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TELANDER: Teams just can’t seem to keep quarterbacks healthy

WashingtRedskins v Denver Broncos

Washington Redskins v Denver Broncos

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If football were chess, an NFL quarterback would be worth two kings, a queen and about 20 pawns.

That’s how important quarterbacks are to a game that more than ever is about throwing the ball swiftly and accurately, reading complex defenses and leading teammates when chaos is all around.

In the Redskins-Broncos game Sunday, Robert Griffin III battled Peyton Manning in a game the Broncos won 45-21. It seemed almost inevitable that RG3 would get injured late in the fourth quarter and that a young fellow named Kirk Cousins, the 102nd pick in the 2012 draft, would come in to assure the game was lost.

Maybe Cousins will be great someday. Indeed, in his college career at Michigan State, his Spartans beat hated intrastate rival Michigan in four consecutive seasons. That counts for something, doesn’t it? Sort of?

Mmmm, maybe not.

The thing is, good NFL quarterbacks are rare and great ones are precious. That college stuff means nothing.

And at this time of year — is it because of Halloween? — so many teams seem to have lost their starting quarterback to injury that it becomes silly. Those teams become wounded ducks, spinning in circles. They have designated drivers at the wheel, not aces.

The Bears fit right in here. They have lost Jay Cutler to a groin injury and have backup Josh McCown handling the offense. McCown did fine in relief Oct. 20 against the Redskins in Washington. But his 20 passes and three rushes (not counting a kneel-down) are mere blips on the radar compared with the game-after-game stats of long-lived star quarterbacks.

Manning, for example, has thrown 289 passes this season. He has thrown more than 8,000 passes in his career, with 5,289 completions, more than 62,000 yards, 461 touchdowns and, well, you catch my drift.

With McCown leading the way, the Bears are doomed. McCown, 34, has completed 160 NFL passes in the last seven years. In 2010, he wasn’t even in the NFL; he was an assistant high school coach.

It’s not McCown’s fault, but he’s a place-holder, a body with an arm attached. He was, after all, signed by the Bears in 2011 as a backup for the overmatched Caleb Hanie. And the Bears will pay the price.

But there are teams far worse off than they are. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick went out with a hamstring injury in a loss Sunday to the Giants and was replaced by the callow and dubious Matt Barkley. Good luck there.

The Bills have gone through rookie EJ Manuel, undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel and Thaddeus Lewis, who was brought in to replace Tuel, was injured on the first play Oct. 20 against the Dolphins, stayed in, was beaten to a pulp and lost 35-17 on Sunday to the Saints.

Fourth-string quarterbacks are now on notice. In fact, five teams — the Bills, Eagles, Browns, Jaguars and Vikings — have had to use three quarterbacks because of injury or incompetence.

How would you feel going into a game with, say, Kellen Clemens as your quarterback against guys such as Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady or even Alex Smith? Not good.

Smith, by the way, is uninjured and at the helm of the undefeated Chiefs. He got unlucky when he was with the 49ers, suffered a concussion and was replaced by Colin Kaepernick, but he is 27-5-1 in his last 33 games as a starter. And knowing how to ride your defense, when it’s as good as the Chiefs’ is, is also a talent.

How desperate were the Rams when starter Sam Bradford went down with a season-ending knee injury? Messed up enough to offer 44-year-old, memory-impaired Brett Favre a chance to come back and lead them. Apparently, they never considered John Elway or Joe Namath.

No, it’s no fun when your best quarterback is gone. When Cousins came in for RG3, he was blasted by Broncos defensive lineman Wesley Woodyard with a helmet-to-chin blow on a pass play. No call. Nothing. Heck, the guy’s just a backup.

Defenses always want to knock out the other team’s starting quarterback. When the Raiders’ Terrelle Pryor took off on a 93-yard touchdown run against the Steelers — the longest by a quarterback in NFL history — you knew the Steelers’ defense was going to be reamed like a clogged pipe during film study this week.

So it goes. Kill the head, and the beast will die.

Good luck, Bears. Good luck, McCown.

The numbers aren’t with you.



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