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Henne latest to spotlight NFL's emerging talent at quarterback

Maybe Rex Ryan was more accurate than he knows when he took to the postgame podium Monday night in Miami and fumed that his defense made "that quarterback look like Dan Marino.''

The effective use of hyperbole by the first-year Jets head coach aside, all I know is that when Mark Sanchez isn't even the brightest young quarterback talent on the field in any given game, it's a very good development for the state of NFL passers.

That was a statement game turned in by second-year Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne against the suddenly humbled Jets, and the statement was "Wow.'' Henne led three long fourth-quarter touchdown drives, hit on a crucial 53-yard scoring bomb to Miami deep threat Ted Ginn Jr. when the Dolphins needed it most, and looked as poised and cool with the game on the line as Dan the Man ever did. Henne's 20-of-26 passing for 241 yards, two touchdowns and a 130.4 QB rating at least gave us a glimpse of the future in Miami, and it appears the Dolphins' almost 10 post-Marino years of wandering in the quarterback desert are over.

Henne was the unquestioned star of a fourth quarter that featured five lead changes and five touchdowns. Wildcat or no Wildcat, Henne's role in the Dolphins' 31-27 comeback win went a long way towards announcing Sanchez isn't the only promising young gun in the AFC East.

"You always dream as a kid of these comebacks,'' said Henne, the Dolphins 2008 second-round pick who was making his second career start. "I watched Joe Montana when I was a kid run the comeback drill and it was great to be a part of that and be a part of this win.''

The likes of Montana, Marino and John Elway get referenced often in the NFL and they are the gold standard in what was the league's most recent golden era of quarterbacks. But thanks to Henne, Sanchez and their ilk, maybe another one has dawned. When you stop and consider the possibilities, the list of quarterbacks who have entered the NFL in the past five years has a deep and impressive array of young arms.

The 2004 class gave us Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Matt Schaub, and they've been followed by Aaron Rodgers and Kyle Orton in 2005, Jay Cutler in 2007, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Henne in 2008, and Sanchez and Matthew Stafford this year. Eagles backup Kevin Kolb (2007) looks like he'll start for someone in just a matter of time, and we've seen flashes of star potential from Matt Cassel (2005) and Trent Edwards (2007).

To be sure, there are still misses-in-the-making with JaMarcus Russell, Jason Campbell, Matt Leinart, Vince Young and Alex Smith dotting the NFL landscape. But watching Henne and Sanchez duel on Monday night reminds us the state of quarterbacking in the league is in pretty good health. It's not just Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and the aging Brett Favre and Kurt Warner; end of story.

Quality young arms abound in 2009. And who knows, maybe some day in the future, some frustrated head coach will stand up in the postgame and lament that his defense made some emerging quarterback "look like Chad Henne.''

• Watching Monday night's thriller, I was struck by what a difference a Chad makes in Miami. In the Dolphins' Week 2 Monday-nighter against the Colts, Miami lost by four points, 27-23, despite quarterback Chad Pennington leading an offense that won the time of possession battle by a whopping 45:07 to 14:53.

The Dolphins won by four points at home this time, despite controlling the ball for only 33:35. Miami had 413 yards of total offense against the Jets, which was very similar to its final total against the Colts (403).

The difference was that with Henne, the Dolphins had a passing game capable of threatening a defense downfield, and Miami's 262 yards of passing (Ronnie Brown had one 21-yard completion in the Wildcat formation) included completions of 59 and 53 yards. Pennington's longest completion against Indy went for 21 yards.

You can't win by ball-control offense alone in the NFL. You need a quarterback who can threaten a defense vertically, and for that reason alone, Miami is better off with the strong-armed Henne than the softer-throwing Pennington.

• Rex Ryan is going to be entertaining after both victory and defeat, but I think we got a sense for just how colorful things will be in those postgame settings that follow a New York loss. Ryan's disgust at his team's defensive performance gave little doubt that within him still beats the heart of the defensive coordinator he was for so long in Baltimore.

"First off, it was a complete embarrassment by our defense and by me,'' Ryan said in his opening postgame remarks after the Jets (3-2) lost their second in a row to fall back into a first-place tie with New England in the AFC East. "I've never been involved in a game like that in my life.''

Ryan went on to say he was "at a loss for words with our defensive performance,'' called it "a horrendous day for our defense,'' and noted that he had "been a part of some bad performances by defenses before, but not this bad.''

Later, he added: "Our biggest problem today was stopping the pass more than anything. It's unbelievable. We couldn't stop the run or pass today. Other than that, we played great. It was ridiculous. We tried a million different groupings and nothing worked.''

It might say that Mike Pettine is the Jets defensive coordinator in their media guide, but I think we now definitively know who's in charge on that side of the ball in New York. The Jets offense belongs to coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and Ryan will live and die with his guys on defense. It's who he is to the very core. And it should be fun.

• I expected Braylon Edwards to thrive playing on the big stage that is New York, so his debut performance for the Jets wasn't a complete shocker. But watching him look like a completely different receiver than the one who stunk up the joint for the last year-plus in Cleveland had to make you sick to your stomach if you bleed Brown.

Between Edwards, Kellen Winslow, Donte' Stallworth and Joe Jurevicius, it has been quite a disastrous run for Cleveland pass-catchers of late. Who are we leaving out? Andre Rison?

• It's obvious that much of Ryan's criticism of his own defense stemmed from how much credit he got last year when his Ravens defense totally shut down Miami's Wildcat offense in both a 27-13 Week 7 win and that 27-9 throttling of the Dolphins in the first round of the AFC playoffs.

But Ryan and his Jets defense couldn't tame the Wildcat this time, and I think it's because this is a better version of Miami's favorite form of "trickeration.'' The Dolphins are almost fanatically committed to the Wildcat, rather than dabbling with it as the gimmick offense it seems to be in other NFL locales (Philadelphia, for one).

Miami now has a legitimate passing threat in the Wildcat in rookie Pat White, and running back Ronnie Brown seems so comfortable with the ball in his hands, whether he's running between the tackles, as he did on the game-winning 2-yard touchdown run with six seconds left, sweeping one of the ends, or cocking his left arm to throw. Familiarity should help defenses stop the Wildcat, but it also seems to have benefited Miami's execution.

For NFL fans, the best news is that the Dolphins-Jets rematch is in just three weeks, on Nov. 1 at the Meadowlands. I'm sure Ryan and his defense can't wait to make amends.

• Ryan and Jets safety Kerry Rhodes apparently aren't the only folks who speak without a filter on behalf of the New York defense. According to the New York Times, Jets linebacker Calvin Pace had this to say about the Dolphins offense upon returning to the team from his four-game, season-opening league suspension:

"Against a second-year clown quarterback, we didn't affect him enough,'' Pace was quoted as saying. "I guess you have to give him credit. The defense lost the game today.''

So you're giving the "clown quarterback'' begrudging credit, but making it clear that he didn't win the game for Miami, the Jets defense just lost it? Faint praise, indeed.

We can also count Pace among those who aren't big on the Wildcat. "I can't respect that stuff, all that Wildcat,'' said Pace, according to the Times. "We're in the NFL. Don't come here with that nonsense.''

There's some nonsense involved here, Calvin. But it doesn't have much to do with the Dolphins offense.

• Buffalo's Dick Jauron remains the most likely candidate to become the first head coach fired this season, and the most obvious reason is one of timing. Coaches in Washington and Dallas are aso in danger, but the Redskins and Cowboys are expected to be in the chase to hire an ex-Super Bowl-winning head coach like Mike Shanahan or Jon Gruden, and those two are not about to take over a team at midseason and inherit someone else's coaching staff. The Bills likely won't be shopping in the big-name coaching market, thus they could be more motivated to act sooner rather than later.

That might result in a full season of twisting in the wind for both the Redskins' Jim Zorn and the Cowboys' Wade Phillips. But if enough losses mount for the two NFC East rivals, even that may be an optimistic forecast given that many view newly hired offensive adviser Sherman Lewis to be the obvious interim head coach in waiting in Washington, with Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett potentially taking over in Dallas if Phillips is dismissed before January.

• Isn't it just logical that Brady Quinn should be the next Browns first-round pick to be traded? With next week's Oct. 20 trading deadline looming, why wouldn't Cleveland consider unloading the guy who apparently can't even replace a quarterback in Derek Anderson, who went 2 of 17 for 23 yards on Sunday in Buffalo?

It's not as if Browns head coach Eric Mangini hasn't made up his mind about Quinn at this point. Couldn't a team like Buffalo, or Jacksonville, or Oakland, or Washington, or Carolina, or St. Louis use an extra arm around? And how about the Giants, as an insurance policy behind (or instead of) backup David Carr in light of Eli Manning's heel injury?

• What to make of the Cardinals defense, which through four games ranks dead last against the pass (303.1 yards per game), but ranks first against the run (71.0)? Arizona's pass defense just got shredded for 370 yards or more by Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub in back-to-back games, and that's a more telling indicator of how far the 2-2 Cardinals will go this season in the pass-happy NFL. Arizona is giving up 15.5 yards passing per game more than the 31st ranked Titans (287.6).

Then again, Arizona has confounded us before. The Cardinals were 22nd against the pass last season, and still made the Super Bowl.

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