Half of the quarterbacks selected in the first round of this year's NFL draft are now starters, with the New York Giants promoting top overall pick Eli Manning on Monday to join the Pittsburgh Steelers' 11th overall choice, Ben Roethlisberger.
But Buffalo Bills Coach Mike Mularkey isn't ready to make it three out of four, at least not quite yet. A day after sending in rookie J.P. Losman, the 22nd overall selection in the draft in April out of Tulane, to make his NFL debut in mop-up duty in Sunday's 29-6 loss to the New England Patriots, Mularkey said he is sticking with veteran Drew Bledsoe as his starter this week.
"I think it's still too early to rule out where we're going from this point on with the season,'' Mularkey said during his news briefing Monday. "There are still seven games left. We're not out of it. Drew has proven in three of the four wins before this [game], he was a big part of it. . . . It's still too early. I haven't wrestled with it yet because I don't think we're at that point yet. I've been in this situation. . . . Until it's final that we're in that position [of being eliminated from playoff contention], I think we are still shooting for the stars and nothing less.''
Bledsoe had played well when the Bills won three of their previous four games, but now they're 3-6. Mularkey already has turned over the starting tailback job to second-year pro Willis McGahee, and the promotion of Losman seemingly is on the horizon. First, though, Mularkey has to get Losman ready after the rookie was sidelined for nearly two months because of a broken leg suffered in training camp. Losman lost a fumble on a sack and threw an interception in his two-drive, five-play appearance in the game's final 4 minutes, 40 seconds Sunday.
"I just wanted to get him in the huddle, under the lights, calling plays, getting under center,'' Mularkey said. "I just wanted to give him a chance. It's been a long time since he's done that. . . . It was just a matter of giving him some time. It was purely exposure. I don't think we were putting him in to win the game. . . . It was purely not trying to start a controversial thing. It was just to try to get a young quarterback experience.''
Mularkey said he doesn't believe that Losman, after being set back by his injury, is ready to benefit from extensive playing time.
"I think you've got to be smart how you use him, how you put him in the game, the situation,'' Mularkey said. "I think it can be a negative if you put him in just to see what he's capable of doing in a tight ballgame. If we are struggling and you're looking for a spark, I think it can be counterproductive if you do that, too, if it's not the right time to do it. And I'm not sure right now is the right time to do it. I still believe, health-wise, he's got to get even better, and mentally he just needs to get more reps. It's been a gradual process, and he really has not taken a lot of reps.''
Bledsoe, at 32, appears to be on the downward slope of his career. In his last 23 games dating to the third game of last season, he's had zero 300-yard passing performances and five outings with fewer than 100 passing yards. He completed only eight of 19 passes against the Patriots, his original NFL team, for 76 yards, with three interceptions and a career-worst passer rating of 14.3. He has a record of 1-5 against the Patriots since being traded to Buffalo in 2002.
"I think he just threw some poor balls,'' Mularkey said. "We had some guys open. And then we didn't and forced some balls in there, which against that team, you can't do. You can't afford to do that. He just didn't play as well as he needed to for us to win. But it's tough when you're playing against a team that's playing as well as they are right now.''
Philip Rivers, the fourth overall choice in the draft, is entrenched behind Drew Brees in San Diego.
Manning Needs Help
Giants Coach Tom Coughlin was careful to spread the blame for his club's recent offensive struggles when he announced Monday that he was benching veteran quarterback Kurt Warner and going to Manning. Warner was sacked six times in Sunday's 17-14 defeat at Arizona that dropped the Giants' record to 5-4 after a 4-1 beginning.
"Change will not necessarily be the answer,'' Coughlin said during his news conference Monday. "Playing a lot better is the answer.''
Coughlin said his offensive line needs to perform better in pass protection. But he did not blame only that unit, saying that one of Sunday's sacks was attributable to a tight end and one was the blocking responsibility of a running back.
"There's nothing quite like a rookie quarterback playing, and everyone knowing they have to make contributions for that to be a positive situation,'' Coughlin said.
Monday's move likely was the beginning of the end of Warner's tenure in New York. The two-time league most valuable player signed a two-year contract with the Giants in June after being released by the St. Louis Rams, but acknowledged from the outset that it might be only a one-year arrangement. He conceded all along that Manning would play when he was ready to play.
Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi said recently, when the team still was winning regularly, that there was no rush to play Manning and it was possible that Warner could remain the club's starter entering next season. But, barring an injury to Manning, there's no reason for the Giants to turn back now, and Warner could be left crossing his fingers and hoping that his performance in the first half of this season was good enough to get him a starting job somewhere next season. In nine games, he has completed 62.7 percent of his throws for 1,927 yards, with six touchdowns and four interceptions. He has a passer rating of 85.5.
"He has been an excellent, loyal player who has done everything we've asked,'' Coughlin said. "I'm proud of everything he's done. I just feel like it's time for us to go ahead and make this change. . . . We have to try to do something, so we're making this move. . . . Nothing is permanent, but Eli is the starter.''
Edwards Takes Blame
New York Jets Coach Herman Edwards on Monday took the blame for Sunday's overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Jets mismanaged the clock at the end of regulation, having to settle for a tying field goal by Doug Brien after squandering their final timeout when fill-in quarterback Quincy Carter got the play call from the sideline late.
The Jets had one timeout left and were facing a third-and-goal play from the Ravens' 3-yard line with eight seconds left in regulation. They called for a bootleg by Carter and, with a timeout, could have run the play to try for a winning touchdown, and still could have stopped the clock and kicked the tying field goal if Carter had been stopped. But the Jets used their final timeout to avoid a delay-of-game penalty, with the play clock ticking down as they broke the huddle, and Edwards opted to kick the field goal on third down so he wouldn't risk running a play that didn't produce a touchdown and then having the game end. Brien tied the game at 17, but the Ravens won with an overtime field goal.
"I thought our players played very, very hard,'' Edwards said during his news conference Monday. "My job as a head coach is to make sure we can put them in position . . . to make them successful. I didn't do a good enough job of that in this game. I feel I really let the team down. I put them in some situations where, really, they shouldn't have probably been in. . . . We have to get the play in to Quincy faster. Obviously he didn't have enough time on the clock.''
The Jets had a 14-0 lead in the first half and were at the Baltimore 17 when they tried a halfback option pass by LaMont Jordan that was intercepted by Ravens safety Ed Reed.
"You're looking for a play,'' Edwards said Monday. "This is a play we worked on. It didn't work. [It] backfired.'' . . .
The Tennessee Titans have lost safety Tank Williams for the remainder of the season. An MRI exam Monday showed that he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in Sunday's overtime loss to the Chicago Bears.
The Titans also will be without defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth for a few weeks because of an injured right elbow and left tackle Brad Hopkins because of broken bones in his right hand. Hopkins could seek a second medical opinion but probably will have to undergo surgery and will be sidelined for one to three games, according to Coach Jeff Fisher. . . .
The Bears have a three-game winning streak, and the loss of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher for four to six weeks might not be as damaging as it would seem at first glance. Hunter Hillenmeyer played so well while filling in when Urlacher missed two games recently because of a hamstring injury that the Bears moved him to outside linebacker and left him in the lineup. The Bears lost both games that Urlacher missed, but it was to Philadelphia and Minnesota. Urlacher underwent surgery Monday to relieve pressure created by internal bleeding in his calf muscle after being kicked there during Sunday's game. . . .
The Jacksonville Jaguars plan to re-evaluate the status of quarterback Byron Leftwich on Wednesday. They beat Detroit in overtime Sunday with backup David Garrard filling in, and Coach Jack Del Rio said during his news conference Monday he thinks it's likely that Leftwich will miss one more game because of his injured left knee. Leftwich was re-examined Monday in Birmingham by orthopedist James Andrews. . . .
Kansas City Chiefs Coach Dick Vermeil said he expects tailback Priest Holmes to miss a second straight game because of an ailing knee. . . . Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has a sore right knee, and perhaps could be replaced by backup Trent Dilfer against the Dolphins on Sunday. . . . Seahawks wide receiver Koren Robinson is to have his pending four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy reviewed today. Robinson is appealing the suspension, and the league likely will make a ruling within the next few days. . . .
Indianapolis probably will be without guard Tupe Peko for two to three weeks because of a sprained ankle. . . . The Carolina Panthers expect quarterback Jake Delhomme to play against Arizona on Sunday despite a broken bone on the tip of his right thumb. Carolina will be without linebacker Dan Morgan this week because of a concussion, and kicker John Kasay's status is unclear because of a strained calf muscle that forced punter Todd Sauerbrun to fill in during last Sunday's win at San Francisco. Sauerbrun kicked four extra points and a go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter against the 49ers, but Coach John Fox said during his news conference Monday that the club would sign a kicker to replace Kasay this week if needed. . . .
Tampa Bay safety Jermaine Phillips aggravated his fractured forearm during Sunday's loss at Atlanta and might miss the remainder of the season. Phillips had a series of mistakes during the Falcons game on the heels of agreeing to a four-year, $9-million contract extension.
Dolphins To Pursue Pioli?
Many people in the league believe that the Miami Dolphins will make a renewed effort to hire Patriots personnel chief Scott Pioli as general manager after the season. The Dolphins reportedly were interested in Pioli as a possible GM candidate after last season but didn't want to wait until after the Patriots' season ended to get a chance to interview him.
The Patriots reportedly planned to try to keep Pioli off limits, anyway, by saying that language in his contract prohibited him from leaving. But usual league procedure is that a coach or front-office employee is allowed to depart for a job with another team that represents a promotion. The Patriots would have a difficult time arguing that a front-office position in Miami would not be a promotion for Pioli if the Dolphins come up with a team-president title and a job description that includes the ability to hire and fire the head coach and the final say over personnel decisions. With the Patriots, Pioli shares decision-making duties amicably with Coach Bill Belichick, who was hired by owner Robert Kraft, brought in Pioli and technically has the final say over personnel moves. Pioli's title in New England is vice president of player personnel.
Dolphins General Manager Rick Spielman said last week he'd been told by owner Wayne Huizenga that his job was safe for next season. But outgoing club president Eddie Jones told reporters the next day that no one's job in the organization necessarily was safe because Huizenga would consider the wishes of prospective head-coaching and team-president candidates.
The Dolphins' early list of head-coaching candidates apparently includes Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress and LSU Coach Nick Saban. There also have been reports naming several current NFL coaches -- including the Denver Broncos' Mike Shanahan, the Seahawks' Mike Holmgren and the Rams' Mike Martz -- as prospective candidates if they're available after the season. Shanahan or Holmgren likely would want significant control over personnel matters.
Childress is an intriguing candidate because he worked with quarterback A.J. Feeley -- obtained by Miami in an offseason trade with the Eagles -- in Philadelphia. Interim coach Jim Bates on Monday named Feeley the Dolphins' starter, ahead of Jay Fiedler. Fiedler lost perhaps his biggest booster in the organization when Dave Wannstedt resigned as the Dolphins' coach last week. . . .
The Dolphins recently interviewed longtime NFL executive Jim Steeg for their team-president job but didn't hire him. On Monday, Steeg was named the Chargers' executive vice president and chief operating officer. . . .
Detroit backup quarterback Mike McMahon might get more work on the practice field this week. The Lions say they have no immediate plans to replace Joey Harrington as their starter. But Coach Steve Mariucci perhaps is trying to get Harrington's attention. The third-year pro completed only 43.5 percent of his throws in the last two games, both losses, with one touchdown pass, two interceptions and a passer rating of 51.6. Harrington connected on 62.1 percent of his throws, with 12 touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 94.5, in the Lions' first seven games of the season, in which they went 4-3.
Eagles Get Well
All was well again Monday night for Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and his favorite target, wideout Terrell Owens, during Monday night's 49-21 win at Dallas. Eight days after television cameras caught them in a heated sideline conversation during a frustrating loss at Pittsburgh, McNabb threw three touchdown passes to Owens, increasing Owens's league-leading total for the season to 12 touchdown receptions. McNabb and Owens even had time to clown on the sideline, feigning another sideline confrontation for the benefit of the ABC cameras. Owens celebrated one touchdown with a fake ice-skating routine, and another by standing on a star in the end zone in reference to the fight he once started by, as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, running to the midfield star at Texas Stadium following a touchdown.
McNabb threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns in all, and had a career-high passer rating of 137.6. The Eagles tied a franchise record for first-half points with 35. The Cowboys surrendered four touchdowns in a quarter for the first time in franchise history and set a team record for most points allowed in a home game. . . .
The league fined Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter and Cleveland running back William Green $10,000 each for their pregame fight Sunday. Both were ejected before the game and Browns fullback Terrelle Smith also was fined $10,000 for becoming involved in the incident.