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NFL Report: Teams’ fates rest with backup QBS





For the past decade or more, NFL teams have been searching for the next Tom Brady or Kurt Warner.

At the moment, several contenders would settle for the next Frank Reich.

It’s a truism that you’re only as a good as your backup quarterback. Brady and Warner were hardly household names when they replaced injured starters to win Super Bowls.

Now, several teams are about to find out just how well-insured they are. A brutal weekend saw four starters knocked out with varying injuries, casting their seasons—and in one quarterback’s case, his future—into doubt.

Chicago’s Jay Cutler, San Francisco’s Alex Smith and Philadelphia’s much-maligned Michael Vick left Sunday’s games with concussions. Given the league’s increased emphasis on concussion treatment, none will be rushed back into action.

Then Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger left Monday night’s ugly overtime win over Kansas City with a sprained right (throwing) shoulder.

Each team suffered without its starter, and none is a lock to play this weekend. In fact, next Monday night’s game between the Bears and 49ers could pit understudies Jason Campbell against Colin Kaepernick rather than Cutler against Smith.

The greatest sense of urgency is in Chicago, where the Bears have proved they can’t win without Cutler—and they struggle to protect him when he’s healthy.

Campbell, the onetime starting quarterback for the Redskins, replaced Cutler under difficult conditions Sunday night: with no warning, in a cold rain, against a potent Houston defense. As expected, he struggled—just as he did in previous stops in D.C. and Oakland.

The Bears have the infrastructure to win without a marquee quarterback: a good runner in Matt Forte and the NFL’s most opportunistic defense. On paper, at least, Campbell fits the mold of a good, experienced backup. If Cutler is out for a while, the Bears will need him to play like one.

Normally, the Steelers wouldn’t panic without Roethlisberger. In 2010, they started 3–1 while he served a four-game suspension for off-field issues, using Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich. And like Chicago, Pittsburgh has a stout defense (ranked No. 1).

Roethlisberger carries a bigger load now than he used to, though. Pittsburgh’s ground game ranks 21st in the league, with only four rushing touchdowns.

Like Campbell, Leftwich struggled in relief Monday night. And two of Pittsburgh’s next three games are against AFC North leader Baltimore. The Steelers can’t afford to have Roethlisberger out for too long.

The same goes for the 49ers and Smith. Eighteen months ago, his future in San Francisco seemed dubious. Now, he’s hard to replace.

Few question his toughness anymore, not after he threw a touchdown pass with blurred vision after his concussion Sunday against the Rams. But without him, the 49ers settled for a 24–24 tie—and with Seattle surging, the NFC West title is no certainty.

The 49ers picked Kaepernick in the second round in 2011. He may get a chance to prove he was worth it.

And in Philadelphia, Vick’s tenure soon may be over (along with coach Andy Reid’s) after he suffered what Reid called “a significant” concussion against Dallas. (Just to be clear, there are no insignificant concussions.)

Vick was a fragile turnover machine even before Sunday’s injury. Rookie Nick Foles is expected to start for the 3–6 Eagles against the Redskins on Sunday in what could be the start of a new era in Philly.


Looking for a turnaround, The Pick (2–6) will take a flier on the Browns (7-point road underdogs) to surprise the schizophrenic Cowboys.


    1. Texans (8–1)

    Arian Foster for MVP?

    2. Falcons (8–1)

    Deficiencies were exposed.

    3. Packers (6–3)

    Rested for a stretch run.

    4. Ravens (7–2)

    Can seize division control.

    5. Bears (7–2)

    No Cutler, no success.

    6. Broncos (6–3)

    LB Williams eligible again.

    7. 49ers (6–2–1)

    QB Smith’s value is clear.

    8. Steelers (6–3)

    City is holding its breath.

    9. Patriots (6–3)

    Defense bends—a lot.

    10. Colts (6–3)

    Patriots offer a true test.

    11. Seahawks (6–4)

    Unbeaten at home so far.

    12. Saints (4–5)

    Run defense is improving.

    13. Giants (6–4)

    Eli slumps, so does team.

    14. Buccaneers (5–4)

    QB Freeman is red hot.

    15. Vikings (6–4)

    Ready for division tests.

    16. Bengals (4–5)

    Schedule ahead is easy.

    17. Lions (4–5)

    Defense isn’t playoff-caliber.

    18. Cowboys (4–5)

    Next three games at home.

    19. Chargers (4–5)

    Must win vs. Broncos.

    20. Titans (4–6)

    Will bye slow momentum?

    21. Rams (3–5–1)

    Tie felt like a victory.

    22. Dolphins (4–5)

    No time to dwell on rout.

    23. Cardinals (4–5)

    Kolb’s not ready to return.

    24. Jets (3–6)

    Where’s the offense?

    25. Redskins (3–6)

    Healthier after bye.

    26. Eagles (3–6)

    Can rookie save Reid’s job?

    27. Raiders (3–6)

    Defense is collapsing.

    28. Bills (3–6)

    Concussion for RB Jackson.

    29. Panthers (2–7)

    They can’t fire everyone.

    30. Browns (2–7)

    In familiar role as spoiler.

    31. Chiefs (1–8)

    Leading a game is a start.

    32. Jaguars (1–8)

    No QB change—not yet.

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443