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“Maybe this is just the class of classes, too,” he said. “Maybe this isn’t as much of a trend, but it looks like it’s kind of turning. “

It’s not just the rookies who are making their playoff debuts, either. Schaub was injured when the Texans made their first trip to the postseason a year ago and T.J. Yates _ yes, a rookie _ led them to a victory over Dalton and the Bengals. Houston then lost to Flacco and the Ravens.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” said Schaub, whose Texans have sputtered into the playoffs, dropping three of four to lose a bye. “But the thing that’s going to help us win the game are the same whenever you’re playing, wherever you’re playing. That’s playing smart, clean, good football.”

That’s exactly what the youngsters have done in key situations, even Ponder, who at times has looked overwhelmed. But he was solid the last two weeks when the Vikings beat Houston and Green Bay to secure their place in the Super Bowl chase.

“Balancing being conservative, making good decisions and taking chances, that’s something you need to continue to learn as a quarterback and growing up,” Ponder said. “I think that’s the biggest difference for me. `’

No matter how they fare this weekend, it’s been a successful two years for young quarterbacks. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan expects it to continue because of the emphasis on passing in college.

“They’re throwing the football a little bit more now than they have in the past,” Shanahan said. “I think that gives them a big advantage. I think they have the ability to come in and go through OTAs and really learn the system in the offseason. I know 20 years ago, you never had an opportunity like that. Going through a system again, you have a lot of hours in the classroom as a quarterback that you never had 10 years ago, a chance to learn the system. And a lot of these guys are coming out ready to go.”

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AP Sports Writers Tim Booth in Seattle, Howard Fendrich in Washington, and Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this story.

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