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."
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.
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.
King's Monday Morning Quarterback every week at SI.com/football.