Sun, Sep 21, 2003 - Page 23 News List

Four top quarterbacks struggle

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

They enter their next contests seeking what, for them, should be the most rudimentary of accomplishments -- a 300-yard game, a third-down conversion, the chance to get onto the field. Even a first victory.

Save for the Houston Texans' win over the Miami Dolphins in the opening week of the season, or how badly the Chicago Bears have played, the year's biggest head-scratcher has been the struggles of some of the NFL's heretofore elite quarterbacks.

Among them, Brett Favre, Rich Gannon, Donovan McNabb and Kurt Warner have 17 Pro Bowl appearances, with all but Warner earning spots in the contest that closed the 2002 season.

However, right now, the only thing the quartet has in common is a search for answers. Gannon, who only twice this season has faced a third-down situation and passed for a first down, will get his chance for redemption Monday night when the Oakland Raiders play the Denver Broncos in Denver.

By then, the Green Bay Packers' Favre, who has 35 300-yard games to his credit, may have gotten No. 36, his first of the season, against the Arizona Cardinals. Meanwhile, McNabb, who has led Philadelphia to only 10 points in its first two games, has an extra week to try to figure out what has gone wrong, for himself and his 0-2 Eagles.

At least McNabb can use the bye as an excuse for his not playing -- in St. Louis, Warner, a two-time NFL MVP, has been benched, replaced by Marc Bulger, as the Rams travel to Seattle.

"He is upset about it," Rams coach Mike Martz told St. Louis media last week of his decision to sit Warner, who fumbled six times in the Rams' season-opening loss to the New York Giants.

"He feels he should be playing right now. If he wasn't [upset], then he wouldn't be the Kurt that I know."

While Martz said his thoughts on who the starting quarterback should be remain fluid, it's crystal clear where the trends lie: Warner has lost his past eight starts, while Bulger is 7-1 in his.

While Daunte Culpepper of the Minnesota Vikings has enjoyed a resurgence after a poor 2002 season, and Drew Bledsoe has continued his fine play since joining the Buffalo Bills a year ago, a glance at the NFL quarterback ratings shows the upper echelon includes the likes of Matt Hasselbeck and Patrick Ramsey, who struggled to get into the lineup with the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins, respectively, last season. Culpepper's rating is 114.4.

Favre's number (57.6) doesn't even come up on the radar, although it looks almost Unitas-like compared with McNabb's (41.4).

"Guys are going to make mistakes -- there are times when guys like that just aren't on their game," Broncos linebacker Al Wilson said. "That's just the nature of this business. It's hard, and those guys are quarterbacks."

It's the nature of that position that they're expected to play well every week, which we know isn't going to happen. But because they're held to such higher standards, higher than everybody else. When they don't live up to them, they catch it, but you still have to respect them. They'll be back. After the initial series of last week's 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, Gannon could be seen on the Raiders' sideline, stretching and throwing passes. There was talk the veteran had suffered a back injury, perhaps the mitigating factor in a 13-for-28, 103-yard performance.

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