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Youth on display as NFL playoffs begin

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 08:21 AM
TAMPA -

Get ready for the most ballyhooed celebration of youth since Woodstock.

Half of the 12 teams in the NFL playoff field are led by inexperienced quarterbacks, including three passers in action Sunday who turned in spectacular rookie seasons.

In a matchup bursting with capital intrigue, third-round draft pick Russell Wilson leads the surging Seahawks into FedExField against the even hotter Redskins, who are sparked by Robert Griffin III, the No. 2 pick in the draft behind Andrew Luck.

Earlier on Sunday, Luck faces his first postseason test as the remarkable Colts head into Baltimore against a Ravens defense determined to remind Luck that he's only a year removed from Stanford.

"We want to get after him,'' said Baltimore linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. "Hopefully, we can turn him back into a rookie.''

While veterans like Denver's Peyton Manning and Tom Brady of the Patriots enjoy an opening-round bye, a pair of second-year quarterbacks are in action Saturday.

With rushing champion Adrian Peterson leading the charge, former Florida State standout Christian Ponder leads the Vikings into Green Bay Saturday evening.

In the opening playoff game, Andy Dalton will be under center as the Bengals travel to Houston for the second consecutive postseason.

Another second-year quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, will make only his eighth start for the 49ers next week when the NFC's No. 2 seed plays at home.

What happened to the days of patience and nurturing at the game's most critical position?

When Aaron Rodgers burst onto the scene with a 4,000-yard season as Green Bay's starter in 2008, after backing up Brett Favre for three years, many NFL executives and coaches nodded their heads and said the Packers did it right.

Now, who knows?

Rodgers may own the highest career passer rating in NFL history, but the instant success of Luck, Griffin and Wilson has altered the dynamic.

"I don't know that there's ever been three rookies in a field of 12, but those three guys are unique,'' said Denver coach John Fox.

Prior to this year, the records for the most combined wins (23), passing yards (13,060) and touchdown passes (73) by quarterbacks in their rookie season were all established in 2011.

But sparked by the Big 3, the rookie class of 2012 blew them away.

With 4,374 passing yards, Luck shattered Cam Newton's rookie mark (4,051) set last season. He also directed seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, tied for the most by any starting quarterback in a single season since the 1970 merger.

"Andrew's playing right now like he's been in the league three or four years,'' said Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano. "He's unflappable … nothing bothers him.''

While Wilson and Griffin boast exceptional mobility, Luck is masterful at sitting in the pocket and waiting on Reggie Wayne or one of his other downfield targets to break free.

While Luck's toughness is unquestioned, he has been victimized by 41 sacks, 18 interceptions and 10 fumbles.

Griffin and Wilson are each exceptional at throwing on the run, displaying more accuracy than Luck while combining for 46 touchdown passes and only 15 picks.

Griffin's 102.4 passer rating is the best by any rookie quarterback in NFL annals. Wilson was close behind at 100.0, throwing 26 scoring passes to tie Peyton Manning's rookie mark set in 1998.

"We're always looking for guys that have special dimensions, unique qualities, and Russell's loaded with them,'' said Seattle coach Pete Carroll. "He's allowed us to really do everything we can think of.''

Griffin's sore knee has slowed him a bit down the stretch, but the Redskins are on a seven-game roll and TV viewers are anticipating an entertaining matchup.

"I don't know that Griffin's the best player, and I don't know that he's the MVP,'' said Hall of Fame coach John Madden. "But I do know this – he's the most fun to watch.''

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