Cue the calliope music, the quarterback carousel is spinning in 2010. Seemingly, it's spinning at warp-speed.
Only the 11th-hour decision by Brett Favre to start in Monday night's game - some would suggest a misguided notion, after Favre left the frigid contest in the second quarter, suffering a potentially career-ending concussion - precluded rookie Joe Webb from becoming the 60th different quarterback to start a game this year.
The number will probably be reached next week, unless Favre somehow successfully navigates the league's concussion protocol, with Webb, originally drafted to play wide receiver, getting the first start of his career.
The number 60 isn't some magic milestone - there were actually 64 starters in 2007 - but it is somewhat symbolic of the frequent turnover at what used to arguably be the league's most stabile position. Only in '07 has the NFL had 60 or more different starters at quarterback in this millennium. The number of quarterback starters last season was 52.
The average for the 10-year stretch 2000-2009 was 56.0.
Unless there is a late-season spate of injuries at quarterback or an inordinate number of usual starters for playoff teams "resting" to end the regular season, the 64 starters used in 2007, believed to be the highest in at least 20 years, probably in unreachable. There are, after all, very few guys left to start who haven't already gotten the nod. But 60 is still a high number.
Notable is that only a dozen teams have started the same quarterback for every game this season. Seven franchises - Arizona, Carolina, Cleveland, Detroit, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee - have each had three starters. There were, of course, extenuating circumstances for the Steelers, with the four-game suspension of Ben Roethlisberger at the outset of the season.
Still, the fact there have been so many starters, and so many teams with more than two, points to the increasing upheaval at the position.
"Nobody writes the name of their quarterback in pen anymore," said the head coach of one team that has used three starters in 2010. "I guess the term 'pencil in' really does apply now, huh? I know the so-called starter has to get the (practice) snaps, but the other guys have to be ready, too. It's changed a lot."
And it changes a lot, too, the numbers indicate.
There have been 51 quarterback switches in the 14 weeks since the league openers, an average of 3.64 quarterback changes every weekend. Last week, there were six, a season-high, and there have been fewer than three just once. That came in Week 4, when there were no switches from the previous weekend's starters. Six times in '10 there have been more than three changes.
The regularity with which teams change quarterbacks anymore - this marks the third straight season with at least 50 switches - makes Favre's streak of 297 starts all the more incredible.
"With everything that can happen - some fluke thing, like banging your hand off a (defender's) helmet, or something like that - it's remarkable - said Peyton Manning of Indianapolis, who has never missed a start in his 13-year career, and has strung together a streak of 206 games. His brother, Eli, of the New York Giants, now has 101 straight starts.
But it takes more than good bloodlines, or a famous surname, to survive even one full season in the starting lineup anymore.
"You've got to kind of be lucky, too," said the New York Jets' Mark Sanchez, who has started in all but one of his 30 NFL games in two seasons.
And you've got to be good, too, because coaches are more likely now to make a non-injury related switch if a quarterback isn't playing well.
That's one of the alterations to the game, along with the relentless attack on the pocket that defensive coordinators have unleashed, a "kill the quarterback" philosophy that's been even more obvious the last few seasons. Time was when a coach would stick with his starter through some bad times, but that isn't necessarily the case anymore.
Of the 51 switches this season, with two games remaining on the schedule, 11 were made (unofficially at least) for what might be termed "competitive reasons."
Webb could make it 60 NFL QB changes
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