Quarterback carousel spins faster

The only guy in the NFL who finished the day with a better line than Matt Cassel might have been Cris Collinsworth.

After Cassel shredded the Miami Dolphins with his second straight 400-yard game — 30-for-43, three touchdowns passing and one running — Collinsworth, the former Bengals receiver and current TV analyst, tied the performance off with a bow.

"Somebody needs to get that kid a supermodel," Collinsworth said, "because he looks like Tom Brady right now."

Considering Brady’s improbable rise from sixth-round draft pick to two-time Super Bowl MVP to Giselle Bundchen’s boyfriend, the comparison is far from complete. Still, it’s not a bad place for the 26-year-old Cassel to start.

History being made?


It’s nearly impossible to fix the moment when a star is born, or even when one flames out, but we might have witnessed both on Sunday.

Finding a topflight quarterback and keeping him upright arguably has never been tougher. The two with the longest streaks of consecutive regular-season starts, Brett Favre, age 39, and Peyton Manning, 32, both figured prominently in wins Sunday. Meanwhile, No. 3 on the list, Eli Manning, 28, returned to the scene of the Giants’ Super Bowl win last January and reprised his MVP-caliber performance by throwing three touchdowns in a beatdown of the Cardinals.

The win was the younger Manning’s 65th start. That number would have been higher if coach Tom Coughlin had followed his instincts and let Eli play at the beginning of his rookie year in 2004. Instead, he started Kurt Warner for the first nine games, then benched him after back-to-back losses and decided to let Manning learn on the job.

The rest was history — until Warner re-emerged this season.

Rejuvenated by a trio of young receivers as good as any in the league, the 37-year-old has defied conventional wisdom by ousting Matt Leinart, the young quarterback he was supposed to mentor.

The Giants took some of the sweetness out of the story by pressuring Warner all afternoon — making him again look like the old, slow, mistake-prone QB New York sent packing. He was intercepted once and fumbled once, both leading to Giants touchdowns.

Despite the setback, Warner’s resurgence holds out hope for Donovan McNabb. The Eagles quarterback was benched for the first time in his pro career for poor play in an embarrassing loss to the Ravens. He was intercepted twice and fumbled once, a week after throwing three interceptions and losing another fumble in a tie with the Bengals.

Coach Andy Reid, who arrived in Philadelphia just ahead of McNabb in 1999, didn’t have the stomach to inform McNabb he’d been benched. Reid had quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur do that.


Looking for spark

"I thought it might be a little bit of a spark," Reid said of his decision to insert second-round pick Kevin Kolb, "and we might be able to get some things going."

Nothing doing. Kolb was intercepted twice, including one that Baltimore defender Ed Reed returned a league-record 108 yards for a touchdown.

Reid promised to settle on a starter Monday for Thursday’s game against the Cardinals, and the decision won’t be easy. McNabb will cost the Eagles $10.3 million in salary-cap space next season, though the money isn’t guaranteed. If Sunday turns out to be the start of the downslope of his career, the Eagles may want to know whether Kolb can be groomed as his replacement sooner rather than later.

Even Joe Montana got shoved to the side at some point.

"The thing I will do is I will continue to prepare as if I am the starter," McNabb said. "I’ve been a part of this thing for 10 years. You have to have short-term memory in this league, be able to focus on who you’re playing and be able to move on."

Coaches have to have short-term memories, too.

While Patriots coach Bill Belichick had no choice but to turn to Cassel when Brady was knocked out for the season in the opener, he resisted the temptation to bring another quarterback in to fill Brady’s shoes. Cassel was stuck behind Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Leinart and wound up sitting on the bench for all but a few plays during his college career at USC. But he was also a quick study, and unsympathetic as Belichick can be, his faith in the youngster is being rewarded.


"You become more comfortable as you play," Cassel said. "A lot of it has to do with game speed. You cannot simulate game speed in practice, so as much as you want to say you’re ready to step on the field and go, it takes you a little while to adjust to that game speed.

"I feel like I’ve got a few more games under my belt," he added, "and I feel a whole lot more comfortable out there now."

Teammate Randy Moss, who with Brady formed the NFL’s most potent passing combo, had his doubts when Cassel took over. But after the youngster threw three TD strikes his way, the last of those melted.

"Matt is getting in the comfort zone," Moss confirmed. "He’s playing some hellified ball."

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

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