By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 22, 2010; 12:33 AM
There hasn't been much patience in the early stages of this NFL season for quarterbacks who fail to produce.
Five quarterbacks who started games last weekend were benched by their coaches before day's end. Three teams already have announced starting quarterback changes this week, including the Philadelphia Eagles' abrupt switch Tuesday from Kevin Kolb to Michael Vick.
Throw in a couple of injuries and Ben Roethlisberger's suspension from the Pittsburgh Steelers and about one-fourth of the league's 32 teams have gone, at least temporarily, to Plan B at quarterback just two games into the season.
"We're in a knee-jerk society and football has become a knee-jerk game," said former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann. "People ask me how the game has become different. It's the instability of jobs. As a coach, your job depends on about eight games. As a quarterback, it's about two quarters."
The changes come even as stellar play by some quarterbacks continues after a record year for passers in 2009. Seven quarterbacks currently have passer ratings above 100. Last Sunday's benchings came on the same day that the Redskins' Donovan McNabb and Houston's Matt Schaub combined for 923 passing yards in a game.
All that success league-wide may only heighten the anxiety level for teams that aren't putting up big offensive numbers.
Theismann said the quarterback play on some clubs needs drastic improvement.
"A lot of guys who fall into the category of journeyman, they're not thinking their way through the game," Theismann said. "If you don't have the strongest arm or you don't run the fastest, you have to make good decisions."
The quarterback moves came rapidly last Sunday. Coaches pulled Oakland's Jason Campbell, Carolina's Matt Moore, Tennessee's Vince Young, Jacksonville's David Garrard and Arizona's Derek Anderson.
So far, only one of the five benchings has been made permanent. Panthers Coach John Fox announced Monday that Moore will be replaced by rookie Jimmy Clausen, a second-round draft choice out of Notre Dame. Moore was given less than two games to prove himself in what was supposed to be his first full season as an NFL starter after Jake Delhomme's offseason departure. He threw four interceptions, lost two fumbles and was sacked eight times, and the Panthers are off to an 0-2 start.
Raiders Coach Tom Cable declined to say Monday whether Campbell will be replaced as the starter by Bruce Gradkowski, who took over in the second half Sunday and engineered a victory over the St. Louis Rams.
The Raiders obtained Campbell in an offseason trade with the Redskins. Raiders owner Al Davis praised Campbell before the season, saying in a radio interview that Campbell reminded him of Jim Plunkett, who won two Super Bowls with the franchise. Now it appears possible that the Campbell era in Oakland will have lasted less than two games.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Trent Edwards wasn't pulled from Sunday's game but lost his starting job Monday when Coach Chan Gailey announced that he was switching to Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bills are 0-2 and have the league's lowest-ranked offense.
"The implication might be that it's all Trent's fault, and that's not the case," Gailey said at a news conference. "We've got a lot of things that we've got to work on. We're just looking to try to get the right combination going with personnel, and maybe it fits better with Ryan. We'll just have to see as time goes on."
At least three of the quarterbacks benched last weekend are keeping their starting jobs. Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt has only rookies Max Hall and John Skelton as alternatives to Anderson. Jaguars backup Luke McCown suffered a season-ending knee injury during his relief appearance Sunday, limiting Coach Jack Del Rio's options for replacing Garrard. Titans Coach Jeff Fisher went to Kerry Collins during Sunday's loss to the Steelers, but announced immediately after the game that Young remained the starter. He repeated that Monday.
"He shouldn't like it," Fisher said about Young Monday at a news conference. "No one you take out of the game should. . . .But what you do is you come back to work. You work harder. You learn from it and you improve. That's the game. That's the position. You saw what happened around the league" Sunday.
The early-season maneuvering is accompanied by some early-season quarterback injuries. The Detroit Lions are using fill-in starter Shaun Hill with Matthew Stafford sidelined by a shoulder injury.
Vick, in his first start at quarterback since the 2006 season with the Atlanta Falcons, led the Eagles to their first win of the season Sunday at Detroit. Coach Andy Reid said repeatedly after Kolb suffered a concussion in the opener that Kolb would regain the starting job when healthy, but reversed course Tuesday and gave the job to Vick.
"Michael Vick is playing out of his mind right now," Reid said at a news conference Tuesday evening, "and that's a beautiful thing. . . . This is what I think is right, and that's kind of the bottom line."
Pittsburgh's Dennis Dixon suffered a knee injury and left the Steelers' triumph over the Titans. Veteran Charlie Batch replaced Dixon and finished the game, which was a good thing for the Steelers, who were out of quarterbacks.
Roethlisberger is halfway through his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. Byron Leftwich suffered a knee injury in the preseason finale, giving Dixon his chance to be the starter, and was released Friday by the Steelers. The club re-signed Leftwich on Monday, and he or Batch will start this week.