Philip Rivers'sfirst test against a top-flight NFL defense comes on Sunday in Baltimore, andthere aren't many quarterbacks of any experience level who'd expect to get an Aagainst the Ray Lewis--led Ravens unit. But Rivers (right) showed in wins overthe Raiders and the Titans that the trust placed in him when the club let DrewBrees go in free agency last March wasn't misplaced. Coming off a bye week,Rivers ranks a surprising second in the NFL in passer rating (107.4),completing 72% of his attempts with two touchdowns and no turnovers. The playthat elevated his status in the eyes of teammates came at Oakland: Withdefensive tackle Warren Sapp steaming in on him unblocked, Rivers stood hisground and threw a perfect 38-yard pass to Eric Parker before getting leveled."It almost felt good," says Rivers of the hit. "If I have to takeit on the chin to complete the pass, that's fine. After the play we're lyingthere, and [Sapp] says, 'No way he caught that!' I said, 'Yeah, he did!'"Rivers has to keep making plays like that because, he says, "I've still gota lot of trust and respect to earn."
"I'm goingto bring energy out there, rely on the people around me and make smartdecisions," Tampa Bay's Bruce Gradkowski said on Monday, after Jon Grudentold the rookie passer he'd make his first NFL start, in place of the injuredChris Simms, on Oct. 8 against the Saints. Gradkowski, a sixth-rounder fromToledo, vomited before his first preseason game in August, so there's notelling how he'll react in New Orleans. (The Bucs have a bye this week.) Simmsis recovering from surgery to remove a ruptured spleen suffered in a 26--24loss to the Panthers. That leaves Gradkowski to get Tampa Bay out of an 0--3hole. The alltime NCAA Division I-A completion-percentage leader (68.2%)connected on 45 of 61 preseason throws to win the backup job from Tim Rattay.Five years ago another sixth-rounder replaced a starting QB on a winlessteam—the Patriots' Tom Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001 and won a SuperBowl. Tampa Bay can only hope history repeats.
1 I'm hearingfrom influential owners that the league doesn't like either of the proposedvenues for an expansion team in the Los Angeles area: the Coliseum downtown ora proposed new stadium in Anaheim. "We could be five or six years away froma team in L.A.," says one owner, "not two or three."
2 Dallas hasdone an excellent job of locking up its cornerstone players, committing $78.1million to keep safety Roy Williams, quarterback-of-the-future Tony Romo, tightend Jason Witten and linebacker Bradie James well into their prime.
3 Seattlepresident Tod Leiweke doesn't mind the inconveniences of a scheduled preseasongame in Beijing next August between his Seahawks and the Patriots, calling it"a significant privilege to be playing the first [NFL] game ever inChina." I doubt Bill Belichick sees it the same way.
Read PeterKing's Monday Morning Quarterback every week at SI.com/football.