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First playoff not always golden for QBs

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Recent posts by Eli Kaberon

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Posted Jan. 16, 2011 @ 11:12 a.m. ET
By Eli Kaberon

When the Bears' offense runs onto Soldier Field for the first time Sunday afternoon, it will be a new experience for Jay Cutler.

The Chicago quarterback will be making his postseason debut against the Sea­hawks. Cutler and Matt Cassel of the Chiefs were the only two starting quarterbacks in the postseason tournament who hadn't played in the playoffs prior to 2011. The experience will be memorable and the challenge will be daunting, but victory isn't impossible. The other 10 starting QBs from this year's playoffs were 5-5 in their first playoff starts.

In Cassel's first playoff start, he fell victim to the Ravens' defense in the second half. He threw for just 70 yards with three interceptions in a 30-7 loss.

With Cassel's Chiefs and three other teams now eliminated, here is how the seven remaining QBs with experience did in their playoff debuts, ranked by the number of postseason starts each has made.

1. Tom Brady (14-4) — Brady got his playoff career off to quite a start in one of the more memorable games in NFL postseason history — the "Tuck Rule" game on Jan. 19, 2002. With the Patriots trailing the Raiders 13-10 late in the fourth quarter of a game in which snow fell throughout, Charles Woodson sacked Brady, knocking the ball loose and seeing Oakland recover it. But after officials reviewed the play, the fumble was ruled an incomplete pass. Two Adam Vinatieri field goals later, Brady was en route to the first of three Super Bowl titles with a 16-13 OT win. Brady's six-yard rush was the Patriots' only touchdown of the day. He threw the ball 52 times for 312 yards.

2. Ben Roethlisberger (8-2) — Roethlisberger had won every start of his rookie career and was in jeopardy of suffering his first loss on Jan. 15, 2005, against the Jets. His four-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward tied the game in the fourth quarter, but his interception a few minutes later almost spelled the end of the Steelers. A Doug Brien missed field goal as time expired gave the Steelers new life, and Roethlisberger led them downfield to set up Jeff Reed's game-winning kick in overtime.

3. Matt Hasselbeck (5-5) — After Hasselbeck was traded to Seattle from Green Bay in 2001, revenge was on the mind of the Seahawks QB on Jan. 4, 2004. Playing at Lambeau Field against Brett Favre and his former team, Hasselbeck performed well in his playoff debut, throwing for 305 yards and setting up Shaun Alexander for three one-yard TD runs. The final of those three scores pushed the game into overtime, where Hasselbeck became a part of NFL lore. Seattle won the OT coin toss, and when the ref asked the Seahawks' QB if Seattle wanted to kick or receive, he answered, "We want the ball and we're going to score." Fiveminutes later, Hasselbeck did throw a score — to Packers CB Al Harris for a 52-yard pick-six, handing Green Bay a 33-27 win.

4. Joe Flacco (4-2) —  Flacco's first playoff appearance was not memorable, but he got the "W." Leading the Ravens in his rookie season, Flacco completed just 9-of-23 passes for 135 yards in a 27-9 upset win over the Dolphins two years ago. Flacco did rush five yards for the game's final score.

5. Mark Sanchez (3-1) — As a rookie starter, Sanchez didn't have to do much in the Jets' 24-14 win over the Bengals last January. But he was accurate and protected the football, completing 12-of-15 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown. Sanchez went on to lead the Jets to another upset win in San Diego before falling to the Colts in the AFC championship game.

6. Aaron Rodgers (1-1) — Rodgers learned in January 2010 a harsh lesson of the playoffs: Even the smallest mistakes can lose a game. The Green Bay passer was outstanding, throwing for 423 yards and four TDs in regulation at Arizona. Yet, it was an overtime fumble that deflected off the QB's foot into the hands of Cardinals LB Karlos Dansby and was returned 17 yards for a touchdown that lost Rodgers' postseason debut for the Packers.

7. Matt Ryan (0-1) — After leading his Falcons to the playoffs in his rookie year of 2008 with an 11-5 record, Ryan looked to have an easy draw against the 9-7 Cardinals, who had staggered into the postseason. But Arizona proved to be the better team, harassing Ryan all day. The QB threw two interceptions, was sacked for a safety and lost a fumble that was returned 27 yards for a TD in a 30-24 Cardinals win.


PFW associate editor Kevin Fishbain contributed to this article.

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