Other than first-year starter Chad Pennington of the New York Jets, the NFL’s top three passers (with at least 215 attempts) have plenty in common.
Oakland’s Rich Gannon didn’t become a starter until his fourth year with Minnesota but spent two of his first eight seasons out of football and wasn’t a regular again for four more years. Kansas City’s Trent Green was a clipboard-holder for four of his first five seasons and was out of football for the fifth. And Tampa Bay’s Brad Johnson didn’t throw a pass until his third season in Minnesota and didn’t become a regular until his fifth year.
And Gannon, Green and Johnson were all found wanting by the Washington Redskins, whose quarterbacks rank a collective 21st in passing this season.
Gannon, who started four games for the 1993 Redskins but wasn’t re-signed, is the No. 2 passer in the league behind Pennington. Green, the Redskins’ third-stringer from 1995 to ‘97 and their starter in 1998 before jumping to St. Louis in 1999, is No. 3. And Johnson, who in 1999 led Washington to its only playoff berth in the last decade before getting shoved out the door after the 2000 season by owner Dan Snyder, is ranked fourth.
Johnson, 34, has led the Buccaneers to the NFC South title, marking the fifth time in his six years as a starter with Minnesota, Washington and Tampa Bay that he has guided a team to the playoffs. He’s 51-28 all time and is among the top 10 in career passer rating. In his last six games, of which the Bucs won five, Johnson has 15 touchdowns and just one interception. But Johnson who missed Monday’s loss to Pittsburgh with a bruised lower back and might not play Sunday at Chicago was left off the NFC Pro Bowl team in favor of Green Bay’s Brett Favre, Atlanta’s Michael Vick and San Francisco’s Jeff Garcia.
Gannon, 38, has guided the Raiders to their second AFC West title in three years and their third consecutive playoff berth while setting an NFL record with 411 completions. Gannon, who is averaging 307 yards a game this year (4,610 total), needs 241 tomorrow against Kansas City for the second-best season yardage total behind Dan Marino’s 5,084 in 1984.
Green’s Chiefs (8-7) need to beat the Raiders and then get some help to get into the playoffs, a task complicated by the absence of wondrous all-purpose back Priest Holmes for a second straight game with a bad hip. But if Kansas City doesn’t make the postseason, it won’t be the 32-year-old Green’s fault. His 26-12 touchdown-interception ratio can’t make up for all of the mistakes of the league’s worst defense.
Wasted takeaways Kansas City leads the AFC with a plus-16 in turnover differential and is the only NFL team not to allow a defensive or special teams touchdown. The Chiefs have lost two games in which they’ve had a plus-3 turnover ratio.
Streaking It has been a wild year for streaks. Baltimore and Kansas City are the only teams which will go through the year without winning and/or losing at least three straight games. Twenty-one of the 30 other teams have put together streaks of at least four in a row. St. Louis, which followed an 0-5 start with five consecutive victories, was the streak king, but Oakland, which went from 4-0 to 4-4, wasn’t far behind. Tennessee lost four straight and then won five in a row. Carolina went from 3-0 to 3-8. Green Bay has winning streaks of seven and four games, Tampa Bay five and four. Cincinnati started 0-7, and after breaking that skid, dropped its next six.
Vintage legs Not only has Philadelphia won six straight games with three different starting quarterbacks (Donovan McNabb, Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley), but the NFC East champion Eagles have to be the first team to employ a pair of 40-something punters in the same season. After Jason Baker bombed as the replacement for injured 40-year-old Sean Landeta, Philadelphia signed 41-year-old Lee Johnson last week. The Eagles are the fourth team in the last five years for Johnson, who holds the NFL record with 1,218 punts.
Record book He barely gets noticed with Indianapolis’ Marvin Harrison having shattered the all-time record with 137 catches, but Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward has 107 catches. The Steelers’ record was just 85 before Ward caught 94 last season. Ward’s on pace for 114, a total topped by only five receivers in NFL history.
Weird stat I Before making all five of his field goal attempts in last Sunday’s victory over Detroit, Atlanta’s Jay Feeley was just 29 of 41 in the Georgia Dome and 24 of 27 on the road and the three road misses were blocks. It’s inexplicable.
“He doesn’t like calm weather or something,” Falcons coach Dan Reeves said. “You can’t ask for a better place to kick than a dome.”
Weird stat II No Denver opponent has been penalized for holding in the past 36 quarters. Eight of those quarters came against the apparently legal blocking of the ever-dirty Raiders. Hard to believe.