It was day for young QBs to stand up, or take seat


November 14, 2005|By KEN MURRAY

There was no accounting for the wind in Chicago, the outbreak of offense in Tampa or the stupefying special teams play in the Meadowlands.

There was no holding back J.P. Losman, Chris Simms or Joey Harrington on a day when still more young quarterbacks emerged around the NFL.

And there was no consolation for losing quarterbacks Brooks Bollinger, Kyle Boller or Trent Green, who combined for 10 interceptions -- and not a single touchdown -- among them.

Week 10 was filled with extremes, from deliciously long touchdown returns to stunningly good and bad quarterback play and an assortment of dramatic finishes.

But for the second straight week, a great game was decided by a great coaching call.

Like Dick Vermeil in Kansas City a week ago, Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden played for the win when the logical and safe move was to play for overtime.

His Buccaneers had scratched within a point of the Washington Redskins on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Simms to Edell Shepherd. With 58 seconds left, the extra point ties the game and probably forces overtime.

And at first, Gruden was agreeable to that. But after the Redskins jumped offside to block the kick and moved the ball a yard closer to the goal line, Gruden had second thoughts. He had winning thoughts.

He gave the ball to Mike Alstott, and the massive fullback disappeared into a pile only to emerge on his back with the game-winning two points. A replay review was inconclusive and the Bucs stole a game they shouldn't have, 36-35.

Give Gruden credit. He had courage enough to avoid having a brilliant performance by Simms spoiled by a potential coin flip.

Simms threw a total of four interceptions in his first two starts after replacing injured Brian Griese in Week 8. Yesterday he threw none while piling up 279 yards and three scores. A game that held strong defensive overtones coming into the day turned into a wonderful shootout.

In his fifth NFL start, Simms, 25, looked comfortable in the job.

The same could be said about Losman, 24, who replaced a woozy Kelly Holcomb in Buffalo and directed the Bills to a 14-3 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Losman lost his starting job after a 1-3 start and only one touchdown pass.

He burned the Chiefs with two touchdown passes, covering 33 and 29 yards, to Lee Evans, to outplay Green, who threw three interceptions. Losman almost certainly will start next week at San Diego.

Still a third young, struggling quarterback made all the right plays yesterday. Harrington, 27, showed some true grit when he threw three touchdown passes to wide-out Roy Williams in the Detroit Lions' 29-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Harrington's performance may even cause coach Steve Mariucci to rethink a return to Jeff Garcia next week.

Quarterbacks who didn't step up included Boller, in the Ravens' dreary 30-3 loss to Jacksonville, and Eli Manning, who became mistake-prone in the New York Giants' shocking 24-21 loss to Minnesota.

Boller was intercepted three times, Manning four. At least the Giants were in the game, however. The Vikings made NFL history when they returned an interception, a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns, then broke a 21-21 tie on Paul Edinger's 48-yard field goal with 10 seconds left at Giants Stadium.

Minnesota had just 137 yards in total offense, but on a day of extremes, it didn't matter.

Offense was hard to come by in Chicago, too, where wind gusts of up to 47 mph made the kicking game a nightmare and the passing game a joke. San Francisco quarterback Cody Pickett completed just one of 13 passes in the raw conditions. Bears quarterback Kyle Orton completed eight of 13.

The wind was so bad it affected even deep snaps, and treated field-goal tries like boomerangs. When the Bears' Robbie Gould tried a 39-yarder, the ball started toward the middle of the uprights and then veered dramatically to the right to miss by yards.

The wind contributed on a play at the end of the half that effectively turned the game. San Francisco coach Mike Nolan called time to allow Joe Nedney to attempt a 52-yard field goal, knowing how precious points would be on this day.

Nedney's kick was short and wind-blown to the right. Nathan Vasher caught it deep in the end zone and weaved his way down the field for a 108-yard touchdown return. That was the longest touchdown in the league's 86-year history.

A more conventional 7-yard run by Adrian Peterson in the fourth quarter gave the Bears all the points they needed in a 17-9 win, their fifth straight.

Hot reads

Adding to an already strong rivalry, the New England Patriots overcame even more injuries to beat the Miami Dolphins, 23-16. The Patriots lost a fourth-quarter lead, reclaimed it on a 17-yard Tom Brady touchdown pass, and then kept the Dolphins out of the end zone from the 5 at game's end.

The Carolina Panthers turned six New York Jets turnovers -- four of them Bollinger interceptions -- into 23 points in a 30-3 rout. That victory, combined with the Atlanta Falcons' 33-25 loss to the Green Bay Packers, enabled the Panthers to move into sole possession of first in the NFC South.

The Giants' loss could prove very costly. They play the Philadelphia Eagles twice in the next four weeks, around games against the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys.

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