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In case of emergency, stick to the backup plan


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OK, here's the problem: You just lost your starting quarterback for the next three games, and you need two of them to reach the playoffs. Which clipboard carrier do you choose?

img9564160.jpgMatt Schaub is a quarterback waiting to start for some team. (Getty Images) Before you answer, let's go over one critical ground rule: Rookies like Vince Young and Matt Leinart aren't eligible. That's right, they might as well not exist. So say good night to Jay Cutler.

You must have a track record to qualify, which means I want your five most reliable veterans. These are mine:

1. Brian Griese, Chicago. It's not just that he's smart and throws a tight spiral in just the right spot. It's that he was the starter in Denver when the Broncos made the playoffs, and he was the starter in Tampa when the Bucs returned to postseason play. OK, OK, so he played six games last year before bowing out with an injury. He won five of them. I can live with that record. I can live with his career record, too. It's 39-33. Griese is accurate, with 16 games where he completed at least 70 percent of his passes, and he's productive -- with one passing title and 16 300-yard performances. If I were Rex Grossman, I'd pray I don't wind up in the ER again; I might never regain my job.

2. Matt Schaub, Atlanta. There's a reason the Falcons refused to peddle this guy in the offseason: He has worlds of talent. They had to start him a year ago against the then-defending Super Bowl champions, New England, and all he did was throw for 298 yards and three touchdowns. Oh, yeah, there were no interceptions. So the Falcons lost. They also produced 28 points. Schaub also played a second half against Carolina where he was 9-for-13 with a TD. Again, there were no interceptions. This guy is waiting to start for someone; unfortunately for Falcons' fans, it probably won't be them. But here's my question: If you're Jim Mora, and you're desperate for a sudden strike where do you go? I'd trust Schaub more than I would Michael Vick to pass me back into a game.

3. Jeff Garcia, Philadelphia. Forget last year's performance. Yeah, he did nothing for Detroit, but tell me someone on offense who did. The Lions couldn't find the end zone with a divining rod. Garcia was a starter only two years ago, and I remember him almost single-handedly keeping Cleveland in a game it eventually lost in overtime to Philadelphia. Apparently, the Eagles remember, too. Now he's back in the system that made him a Pro Bowler, playing for his former offensive coordinator in San Francisco. The combination is a good one. If Donovan McNabb bows out again, Garcia can step in and win. He's tough. He's courageous. And he can beat you with the pass or the run.

4. David Garrard, Jacksonville. Here's what I like about him: He started the last five games last season for the Jags and won four of them. His only loss? It was to Indianapolis, and join the club. Now, I know what cynics say: He never beat anyone with a winning record. Big deal. He won the games he had to win and put the Jags in the playoffs. He probably should've started against New England, too. So he doesn't put up big numbers; he doesn't make mistakes, either. In those five starts he had one interception, and his 83.9 passer rating was only 5.6 points behind starter Byron Leftwich. All I know is the last two years he started seven times for Leftwich and won five. I'll take those numbers.

5. Gus Frerotte, St. Louis. Talk about experience. The guy's played a lot of years in a lot of systems. Now he arrives in St. Louis where he and Scott Linehan are teamed again, and I'll take that combination over Anheuser and Busch. Linehan believes in the guy, and I would, too, if I'd just gone 9-6 with him as my starter in Miami. The only game Frerotte missed? The Dolphins were torched ... by Cleveland, no less. In his last six starts, Miami never scored fewer than 23 in any game and, more important, never lost. But that's what Frerotte can do. Hey, when Brian Griese was hurt in 2000 he started six times for Denver and wound up winning four of them. Oh, yeah, the Broncos made the playoffs. Now that's what I'm talking about.

Honorable Mention

Josh McCown, Detroit. Yeah, yeah, so the Cardinals didn't try to keep him, and what does that tell you? It tells you Denny Green was exactly dealing straight up when he said McCown reminded him of Brett Favre. OK, so he doesn't remind me of Brett Favre, either, but here's what I like about the guy: His career record with the Cards was 10-12, and, all things considered, that's decent. So is this: Last year he threw for 398 yards against Carolina and 385 vs. San Francisco, two of the league's top five passing performances. He excelled with a bad club; he's young and he has talent. Perfect. So give him a year with Mike Martz; then kick back and watch him go after Jon Kitna's job.

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For three games only? Then I'd probably go with Griese (or maybe Ferotte) because he'd be able to get right in there and get things moving. Experience and smarts are important as heck for a back-up QB.

That said, I'd rather have Schaub in my team. He'll be a pretty good starter soon enough.

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