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eXcess and O's

They All Have Change for a Quarter

October 06, 2002|MIKE PENNER

These are not good days to be a quarterback in the NFL, Donovan McNabb's recent $115-million contract notwithstanding. The season's barely a month old and quarterbacks across the league are getting pulled and replaced at a pace usually reserved for kickers and major league managers. Six teams have made changes already, with more assuredly to come....

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Week 1 starter: Gus Frerotte.

Current starter: Jon Kitna.

Reason for change: The Bengals have a major problem. (Actually, the Bengals have many major problems, but space here is limited. For a complete listing, please consult the hard-bound 26-volume collection, titled "Ickey Forever.") The Bengals have convinced themselves they have a playoff-caliber roster--Really! There are on-the-record quotes to this effect--and now at their usual 0-4, they figure it must be the quarterback's fault. Frerotte lasted less than three full games, getting pulled after opening a nationally televised Sunday night game 0 for 7. Akili Smith got the call last week; he lost, 35-7. Now the Bengals are going back to Kitna, who started 15 games for Cincinnati last season, which is the reason Cincinnati opened this season with Frerotte in the first place.

What's next: Smith has asked to be traded; smart kid. Cincinnati is Frerotte's fourth team in five years; now the Bengals know why. So it's probably Kitna playing out the string, Cincinnati getting the No. 1 draft choice in the 2003 draft ... and using it on an offensive tackle.

DETROIT LIONS

Week 1 starter: Mike McMahon.

Current starter: Joey Harrington.

Reason for change: The Lions just finished building a $300-million stadium and wanted to fill at least half of it for the Sept. 22 grand opening. McMahon was something of a cult hero in Detroit, actually winning a couple of games last December and saving the Lions from an 0-16 season, but he started the 2002 season 0-2 and the Lions had burned the No. 3 pick in the draft and $36 million on Harrington. McMahon could do the math--another sorry victim of a numbers game.

What's next: Harrington is 1-1 in two starts, completing 20 of 35 passes for 267 yards in last week's victory over New Orleans. Not surprisingly, the Lions have gone around the bend--consider this quote from Detroit cornerback Todd Lyght: "He's going to be the quarterback of the ages here." Which suggests Harrington could be starting for the Lions for a while. Lucky him.

NEW YORK JETS

Week 1 starter: Vinny Testaverde.

Current starter: Chad Pennington.

Reason for change: Testaverde has been playing on borrowed time for several seasons while the Jets bought time to develop Pennington, who has yet to convince many he has been worth the wait. According to his birth certificate, Testaverde turns 39 next month. Four starts in September suggested a different number, maybe 47? The Jets won their opener on two kickoff returns by Chad Morton, are 0-3 since, getting outscored, 102-13. Pennington mopped up last week's 28-3 loss to Jacksonville and makes his first NFL start today against Kansas City.

What's next: Testaverde has been through this before, most recently in 1995, when he was AFC player of the month in September and backing up Eric Zeier by November. Testaverde remembers asking his coach then, Bill Belichick, "Why are you making me a scapegoat in all this?" Belichick told him, "I can't change the left guard and get a spark. I've got to change the quarterback." So the Jets aren't changing their left guard this week. The season's long, the Jets are bad. Testaverde hasn't made his last start.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Week 1 starter: Kordell Stewart.

Current starter: Tommy Maddox.

Reason for change: The Steelers were less than 15 minutes away from an 0-3 start when Coach Bill Cowher pulled Stewart last Sunday and replaced him with Maddox. Maddox drove the Steelers to their only touchdown of the day, tied the score and brought on overtime. Then Maddox threw an interception, Cleveland missed a field goal, Maddox completed six of his next seven passes, Cleveland blocked a field goal on second down, Pittsburgh recovered and kicked the winning field goal on third down. Cowher waffled initially as to who would start in Week 5, but apparently got tired of watching game film of Stewart throwing interceptions (15 in his last seven games) and opposing defenses stacking eight men at the line of scrimmage, because the Steelers can't run the ball anymore. So Maddox gets the start today and Stewart's handlers have spent the week reassuring him, "It's all Jerome Bettis' fault."

What's next: Maddox is forever branded with the three dreaded scarlet letters: XFL. The New Orleans Saints, as he is about to discover, are not the Memphis Maniax. Stewart will be back.

ST. LOUIS RAMS

Week 1 starter: Kurt Warner.

Current starter: Jamie Martin.

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