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Golden era for QBs, with great stories around NFL

By RACHEL COHEN, AP Sports Writer Published: January 15, 2013
/articleid/3746101/1/pictures/1927706">Photo - San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, right, is part of a dynamic group of young signal callers that include rookies Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. AP PHOTO
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, right, is part of a dynamic group of young signal callers that include rookies Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. AP PHOTO

This year, 20 quarterbacks started every regular-season game, nearly two-thirds of the league. That's by far the most since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, according to STATS, four more than the previous high.

That record partly reflects a lack of injuries, in which all those rules protecting the QB may be a factor — along with, of course, sheer luck. But it also reflects how few teams benched their quarterbacks. Most clubs are quite happy with their current situation.

For all the quarterback intrigue in the playoffs, consider the big names who didn't qualify for the postseason: Brees, Eli Manning, Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Cam Newton. And then there's Tim Tebow, who may never start again as an NFL QB but is still one of the most recognizable and polarizing athletes in all of sports.

This quarterback Camelot is about more than the deep field of effective starters. The playoffs oozed with stars popular not just for their performances but their personalities and pizazz.

“I marvel at how prepared these guys are — not only on the field, but the exposure they get off it,” said Aikman, who will call the NFC title game for Fox. “Whether it's through social networks or different platforms, they are given the opportunity to talk to the press and are much more well-rounded and prepared for all that comes with the scrutiny of the position than ever before.

“If you're on Park Avenue in New York (at league headquarters), you're pretty happy with the new representatives that will be the ambassadors for the league for the years to come.”

The quarterbacks in the postseason undoubtedly fascinate fans, but they do so in different ways.

“All with incredibly different kinds of stories, all with incredibly different ways of getting to the playoffs,” said McManus, whose network airs next month's Super Bowl.

Nielsen/E-Poll calculates an “N-Score” to measure the endorsement potential of athletes. Peyton Manning has the top score of current QBs, but other players come out ahead in specific categories in the surveys.

In this high school yearbook of NFL quarterbacks, Brees is voted most appealing. Rodgers is the most confident, Newton the most dynamic, Griffin the most talented. Luck is considered the most intelligent and Brady the most attractive.

Their back stories sizzle. This season saw Manning return from neck surgery to lead the Broncos to the AFC's top seed and earn All-Pro honors. Brees was dealing with the fallout of the Saints' bounty scandal.

Unlike past rookie quarterbacks who reached the playoffs, Luck and Griffin were anything but caretakers riding a strong defense; both were vibrant leaders turning around franchises. And Wilson advanced deeper into the postseason than either of them.

Kaepernick is for the moment the best story of them all. The 2011 second-round draft pick opened the season as a backup to Alex Smith, who led the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game last year. Kaepernick played so well after Smith was injured that coach Jim Harbaugh took the gamble to stick with him — just as Belichick did with Brady 11 years earlier.

Now Brady is the grizzled veteran, though fans won't get that expected matchup with his longtime rival, Manning, after Baltimore stunned Denver.

“They're not going to last forever,” Young said of the old guard, “but you've got a feeling that there's some guys around that we're in pretty good shape in the next generation. Right now, as we speak, there's compelling stories all over the playoffs at the quarterback spot, which is kind of fun.”

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