Sportsman of the Year
Life of Reilly
SI for Kids
SI Customer Service
SI Media Kits
Get into College
The Unlikely Eight
These QBs may not be household names ... but they win
Posted: Thursday January 04, 2001 2:56 PM
Updated: Thursday January 04, 2001 3:41 PM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
Over here, you have grizzled, well-traveled Rich Gannon, a former backup turned two-time Pro Bowler and a guy who has been banging around the NFL since 1987 -- except, of course, for that one year that he was out of the game altogether.
Over there, you have Aaron Brooks, a second-year guy who will be making his seventh pro start this weekend, a true babe in the NFL woods.
And in between, more young quarterbacks, a couple retreads, just one guy with more than three games of postseason experience ...
Whatever happened to John Elway and Steve Young and Brett Favre?
"We're on the rise," the Saints' Brooks told the New Orleans Times-Picayune while talking about the influx of young, mobile quarterbacks in the NFL. "We're going to have an impact. I don't want to say we're going to turn the whole league around, but you've got a whole group of new stars. You had Elway and those guys come in together, and we're going to do the same thing."
This is an NFL postseason for new names at the game's glamour position. In fact, before last weekend's wild-card games, only three of the eight QBs left in the playoffs had ever started a postseason game.
Gannon, who has persevered through 14 NFL seasons (counting his sit-out in '94) and was just named the starter for the AFC in the Pro Bowl, isn't one of those. He gets postseason start No. 1 this weekend against the Dolphins.
"I was told a long time ago when I first got in this business that the minute that you think that you've finally arrived, they are already looking for someone to replace you," Gannon said recently. "So that has always been my philosophy. I just try and stay focused on the next ... task at hand."
Who are these unlikely eight? Here's a look.
Before this year: Carolina quitter, big-time drinker, racially insensitive
clod and the chin for a Bill Romanowski cheap shot, a former first-round pick
from Penn State bailed on the Panthers and flunked with the Saints before his
rebirth with the Giants. His career numbers included 59 TD passes in his first
five years -- with 75 picks.
This year: He cleaned up his personal life and started all 16 games for the
surprising Giants. He threw 22 TD passes and only 13 interceptions and enjoyed an
83.1 passing rating, the best of his career.
What to expect: Won't hurt you with the turnover, strong-armed enough to
keep defenses respectable, Collins relies on RB combination of Tiki Barber and
Ron Dayne and favorite target Amani Toomer. Collins has a 101.4 rating in two games
against the Eagles this season.
Before this year: The No. 2 pick in the 1999 draft was booed in Philly on Draft Day (fans wanted Ricky Williams) and started six games in his rookie season. Completed less than half of his pass attempts last year but, by the end, had people believing that the Eagles might have made the right choice after all.
This year: Started all 16 games, completed 58 percent of his passes, threw 21 TD passes to 13 picks and ran for six touchdowns. The team's leading rusher (Duce Staley injured his foot in the fifth game and hasn't played since), McNabb averages 7.3 yards a run and was responsible for 75 percent of the Eagles' offense.
What to expect: The unexpected. Strong-armed, but quick to vacate the pocket if need be, he's tough and hard to bring down. He can throw an ill-advised pass once in a while, but he gives defenses fits -- even defenses as good as Tampa Bay's, which he picked apart last week with three TDs, two passing and one running.
Before this year: Spent his rookie season in '99 watching, getting into only one game without throwing a pass. But the huge (6-foot-4, 275 pounds) and strong Culpepper so impressed Dennis Green that the head coach decided in the offseason to forget the big-name QBs and go with the kid from Central Florida.
This year: The coach was right. An NFL-high 33 TD passes, and seven rushing TDs, earned Culpepper a Pro Bowl start. He's a threat to run but has proven he's a clutch passer, too: His 95.4 third-down passing rating led the NFC, and his 100.6 fourth-quarter passing rating was third.
What to expect: Stronger and bigger than McNabb, Culpepper is not afraid to challenge the defensive front. He was 6-for-6 running on third-and-1 situations this season. And he won't get picked off much. He was intercepted only 13 times this season, a main reason behind his lofty 98.0 passing rating.
Before this year: Was lost in the QB class of '99, slipping to the fourth round, where he was taken by Green Bay with pick No. 131. Because Brett Favre plays - always -- for the Packers, Brooks didn't play a snap last season and was traded to the Saints in training camp, where he became the backup to free-agent Jeff Blake.
This year: When Blake blew out his foot in the Saints' 11th game, Brooks had his chance. He beat the Rams in his first start and finished 3-2 as a starter, throwing nine TD passes and six interceptions along the way. He also ran for two touchdowns. Last week, he threw four TD passes in the wild-card win against the Rams.
What to expect: Who knows? The game against the Vikings will be just his seventh NFL start. Coaches say he's smart, his teammates have marveled about his coolness, plus he's deadly quick (a reported 4.4 40 time) and considered very athletic. He's been a streaky passer. And on the road in the playoffs? We'll see.
Before this year: A little-known Dartmouth grad who went undrafted, he was signed by the Eagles in '94 and spent life as a No. 3 in '94 and '95. After being cut by the Eagles and Bengals, he went to the World League before signing with the Vikings in '98. As a backup in Minnesota and Jacksonville ('99), he made his way into 13 games, with one start, throwing two TD passes and two picks.
This year: The heir apparent to Dan Marino? After an offseason competition with Damon Huard, Fiedler started 15 games for the Dolphins, going 10-5. He tossed 14 TD passes, threw 14 picks and completed 57.1 percent of his passes.
What to expect: Efficiency, smarts, not too many mistakes. Not particularly strong-armed, but good in the short and intermediate passing games. He relies on his running game, but he'll take off when needed and does a decent job doing it, gaining an average of 4.9 yards every time he bolts.
Before this year: Gannon has been around. The Patriots took him with the 98th pick of the '87 draft, promptly traded him to the Vikings and it's been a long ride since, with stops in Washington and Kansas City. He didn't play at all in '94, finally coming into his own as a Pro Bowler with Oakland last season, when he had 24 TD passes.
This year: He started all 16 games, the second consecutive season he's done that, throwing 28 TD passes (11 picks), completing 60 percent of his passes, compiling a 92.4 passing rating and getting the 2000 Pro Bowl nod.
What to expect: Toughness. Fire. Fearlessness. Led AFC QBs with 529 rushing yards, a trademark of a career in which he's averaged nearly five yards a run. You may see him jawing with head coach Jon Gruden, too, and Gannon won't put up with mistakes: The Raiders had only 20 giveaways in '00, best in the AFC.
Before this year: Longtime struggler with the Buccaneers, Dilfer spent six seasons of frustration in Tampa Bay, finally getting bumped out of his starting spot by Shaun King last season. Dilfer had 70 TD passes and 80 interceptions in six years there and never really earned the confidence of fans or coaches.
This year: As a free-agent pickup, he finally bumped out Tony Banks and started eight games for the Ravens, going 7-1. He had 12 TD passes and 11 interceptions in 11 games, then led the Ravens to a 21-3 win against Denver last week.
What to expect: The Ravens, with their defense, are just asking Dilfer to take care of the ball and let the running game do its thing. Nothing chancy, nothing much downfield. A lot like Tampa Bay with Dilfer, in fact. He's brought them this far, but word is the Ravens could be shopping again in the offseason.
Before this year: The former "Air" McNair has been grounded by a strong running game headlined by Eddie George. McNair simply hasn't needed to throw. The No. 3 pick in the '95 draft also has been brought along slowly. He had 50 TD passes and 36 interceptions in his first five seasons.
This year: Again, the Titans have relied on ball control with George, so McNair had only 15 TD passes (tying a career best) and 13 interceptions (tying a career worst). He did complete a career-best 62.6 percent of his passes. But for the first time since his rookie year, when he played in only four games, McNair didn't run for a TD.
What to expect: Oh, but McNair can run, and escape pressure, as he did in last year's Super Bowl. He is averaging 7.0 yards a carry in the postseason. And although he still lacks the downfield game he had at Alcorn State, McNair has proven to be a winner: 21 times in his last 26 starts, in fact.