Commentary

Rocking the cradle of QBs

Vick's revival, Roethlisberger's anticipated return prime focus on Pennsylvania

Originally Published: October 1, 2010
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

Pennsylvania has become home to some of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, along with the most compelling quarterback storylines of this season.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was the September MVP, playing as well as or better than any other player in the league.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was exiled, pending the four-game suspension that will be completed after this Sunday.

After Philadelphia plays host to the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Ravens visit Pittsburgh in Week 4's two most anticipated games, the Eagles' once-suspended Vick and the Steelers' currently suspended Roethlisberger will make Pennsylvania the must-see state it usually is during elections.

By mid-October, Pennsylvania will feature two of the most talented -- and troubled -- athletes of the past decade. And it will be the latest chapter for a state that has made more quarterback history than any other.

Some of the game's greatest quarterbacks originated from the Keystone State. Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Dan Marino, Joe Namath and Jim Kelly all grew up and learned the quarterback position in Pennsylvania.

Now, its current starting NFL quarterbacks will be watched as closely as ever. Each has done his best to overcome trouble. Their comebacks will continue within the same state lines, under the same countrywide scrutiny.

The only thing more fascinating would be a Vick-Roethlisberger, all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl.

On to this week's 10 Spot:

One reason Donovan McNabb was traded from Philadelphia to Washington was because he was entering the last year of his contract. But so is Michael Vick. It's hard to conceive that McNabb and/or Vick would be a part of this offseason's quarterback free-agent class. But Washington and Philadelphia have key contractual decisions to make at the quarterback position regarding McNabb and Vick, who will square off Sunday in Philadelphia. Each team could use its franchise tag on its starting quarterback. But what's unusual and unexpected is that nobody ever could have predicted that, at this time, Vick would be more poised to cash in than McNabb.

Last season, New Orleans won its first 13 games and Indianapolis its first 14. It fueled the type of undefeated talk that followed New England's 16-0 regular season in 2007. But one of those historic runs that attract viewers and stir debate is unlikely to occur this season. The league is down to three unbeaten teams -- the Steelers, Chicago Bears and Kansas City Chiefs -- the fewest number of 3-0 teams since 2001. Of those three, Pittsburgh is the most likely to make an extended run, but it does not figure to last long. The Steelers sandwich their bye week between back-to-back home games against the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. Then in Weeks 7 through 9, Pittsburgh visits Miami, New Orleans and Cincinnati. Whereas the NFL has had unbeaten teams into December two of the past three seasons, it does not expect to have that type of drama this season.

[+] EnlargeAustin Collie
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireFourth-round pick Austin Collie has 11 touchdowns in his first 19 regular-season games.

Darrius Heyward-Bey was the first wide receiver drafted in 2009, going seventh overall to Oakland. Michael Crabtree was the second wide receiver drafted that year, going 10th overall to San Francisco. In their first two seasons in the league, Heyward-Bey and Crabtree have combined to catch 73 passes for 950 yards and three touchdowns -- less than the 87 passes for 1,035 yards and 11 touchdowns that Colts wide receiver Austin Collie has caught in the same time by himself. Collie was a fourth-round pick in 2009, going 127th overall to Indianapolis. Granted, he plays with one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. But for Collie to beat the combined output of the top two wide receivers from the same draft is stupefying.

The center-to-quarterback snap isn't noticed much, but it will be Sunday. When Peyton Manning lines up behind Jeff Saturday in Jacksonville for their 158th NFL game together, they will become the most prolific quarterback-center combination in league history. The Indianapolis Colts tandem currently shares the mark with former quarterback Jim Kelly and center Kent Hull, who started 157 games together for the Buffalo Bills. "I'll always be indebted to what Jeff has done for me, just protecting me as a quarterback," Manning said. "I feel very comfortable with him right in front of me. Every time I make an audible, Jeff kind of has his own audibles after that. He makes those calls and then he has to go block a 320-pound defensive lineman. So I have never taken him for granted. I stay real close to him." Now they will be linked in the record book.

Had Earl Thomas stayed at Texas for his senior season, Longhorns coach Mack Brown planned to switch him from safety to cornerback. But Thomas turned pro, and when he did, the Seattle Seahawks graded him as the best cornerback in the draft, even though he was a safety. Seattle used the 14th overall pick on Thomas, and he has been just what the Seahawks had hoped for: a ball-hawking defensive back with great vision and instincts who now is a favorite for defensive rookie of the year. Thomas intercepted two passes last Sunday, joining Kenny Easley as the only players in Seahawks history to intercept two passes in one game during their rookie season. Thomas also has produced 15 tackles. And the NFC West had better get used to this. Thomas turned 21 years old in May.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireJets quarterback Mark Sanchez hasn't had an interception this season after throwing 20 in 2009.

During the New York Jets' Week 3 win over the Miami Dolphins, quarterback Mark Sanchez did his best to throw an interception, lofting the football straight to Dolphins defensive end Kendall Langford, who dropped it. But beyond that, Sanchez has been virtually mistake-free. In his 79 passing attempts this season, Sanchez has yet to throw an interception. In fact, the last regular-season interception Sanchez threw was Dec. 20 against the Atlanta Falcons, a game in which he threw three. But after throwing 20 interceptions in his first 13 regular-season games last season, Sanchez hasn't thrown any in his past five regular-season games. It could be he's growing up for a first-place team that still is without its best offensive player in wide receiver Santonio Holmes and its best defensive player in cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Speaking of turnover-free football, there's Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. Prone to fumbling in his NFL career, Peterson has had 83 touches in his first three games and has not fumbled once. This comes after a 2009 season in which he had six fumbles, losing five. In 2008, he had nine fumbles, losing four. Peterson appears to be holding the football higher and tighter, much like Tiki Barber did when he overcame his fumbling problems. Many backs, including Walter Payton, experienced fumbling problems early in their careers before correcting them. Peterson could be the next one.

Special teams have become a more significant factor than in any other recent season. Just ask the San Diego Chargers. In Week 1, the Kansas City Chiefs' return game almost singlehandedly beat San Diego. Then in Week 3, San Diego allowed Seattle's Leon Washington to return two kicks for touchdowns during another loss that fell largely on its special teams. But it's not all that unusual this season. Through three weeks, there already have been six kickoff returns for touchdowns, the most at this point in any season since 1970. New England's Brandon Tate did it versus the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1, Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown did it versus the Tennessee Titans in Week 2, Buffalo's C.J. Spiller did it against the New England Patriots in Week 3, the Arizona Cardinals' LaRod Stephens-Howling did it against the Oakland Raiders in Week 3 and Washington did it against the Chargers twice.

It was only fitting that during the week in which the great George Blanda passed away, the New Orleans Saints signed the 46-year-old John Carney. The only three players in NFL history who played at an age older than Carney, who is expected to kick Sunday for the Saints against the Carolina Panthers, are former Columbus Panhandles offensive lineman John Nesser, who played his last game in December 1921 at the age of 46 years and 223 days; former Falcons kicker Morten Anderson, who played his last game in December 2007 at the age of 47 years and 133 days; and Blanda, who played his last game in December 1975 at the age of 48 years and 95 days. Now Carney, who is nearly twice the age of Saints 24-year-old kicker Garrett Hartley, is about to make some history of his own.

Coachspeak provides the public a glimpse of just how quickly events and minds change. Two weeks ago, Eagles coach Andy Reid insisted on a Monday that Kevin Kolb was his starting quarterback, only to name Michael Vick the starter on Tuesday. Then this past Sunday, 49ers head coach Mike Singletary said offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye's job was safe for the season, only to turn around and fire him Monday morning. Even Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh predicted Wednesday that defensive end Trevor Pryce would return to Baltimore -- "He'll be back with us, " Harbaugh said -- only to see Pryce sign with Rex Ryan and the New York Jets on Thursday. Ultimately, what might be true one day isn't necessarily true the next. It's enough to cost coaches, and reporters, some of their credibility. But as we listen to these news conferences and the answers that come from them, it is worth remembering that life and decisions change.

The Schef's Specialties

Game of the week: Baltimore at Pittsburgh: Nobody could have imagined that the Steelers would be gunning for 4-0 without Ben Roethlisberger.

Upset of the week: St. Louis over Seattle: A win here could give the Rams a share of -- gasp -- first place.

Player of the week: Eagles S Nate Allen: The player the Eagles drafted with the second-round pick they got for Donovan McNabb already was named the defensive rookie of the month for September.

Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.