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Pro Football : Quarterbacks Are Going Down Fast

This is starting out as a dangerous year to make a living as a pro football passer or receiver.

Some National Football League game officials seem to be leaning toward a philosophy of anything goes. Or so it looked in some of Sunday’s games and especially Monday night, during the defensive attacks on quarterbacks Phil Simms of the New York Giants and Doug Williams of Washington and, particularly, on Williams’ receivers.

"(The Giants) lassoed us,” Washington Coach Joe Gibbs said afterward, alluding to necktie tackles by New York cornerbacks when the ball was still in the air.

Three passers went down Sunday with injuries, and two of the best in the AFC’s Central Division may miss half the season--Cleveland’s Bernie Kosar with a ligament injury in his right elbow and Houston’s Warren Moon with a broken bone in his right shoulder.

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San Francisco’s oft-injured quarterback, Joe Montana, was also driven to the bench in New Orleans with a numb and swollen elbow. And this Sunday in New York, a still hurting Montana will be asked to face the Giant team that leaned on Williams and Redskin receivers Monday night.

“You figure that sooner or later you have to get hurt,” Kosar’s replacement, Gary Danielson, said. “That’s the nature of the position.”

But it’s getting worse. A 28-team league that loses two starting quarterbacks the first day--with 15 weeks remaining--won’t have much left but backups for the last half of the season.

Kosar was the main reason the Browns were favored to win the AFC title this season. Moon was a principal reason the Oilers were the leading contender.

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Now the question is whether either team can even make the playoffs in a division that is suddenly the AFC’s most competitive.

All four Central Division teams played impressively Sunday. The Cincinnati Bengals, for instance, a disaster in recent years, stopped the Phoenix Cardinals at the 1-yard line on two drives.

After a 21-14 win, Cincinnati’s Coach Sam Wyche, whose opponent this week is Philadelphia’s Buddy Ryan, said: “A lot of teams don’t have two goal-line stands in a season.”

In Philadelphia, Ryan has taken the offensive against Keith Byars, the former Ohio State runner he drafted in the first round in 1986 when most NFL scouts were concerned about the young Buckeye’s durability.

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In 9 carries at Tampa Bay on opening day, Byars gained 5 yards.

“We’ve got some backs (Byars and Anthony Toney) who were great backs in college, and they’re playing against the same people,” Ryan told Philadelphia writers.

“They ought to be able to run (behind the Eagle line). I’ve seen Walter Payton make an offensive line look good.”

Reminded that he had brought up the name of a probable Hall of Famer, Ryan said: “These guys are geting paid as much as (Payton) did.”

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The NFL has been releasing the names of its drug users in increments of a few at a time--over a period of several weeks--leaving football fans to wonder who’s next, and when, and whether their teams have been discriminated against.

Moreover, some players are being punished now whereas some were suspended during the exhibition season for behavior that mostly happened at the same time, before the league’s training camps opened.

The problem is that the NFL’s testing machinery is unable to get all the answers one day and release the information the next.

But that isn’t a good enough reason for the information policy the league has adopted.

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Fans have some rights, too.

The season began with unseasoned, uncertain quarterbacking in more NFL precincts than usual, from Pittsburgh and Green Bay to El Segundo. But the scene is changing here and there:

--The Raiders will have improved if Jay Schroeder performs as well as he did in his first Redskin game--the night that Joe Theismann became the quarterback casualty of 1985--and thereafter through 1986, when Schroeder played his way into the Pro Bowl.

But in 1987, Schroeder couldn’t please Gibbs, who began calling him expendable, and finally replaced him.

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Which Schroeder did the Raiders get?

--The Steelers will have improved if young Bubby Brister is, as he seemed Sunday, their most effective quarterback since Terry Bradshaw.

“Bubby is a whole new spark of life for the offense,” Pittsburgh wide receiver Louis Lipps said after Brister’s 214 yards passing proved too much for Dallas in a 24-21 game.

A third-year Steeler, Brister, 6 feet 3 inches and 210 pounds, was a third-round draft choice in 1986 from Northeast Louisiana, where he had been a one-year starter after transferring from Tulane.

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Would he have been drafted higher if he’d transferred to, say, UCLA?

Going into the second week of the season, the NFL appears to be a league with 16 evenly matched teams. Possibly never before have there been fewer standouts and more contenders:

NFC: San Francisco, New Orleans, Minnesota, Chicago, Washington, New York Giants and Philadelphia.

AFC: Seattle, Denver, Cleveland, Houston, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Indianapolis and New England.

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In time, injuries and breaks will reduce the number. The process might have begun Monday night, when the New York Giants beat Washington in a battle of inept special-team players.

At Washington, Gibbs has had trouble with his kicking platoons since he lost an aide named Wayne Sevier to the San Diego Chargers two years ago. The Redskins played better offense and defense than the Giants but couldn’t survive the stumbling performance of their special teams.

Six pro clubs are out of it this year, heading for .500 seasons at best: Atlanta, Detroit, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, San Diego and the New York Jets.

No opponent can learn much about itself playing one of those. Thus, the Raiders and Rams are still untested after opening against San Diego and Green Bay.

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One thing is wrong in Denver again this year--the playing field. Too much of it is covered by plain dirt in the shape of a baseball infield.

Mile High Stadium, which repeatedly sells out 76,000 seats for the Broncos, seems to be a facility with a major league team and a minor league mentality.

A dirt infield might, of course, be permissible if the Broncos had to share Mile High with major league baseball. But until that day comes to Denver, the minor league ball club should look for a place to play in the nearby mountains.

It’s bad enough these days having to play big league football on artificial turf.

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Quote Department:

Terry Hoage, Philadelphia safety, on Tampa Bay quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who threw five interceptions: “Sometimes I don’t know why he threw the ball, or why he didn’t just throw it away.”

Jim McMahon, Chicago quarterback, on the press: “I don’t think the players have much stock in what you guys write anyway.”

Wade Wilson, Minnesota quarterback, after the 13-10 loss in Buffalo: “Maybe this will wake us up and tell us we’re not as good as we think we are.”

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Don Shula, Miami coach, after the 34-7 loss in Chicago: “This is about as low as I can feel about a team.”


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