

What do you see when you watch the inconsistent Manning? I see a guy who just doesn't seem to have the same fire in the belly that his older brother Peyton is known for. Yes, we've known all along that they have different styles. But when it's all said and done, I can't help but think that that's going to be the key difference in determining which brother is a great NFL quarterback and which one is merely a good NFL quarterback.

It may not be fair to measure him by Peyton's standards, but Eli has always dealt with such a comparison and he always will. On a day he could have wilted and disappeared completely, Eli persevered and wound up with a memorable win. In the same game, he looked his best and his worst.

This much is obvious: As he goes, so go the Giants. But you could say the same thing about most teams, and most quarterbacks.