Healthy Quarterback, Healthy Season

Is it a coincidence that most of the NFL's teams who are in contention have had a healthy QB?

Only 14 teams have made it through the first three quarters of the regular season with the same quarterback starting all 12 games.

It's certainly no coincidence that of those 14 teams, 10 play for teams that would qualify for the playoffs if they started this week. The other two are AFC wild card combatants Cleveland and Jacksonville, and the Browns' Derek Anderson has started every game since taking over for Charlie Frye during the season opener.

The list of the fortunate teams will lose another member if Tampa Bay's Jeff Garcia is unable to overcome a back injury in time to face New Orleans on Sunday. Fortunately for the Bucs, they hold a three-game lead over the Saints and won the first meeting. But they'll have a hard time avoiding seeing that cushion take a serious hit if Garcia can't suit up.

"He is improving. He didn't really take many reps today, but he does feel a lot better and we're excited about that," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said Thursday.

At 5-6, Philadelphia is just a game out in the NFC wild card race. A.J. Feeley mounted such a worthy effort against New England last Sunday night that it sparked a debate about whether Donovan McNabb's job should be in jeopardy.

It absolutely is not, according to coach Andy Reid. Reid said McNabb will return to the lineup whenever his ankle is 100 percent. When that is, no one knows after McNabb sat out practice again Thursday.

And with McNabb's experience in Reid's offense, he doesn't need much prep time in order to play.

"That's up to Andy," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "We've installed a game plan and (we're ready) to go. We don't think too much about it. If Donovan's ready then he'll go. It's that simple."


For eight years the Browns struggled to find a quarterback worthy of starting, and now they believe they have two in Derek Anderson and rookie Brady Quinn.

Anderson will be a restricted free agent on March 1 without a new contract. General manager Phil Savage is guarded with his plans on trying to sign Anderson to a long-term deal or tendering him a contract of $2.562 million to net the Browns a first-round and third-round draft pick from a team signing him to an offer sheet.

"Every time we win a game, the next game gets a little bigger and those are the games (other teams) are probably going to focus on if they're actually studying him out there around the league," Savage said. "Internally, we're anxious to see how he does and how our team does in the final five games."

The next game is Sunday on the road against the Arizona Cardinals. The Browns, 7-4, have won five of their last six games. They are currently seeded as the second wild card team in the AFC, but they are only one game behind AFC North leading Pittsburgh. They would have to finish a game ahead of the Steelers to win the division because Pittsburgh swept the Browns.

Anderson has exceeded expectations of even his biggest supporters in the Browns front office. He has thrown 22 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. He is ranked 11th in the NFL, a step ahead of Peyton Manning. He became the starter after Charlie Frye was traded two days after the season opener. The Browns didn't even score a touchdown in the preseason with Anderson at quarterback.

"When you look at the situation he was thrust into and what he has done, you have to give him a lot of credit," Savage said.

Quinn has not played a down. The Browns do not have a first-round draft choice in 2008 because they traded it to the Cowboys so they could draft Quinn.

Savage said Quinn has shown enough in practice to make the coaches confident he would play well in a game. Savage likes third quarterback Ken Dorsey as a mentor to Anderson and Quinn and as a 'sounding board' to offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.

"We feel like we've got two quality quarterbacks and Ken Dorsey, who's done a fantastic job behind the scenes," Savage said. "I'd love to see us go forward with all three and hold on to the depth we have at the position for a while."

Anderson does not want to talk about his quarterback situation. If the Browns do tender Anderson and no team signs him to an offer sheet the Browns run the risk of losing him as an unrestricted free agent after 2008 and getting no compensation. The only way to keep him would be to make him a franchise player in 2009, a move that would net Anderson more than $10 million in salary. They could franchise him again in 2010.

A tender of $2.017 million would net a first-round pick in compensation, $1.417 million a second-round pick and $927,000 a sixth-round choice. Anderson was a sixth-round pick by the Ravens in 2005.

Savage said he would tender Anderson the money for first-round and third-round compensation rather than work a trade for lesser compensation, as the Falcons did when they traded Matt Schaub to the Texans for two second-round picks.


--WR Braylon Edwards missed practice with a hamstring injury for the second straight day Thursday.

--A knee injury kept NT Ethan Kelly out of practice again. He did not play against the Texans.

--CB Eric Wright is likely to miss his second straight game with a knee injury. He has not practiced since being hurt playing against the Ravens Nov. 18.

--RT Kevin Shaffer returned to practice Thursday after resting a knee injury Wednesday.

--DE Orpheus Roye rested his ailing knees again. Coach Romeo Crennel wanted Roye ready for the Cardinals. Unless Kelly mends quickly, Shaun Smith will start at nose tackle in Arizona, forcing Roye to play the majority of the game at left end.

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