- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Philip Rivers's first test against a top-flight NFL defense comes on Sunday in Baltimore, and there aren't many quarterbacks of any experience level who'd expect to get an A against the Ray Lewis--led Ravens unit. But Rivers (right) showed in wins over the Raiders and the Titans that the trust placed in him when the club let Drew Brees go in free agency last March wasn't misplaced. Coming off a bye week, Rivers ranks a surprising second in the NFL in passer rating (107.4), completing 72% of his attempts with two touchdowns and no turnovers. The play that elevated his status in the eyes of teammates came at Oakland: With defensive tackle Warren Sapp steaming in on him unblocked, Rivers stood his ground and threw a perfect 38-yard pass to Eric Parker before getting leveled. "It almost felt good," says Rivers of the hit. "If I have to take it on the chin to complete the pass, that's fine. After the play we're lying there, and [ Sapp] says, 'No way he caught that!' I said, 'Yeah, he did!'" Rivers has to keep making plays like that because, he says, "I've still got a lot of trust and respect to earn."
"I'm going to bring energy out there, rely on the people around me and make smart decisions," Tampa Bay's Bruce Gradkowski said on Monday, after Jon Gruden told the rookie passer he'd make his first NFL start, in place of the injured Chris Simms, on Oct. 8 against the Saints. Gradkowski, a sixth-rounder from Toledo, vomited before his first preseason game in August, so there's no telling how he'll react in New Orleans. (The Bucs have a bye this week.) Simms is recovering from surgery to remove a ruptured spleen suffered in a 26--24 loss to the Panthers. That leaves Gradkowski to get Tampa Bay out of an 0--3 hole. The alltime NCAA Division I-A completion-percentage leader (68.2%) connected on 45 of 61 preseason throws to win the backup job from Tim Rattay. Five years ago another sixth-rounder replaced a starting QB on a winless team—the Patriots' Tom Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001 and won a Super Bowl. Tampa Bay can only hope history repeats.
1 I'm hearing from influential owners that the league doesn't like either of the proposed venues for an expansion team in the Los Angeles area: the Coliseum downtown or a proposed new stadium in Anaheim. "We could be five or six years away from a team in L.A.," says one owner, "not two or three."
2 Dallas has done an excellent job of locking up its cornerstone players, committing $78.1 million to keep safety Roy Williams, quarterback-of-the-future Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten and linebacker Bradie James well into their prime.
3 Seattle president Tod Leiweke doesn't mind the inconveniences of a scheduled preseason game in Beijing next August between his Seahawks and the Patriots, calling it "a significant privilege to be playing the first [ NFL] game ever in China." I doubt Bill Belichick sees it the same way.
Read Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback every week at SI.com/football.