Watching McNair, Rivers, it's clear that era of great QBs has passed


October 02, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

As Ravens quarterback Steve McNair became more of a factor in the second half yesterday, his San Diego counterpart, Philip Rivers, disappeared. And when the Ravens rallied for the second straight week in a 16-13 win over the Chargers, you began to wonder, where have all the good quarterbacks gone?

The Ravens beat the Chargers not because they were a physically better team, but because they have a good defense and one of the last remnants of great quarterbacking in the NFL. The Ravens gave McNair the green light in the final quarter, but San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer shut down Rivers and his offense in the second half.

And now you know why Schottenheimer hasn't earned a ring in four trips to the AFC championship game, and why the Ravens are contenders. Defensively, the Ravens aren't as good as the team in 2000, but they are good enough to control the tempo of most games, and the Ravens have enough leadership in McNair to win in a league that is quarterback-deprived.

Where have all the great quarterbacks gone? We're down to about three now: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Carson Palmer. We have some great ones on the downside of their careers like McNair and Brett Favre, and then there are the young guns like Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Rivers and Rex Grossman.

Sorry, but that doesn't sound as promising as the group of Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly.

What happened? We can blame it on the college game for not developing players. We can blame it on the salary cap because teams no longer have four or five years to develop a quarterback. Certainly, the league needs to look at itself because a lot of teams don't have quarterback coaches for the game's most important position.

Defenses have changed a lot over the years, from a read-and-react approach to an attacking mode. Defensive players are bigger, faster and stronger. There is more penetration and interruption, forcing quarterbacks to think faster. And lastly, coaching staffs micromanage their quarterbacks instead of allowing them to play the game on their own.

It was certainly evident yesterday.

The Chargers looked good early, and they had the Ravens totally off balance. They threw on running downs and passed in running situations. They had three-step, semi-rollouts that kept the pressure off Rivers, and somehow they knew every time outside linebacker Bart Scott was going to blitz. Rivers completed nine of 14 passes in the first half for 95 yards. He had one interception that led to a Ravens touchdown, but the kid looked comfortable and poised.

And then Schottenheimer started thinking. Uh-oh, trouble. Sounds like the time for Martyball.

He played right into the Ravens' hands. After building a 13-7 lead in the first half, Rivers threw only eight times, completing just four for 50 yards, in the second. He lost his confidence and his rhythm. When San Diego needed a big play in crunch time, Rivers overthrew receiver Vincent Jackson on a possible touchdown pass from the Ravens' 34 with 7:32 left in the game.

"I'm glad he [Schottenheimer] stuck with his game plan because that Rivers kid could play," Scott said.

Maybe he can. No one will ever know until Schottenheimer takes the leash off him. But if he doesn't, that puts the Chargers on par with a lot of teams in the NFL, including the Ravens. Both of those teams have good defenses, and so does Jacksonville, Denver and Pittsburgh. But the quarterbacks for those teams - Byron Leftwich Jake Plummer and Roethlisberger, respectively - aren't exactly lighting up the league this season.

McNair isn't either. A times, he looks awful and throws off his back foot. In most games this season, he looks like Kyle Boller for three quarters, and then finds some phone booth where he changes his clothes and becomes Superman. On the game-winning drive yesterday, he was 4-for-5 for 43 yards, including the 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Todd Heap with 34 seconds left.

When you look around the league, there are certainly quarterbacks with livelier arms, but not as many proven in high-pressure situations. Certainly, the Ravens have confidence in him, which showed when coach Brian Billick decided not to go for it on fourth-and-one at the Ravens' 43 with 5:37 left in the game.

Fans booed Billick, but it was the right call. Schottenheimer had pulled the plug on his offense. In fact, he didn't even have perhaps the league's best player, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, on the field during the Chargers' last two possessions.

"When I first came into the league, Marino was still playing, Elway was still playing, Favre was in his prime," Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle said. "Jim Kelly was still around, and so was Randall Cunningham. The talent level has dropped off. But you still have to find a quarterback who has a swagger, the player guys believe in and feed off.

"That's happening here. I shook hands with Steve before he went out on the last drive because I knew we were going to score. McNair is a stud. He just has a great sense of urgency. There were times when he played poorly in Tennessee, but he always delivered the next week."

The Ravens are living dangerously, and it might catch up with them before the season is over. Clock management is still an issue, and they used three timeouts in the third quarter yesterday. Running back Jamal Lewis can't find a hole, and maybe that's because the offensive line can't make one.

As a colleague suggested, maybe for their next trick the Ravens should try winning a game without getting even 1 yard of total offense. They just might do it.

In a league deprived of good quarterbacks, McNair has just enough left in his tank and the Ravens play good enough defense to make them contenders.

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