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No country for old men as NFL teams battle QB crisis

Rob Woollard
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New York Jets backup Trevor Siemian is one of several quarterbacks injured in the opening weeks of the NFL season

New York Jets backup Trevor Siemian is one of several quarterbacks injured in the opening weeks of the NFL season (AFP Photo/ELSA)

Los Angeles (AFP) - Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season, Drew Brees faces an extended injury layoff, and Eli Manning has been benched.

The opening weeks of the 2018/2019 NFL campaign are making a persuasive argument that the league is no country for old men.

After just two rounds, no fewer than five of the league's 32 teams have been forced into changing their quarterback, either through injury, retirement or poor form.

Tom Brady remains the exception to the rule, of course, and thus far the age-defying 42-year-old New England Patriots ace is winning his improbable battle with Father Time.

Brady and the Patriots are already inviting breathless talk of an unbeaten season, and are heavily favored to make it three wins out of three when they host the hapless New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

The Jets themselves are already down to their third choice quarterback after starter Sam Darnold was laid low by glandular fever before back-up Trevor Siemian suffered a season-ending ankle injury during Monday's defeat to the Cleveland Browns.

While Brady and the Patriots machine should roll on relentlessly this weekend, other teams across the league are also scrambling to react to changes at quarterback.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were left reeling after the 37-year-old Roethlisberger was ruled out for the rest of the season on Monday.

The veteran quarterback suffered an injury to his throwing arm during his team's loss to Seattle last Sunday.

- 'Ready to roll' -

The Steelers will now rely on the 24-year-old Mason Rudolph as they seek a first win of the season on Sunday against the unbeaten San Francisco 49ers in California.

So far, Rudolph is talking a good game.

"I am completely confident in myself, being a leader of a team, and playing games," Rudolph said. "That's what it all comes down to. If that's the case, I'm ready to roll."

The New Orleans Saints , meanwhile, will be looking for similar assurance from backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater as they grapple with the loss of the 40-year-old Brees.

Brees, the NFL's all-time passing leader, injured a thumb on his throwing hand early in the Saints' defeat to the Los Angeles Rams last weekend and now faces up to eight weeks on the sidelines.

The Saints were strongly tipped as Super Bowl contenders at the start of the season, but must now hope either Bridgewater or fellow back-up Taysom Hill, can keep New Orleans in contention for the postseason.

Saints coach Sean Payton has refused to confirm whether Bridgewater or Hill will start as his team head to Washington state on Sunday to face the unbeaten Seattle Seahawks.

The New York Giants, meanwhile, have acted swiftly to relegate incumbent starter Manning as they attempt to turn around their season.

The Giants, who are 0-2, have promoted rookie Daniel Jones to the starting role, ending Manning's near 15-year reign as the franchise's first-choice quarterback.

The Giants take on Tampa Bay this weekend, with Manning vowing to support his successor despite his displeasure at demotion.

"In some ways, I signed up for this. When you draft young quarterbacks this is gonna happen," Manning said this week. "I got to live with it and make the best of it."

The Carolina Panthers, meanwhile, could become the latest team forced into a quarterback reshuffle with uncertainty swirling around starter Cam Newton.

Newton, the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 2015, has been struggling with an ankle problem that forced him to skip practice this week.

- Kaepernick 'blackballed' -

With so many established quarterbacks biting the dust, the status of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has once again come under scrutiny.

Kaepernick has effectively been frozen out of the league since being released by the 49ers in 2017 in the wake of his refusal to stand for the US national anthem in protest at racial injustice.

Kaepernick, 31, who led the 49ers to a 2013 Super Bowl appearance, has declared himself fit and available and his agents have reportedly contacted teams with vacancies at quarterback.

So far, though, no team has expressed an interest in hiring Kaepernick, the subject of vitriolic criticism from President Donald Trump in 2017.

Kaepernick's close friend and former 49ers teammate, Eric Reid, is adamant that the quarterback's failure to garner any interest is evidence that he has been "blackballed" from the league.

" Ben Roethlisberger 's out for the season, Drew Brees is out for some time, and we don't know what Cam's situation is," Panthers safety Reid said this week.

"It happens every year. They've been bringing guys out of retirement. Guys who've said 'I don't want to play football anymore' have gotten calls and Colin hasn't. It's purely blackballing."