Persistence pays off for QBs

ON THE NFL

October 06, 2002|By Ken Murray

It's never too late in the NFL, as Tommy Maddox and Jamie Martin were reminded last week.

Maddox, playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, makes his first NFL start in 10 years today. Martin, playing for the St. Louis Rams, starts for the first time in four years. That the playoff hopes of two preseason favorites would fall to these backup quarterbacks one month into the season seems surreal. But in a year when anything goes, it seems about right.

It was Maddox who pulled out an overtime win against the Cleveland Browns last week for the 1-2 Steelers, a performance that again sent Kordell Stewart to the bench. While Martin played admirably for an injured Kurt Warner, he couldn't prevent the Rams from tumbling to 0-4.

Maddox and Martin aren't the only backup quarterbacks being asked to salvage a season. The New York Jets have benched Vinny Testaverde, 38, and turned his job over to Chad Pennington, 26. After starting Gus Frerotte and Akili Smith the past two weeks, the Cincinnati Bengals go back to Jon Kitna. And the Washington Redskins will try to buy time for rookie Patrick Ramsey by starting Danny Wuerffel.

Here's the level of experience they're looking at: this will be Pennington's first NFL start, Martin's second, Maddox's fourth, Wuerffel's seventh and Kitna's 49th. Pennington (2000) and Maddox (1992) are former first-round picks.

Maddox may have the best chance of all of them to revive his team, by virtue of his age (31), experience (six pro teams, three leagues), supporting cast (they're still the Steelers) and division (AFC North).

Once the heir apparent to John Elway in Denver, Maddox drifted from the Broncos to the Rams, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons before being cut in 1997. He was out of football for three years and sold insurance in Texas. Wanting to play again, he joined the New Jersey Red Dogs of the Arena Football League in 2000 and became the Most Valuable Player of the XFL for the Los Angeles Xtreme in 2001.

The Steelers were the only NFL team to call him for a workout in 2001, and he beat out Kent Graham for the No. 2 job. The Steelers love his accuracy and quick release. In a story reminiscent of Warner's rise from Arena Football to NFL stardom, Maddox improved his release on the short field.

"I think the things I worked on through the Arena League and having to get rid of the ball so quickly, I know it's a lot quicker," he said. "I felt I always had a strong arm and I probably had a slower delivery with it. But being quicker, I think it's more accurate as well."

Martin's career has taken a similar journey. He has been signed 10 times by four NFL teams, cut six times and granted unconditional free agency three more times. In his only start, for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1998, he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first half scrambling out of bounds.

Yet last week, without having taken a snap with the regulars since early August, Martin completed 24 of 37 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown. What kept him hanging on so long?

"I think just belief in myself, that if I did get a chance, I'd be ready," he said. "And this is my chance. I've been close to things like this happening before. An injury here and there kind of kept me out of it. So I think I'm ready."

He better be. Warner is out up to 10 weeks with a broken right pinkie finger.

Upsets galore

How crazy is this season? Last week, there were six upsets, including the Ravens over Denver, the Detroit Lions over the New Orleans Saints and the Dallas Cowboys over St. Louis. The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh narrowly escaped losing at home. Part of the answer, says Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, is that teams are more fragile in the free-agent, salary cap era.

"When I walk into a stadium on Sunday, I have no idea what I'm going to see," said Accorsi, whose team got upset in Arizona last week. "We throw for 8 million yards the first two games and win the next one, 9-6. I can't get a handle on this. Talent is so thin, you're playing so many young players, you get an injury and you're playing a rookie right away. Because of that, coaching is even more important.

"When I was in Cleveland and we went to five straight playoffs, I didn't go into a game knowing whether we'd win, but I had a good handle on how we were going to play. ... Now I don't have any idea what will happen, which is why I don't sleep any more."

Worlds apart

The Kansas City Chiefs are on a record pace in both offense and defense. Unfortunately for them, the defensive pace is dubious, hence their 2-2 record.

The Chiefs' offense has scored an NFL-high 142 points in four games, a pace that would break the league record of 556 set by the 1998 Minnesota Vikings with 568. But the defense is giving up 439 yards a game. If the average holds, the Chiefs would give up 7,024 yards, shattering the league record of 6,793 set by the 1981 Baltimore Colts.

Down on Brown

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