Forget Dan Marino, Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning. When Brock Huard makes his debut as an NFL starter Sunday, he wants to have Ryan Leaf-type success.
He wants to follow in the footsteps of guys like Jason Garrett, Jake Delhomme and Jay Fiedler – not Marino, Aikman and Manning. Those no-name quarterbacks, along with Leaf, earned a win in their first NFL start. It’s not an easy feat, as some of the NFL’s greatest all-time quarterbacks can attest.
Of the 15 other current AFC starters, only five have won their starting debut: Fiedler, Rob Johnson, Akili Smith, Steve McNair and Elvis Grbac.
Even fewer Seahawks quarterbacks have done it. Dave Krieg, Dan McGwire and Jon Kitna are the only Seattle signal-callers to win their debut, and only Krieg went on to have a fruitful career (assuming, of course, that Kitna doesn’t win the job back and go on to wonderful things should Huard fail).
The NFL isn’t like baseball, where first-time pitchers can baffle opposing teams by way of unfamiliarity. Quarterbacks making their first start are perennially bad. Even John Elway, whose Denver Broncos earned a win in his debut, completed just one of eight passes before leaving his first game with an injured elbow. Aikman was 17-for-35 with two interceptions in a loss to New Orleans, while Arizona’s Jake Plummer threw four interceptions in his first NFL start.
So Huard will probably prefer to look to the success of players like Fiedler (28-for-39 for 317 yards in his first NFL start), Johnson (20-24-369) and Smith (22-42-221) for motivation.
Or Huard can look back to his own history, when he completed 20 of 31 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-17 win over Arizona as a freshman at the University of Washington. Not a bad way to start a career.
How Huard will fare in his NFL debut is the question of the week at Seahawks headquarters in Kirkland. He had a strong preseason, but also showed a tendency to think too much and get sacked too often. His NFL debut in Week 1, after relieving Kitna in mop-up duty, included three sacks and a forgettable, rookie-like performance under difficult circumstances.
Maybe that limited experience will be enough for Huard to shake off the underwhelming debuts of some of his predecessors. And then maybe Huard can start patterning himself after Marino, Aikman and Manning.
Panthers – QB Steve Beuerlein has quietly been one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks over the past 21 games, and this year he ranks fourth in the NFC in quarterback rating (90.4). RB Tshimanga Biakabutuka, who has 294 rushing yards this season, fumbled three times in last week’s loss to Dallas. DE Reggie White was briefly courted by the Seahawks over the summer, and the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer leads Carolina with 2.5 sacks. MLB Lester Towns is starting as a rookie after getting drafted in the seventh round out of the University of Washington.
Is Brock Huard ready to be an NFL starter? Are the Panthers too old and underachieving, or are they just off to a bad start? Is Seattle’s pass defense that bad, or was Elvis Grbac that good? Will the unexpected resignation of Carolina’s offensive coordinator affect the Panthers at all?
There are so many subplots and unknown commodities in this game that it feels like a season opener. Neither team has looked spectacular thus far, but they have been good enough to make it impossible to write them off.
Still, the loser of this game will have a long, uphill climb to get back to respectability. Emotion will be as big a factor as anything.
Whether Huard is ready will set the tone for the contest. Seattle’s running game looked unstoppable Monday night, and the Seahawks will need the same type of effort with an inexperienced quarterback. He will make mistakes and will probably get sacked too often.
Maybe he’ll put on a show. But for now, Huard is the biggest question mark of all.
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