These were supposed to better days for the Cowboys, Browns and Raiders, with Tony Romo rising from undrafted free agent to Brett Favre clone sans Terrell Owens, Brady Quinn becoming the Robo-QB in Cleveland he was at Notre Dame and JaMarcus Russell showing improvement in Year 3.
None of it has come to pass.
In reality, the NFL couldn't care less that Romo has cute dimples, a nice story and starlets lined up ready to accompany him to Los Cabos. The league doesn't care that Quinn is an Ohio native with washboard abs who played for Jesus' team in college and likes to take pictures with his shirt off. And on Sundays, what does it matter what Russell ever did on Saturdays?
Can you say David Carr, Joey Harrington and Heath Shuler? Yeah, it's getting that bad. These are not the only NFL destinations facing trouble with four weeks in the books, but they are three places where issues at quarterback are largely to blame.
The Cowboys' loss at Denver last Sunday might as well have been January in Seattle or a home playoff game against the Giants. Romo missed targets. He hung receivers out over the middle. He dropped opportunities, threw interceptions, and when it finally was time to make a game-winning play, he threw to his fourth-best receiver, who happened to be covered by maybe the league's best cornerback in Champ Bailey.
But weren't Romo's dimples soooo cute? Haven't his girlfriends been smoking hot?
The more pertinent question should be, has any player regressed more than Romo? It's as if he and the Cowboys' spin machine keep wanting us to believe he's the next Favre, when he's clearly not even close. He's gone from a nearly 65 percent completion rate, more than 4,000 yards passing and a nearly 2-to-1 touchdown to ratio in 2007 to consistent flops in the clutch, a 1-to-1 TD to interception ratio and what could be 20 fewer touchdown passes than his best year. He's beginning to play at times this season the way he's ended previous ones. With a thud.
Romo's leadership and commitment have been questioned by no less respected Cowboys than Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman. Yet because he is Romo, he continues to be defended. Go back as far as the infamous off-week playoff jaunt to Los Cabos in 2007. As many a Romo fan has pointed out, Romo had the right to go on that trip. Sure, he had the right. But having the right to do something and doing what's right are entirely different. Cowboys fans signed up for the next Roger Staubach. They got the next Danny White, at best.
At least Cleveland fans can rejoice in the Browns' moving on from Quinn. For those who bought into the hype, Quinn should be the next Tom Brady by now. That's what Browns fans expected. That's how all the forum threads read. But Quinn clearly did not make a deep impression on coach Eric Mangini. Why else did he yank him as the starter just 10 quarters into the season?
Frankly, Mangini is right on this one. Quinn is more the second coming of Ron Powlus than Tom Brady. He looks the part, acts the part and has the tools, but he's not that good. The pressure from within and outside the organization may well have forced Mangini to make him a starter, despite Mangini not believing he could get the job done.
Sometimes, the best thing to do is cut ties with flopping quarterbacks, but the tease of so much physical ability can sway opinion down a losing path. That's where the Raiders are with Russell. Mention his name and "big game" in the same sentence and you're probably still just talking about his college days at LSU.
Raiders coach Tom Cable, who has his own set of problems with which to deal, surely doesn't need the headache of having a fat, lazy and unproductive face of the franchise. But that's exactly what the Raiders have. Russell came in as the next Ben Roethlisberger, but will go out as the closest thing to Ryan Leaf since Ryan Leaf.
The Raiders/Russell situation is clearly beyond repair. Raiders assistant Ted Tollner has talked about Russell's regressing as a quarterback, former teammate Jeff Garcia has ripped his work ethic and more recently Boomer Esiason reports he's been told that Russell's laziness and lack of motivation are worse than anyone thought.
And while none of Russell's obvious shortcomings can be overlooked, they would be less intolerable if he actually produced, even just occasionally. But he hasn't. Russell's "best" game by far this year came Sunday in Houston, but that's sort of like calling Episode 3 the best of Tyler Perry's House Of Payne. Russell completed just 12-of-33 (36-percent) for 128 yards with no touchdowns and got sacked twice. For him, this was good. For the Raiders, it's very, very bad.
That's sort of the way the season is shaping up in Oakland, Cleveland and perhaps even Dallas.