In QB change, it's team that matters

Type of offensive system, mates' ability to adapt keys to failure or success

NFL Week 11

November 16, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Early in the 2001 season, a raw, second-year quarterback named Tom Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in New England and helped the Patriots reach - and win - the Super Bowl.

In 1990, Phil Simms suffered an injury and the New York Giants followed his replacement, Jeff Hostetler, to a Super Bowl victory.

In 1987, Doug Williams replaced an injured Jay Schroeder, took the Washington Redskins to the Super Bowl and delivered a powerful winning performance.

The NFL archives are filled with success stories that involve backup quarterbacks doing remarkable, unexpected things. But there are far more stories of backups who didn't hold up and teams that collapsed upon losing their quarterback. There's no better example than the Atlanta Falcons this season, post-Michael Vick.

Which path will the Ravens take, having lost starter Kyle Boller? Can Anthony Wright keep them on the high road to the playoffs? Will newly acquired Ray Lucas be able to navigate that treacherous path after failing in a similar role with the Miami Dolphins last season?

Some teams handle a change in quarterback better than others. And it's not always the backup that makes the difference.

"It begins with the confidence of his teammates," said Carl Peterson, president and general manager for the Kansas City Chiefs. "Then it has a lot to do with the system, how interchangeable it is, how easy it is for the new quarterback to take over the controls."

Peterson witnessed one of the smoothest transitions to a backup in 1997, when Chiefs quarterback Elvis Grbac broke his collarbone and was replaced by Rich Gannon. After losing his first start, Gannon won five in a row.

"Rich was a great student of the game," Peterson said. "He knew our offense inside and out. He also had that intrinsic leadership thing. Players really liked him and matriculated to him very well.

"They had great confidence with him the minute he stepped in the huddle. When he had opportunities, he was successful."

Kansas City's success story ended with a ghastly defeat in the 1997 playoffs after coach Marty Schottenheimer reinserted Grbac. Gannon went on to stardom with the Oakland Raiders and Grbac to premature retirement after spending the 2001 season with the Ravens.

Changing quarterbacks in the middle of a playoff run is always a dicey proposition. But Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese said it hurts some teams more than others. For the Titans to lose Steve McNair, he suggested, would be a worst-case scenario.

"One of the bigger parts of it, when you look at that, is what kind of dependency do you have on the quarterback?" Reese said. "In our situation, we'd be devastated. In Baltimore's situation, the running game is so strong and the defense is so strong, there's a possibility it might not have the same impact on them."

Last season, the Philadelphia Eagles lost Donovan McNabb for six games with a broken fibula. Then they lost backup Koy Detmer, who won his only start. But third-stringer A.J. Feeley won four of five starts to give the Eagles the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.

"Everybody has to pull together," Reese said. "If you're fortunate enough to have enough strengths in other areas, you can partially compensate for it. I have to think Baltimore can compensate.

"The pressure shifts on the offensive line. It has to protect better. Receivers have to catch better. Running backs have to run better. Everybody has to compensate."

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