Big half-seasons for Ryan, Freeman, Peyton

Posted Nov. 09, 2010, at 5:52 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 10, 2010, at 7:11 p.m.

Here’s a novel idea: Let’s forget about all the off-field shenanigans involving NFL quarterbacks this year and concentrate on their passing, running, leadership and won-loss records.

Push aside suspensions (Ben Roethlisberger), sexting allegations (Brett Favre) and bizarre benchings (Donovan McNabb) and look at the action on the field.

Halfway through the schedule, it’s been a year of rebirth (Michael Vick, David Garrard), rapid development (Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford), collapse (Favre, Tony Romo’s team, if not Romo himself) and consternation (Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler).

COMEBACK QBS — When the Eagles signed Vick as a backup in 2009, the second portion of the two-year deal was worth $5.2 million, a sum few expected him to collect. Not only is Vick getting the money, he’s earning it as a starter — well, a semi-starter considering he was sidelined for nearly a month by rib cartilage damage.

Vick leads the NFL in passing efficiency, and at 30 he still has his scrambling skills and speed, despite missing two seasons while serving a federal sentence for dogfighting.

“He’s a totally different entity than anybody we’ve seen play the position at this point,” Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. Then Vick ran and passed the Eagles over the Colts 26-24 on Sunday.

Garrard has been an enigma, capable of huge production such as in last month’s romp over Dallas when he threw for four TDs. He’s also capable of stinkers that get you benched, like in Week 2 at San Diego.

But Garrard, coming off a forgettable 2009 when the Jags lost their last four to finish 7-9 as his game deteriorated, ranks third in AFC passing, ahead of the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. His TD percentage of 8.7 per pass easily leads the league.

ON THE RISE — Nobody is saying Peyton Manning, who could be headed toward a fifth MVP award — his four already are a record — nor Brady nor Drew Brees should step aside. But the new wave of QBs has its leaders in second-year Buccaneer Freeman and Rams rookie Bradford.

They join young but already established signal-callers Matt Ryan in Atlanta and Joe Flacco in Baltimore as likely franchise QBs. Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and the Jets’ Mark Sanchez could join this group, too.

Freeman has been particularly impressive with his coolness under pressure. He has six fourth-quarter comebacks in 16 career starts. He also is a dangerous runner when plays break down.

Bradford is a more classic pocket passer who has solid numbers despite a cast of nobodies to throw to. The best number: St. Louis is 4-4 after winning one game in 2009, which earned the Rams the right to draft Bradford first overall.

FALLING APART — Somehow, Romo had the NFC’s highest passer rating despite the debacle in Dallas, and then he went out with a broken collarbone. Poor decision making, perhaps from trying to do too much with so many underachievers around him, turned Romo’s year sour before it became painful.

Even at 41, Favre seems to shrug off pain (right elbow tendinitis, two fractures in his left foot, 10 stitches in his chin). What nobody can ignore are the ill-advised throws and questionable leadership he’s provided the spiraling Vikings in what figures to be his final season. We think.

STRAGGLERS AND STRUGGLERS — Palmer guided the Bengals to a division title and a 6-0 record in the AFC North a year ago. This season, they are back to the Bungles at 2-6, and Palmer has been inconsistent despite having more weapons than a year ago.

Cutler barely can stay upright in Mike Martz’s scheme that leaves few blockers to protect the quarterback. Already sacked 28 times, Cutler has been almost as obstinate as he has been inconsistent, insisting he would go after Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall again after Hall picked off four passes in Washington’s win last month.

Others having difficult seasons: Matt Moore in Carolina, now sidelined for the year with a shoulder problem, and anyone trying to play quarterback for the Cardinals.

THE CREAM — For all the ups and downs above, there are the reliables: Manning, of course, who just made his 201st straight start, and younger brother Eli; Brady, Brees and Philip Rivers. And the leading passer in all of pro football?

Vince Young.

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