For Sage Rosenfels, It's 4th-and-Long for His Career

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For Sage Rosenfels, It's 4th-and-Long for His Career
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The 2009 season will be all about redemption for Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sage Rosenfels.

Rosenfels, despite his perennial status as a backup, has experienced his share of  highs and lows as a spot starter during an eight-year NFL career.

It took Rosenfels five seasons to collect his first NFL victory as quarterback. It was a doozy and well worth the wait.

Replacing an injured Gus Frerotte in the second half, Rosenfels directed three touchdown drives in the final quarter and threw for the winning score on fourth down with six seconds left to help the Miami Dolphins beat the Buffalo Bills 24-23 on Dec. 4, 2005. The 20-point comeback was the Dolphins' biggest since 1974.

It took Rosenfels far less time to register an equally memorable meltdown.

On Oct. 5, 2008, Rosenfels fumbled twice in the fourth quarter and threw a last-minute interception, helping Indianapolis rally for a 31-27 win over his Houston Texans. The Colts scored 21 points in two minutes and 10 seconds to register the comeback victory.

Rosenfels has amassed enough snaps to even experience triumph and heartache in the same game.

On Oct. 21, 2007, Rosenfels brought Houston from a 32-7 deficit to a 36-35 lead before Rob Bironas kicked an NFL-record eighth field goal for a 38-36 Tennessee victory. Rosenfel's 249 passing yards in that period were the second most ever in the fourth quarter.

The Minnesota Vikings are wagering a $9-million, two-year contract extension and a 2009 fourth-round draft choice that Rosenfels, 31, whom they acquired in February from the Houston Texans, will transform himself from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan.

The Vikings hope Rosenfels will help them achieve another NFC North crown, a deep run into the playoffs and ultimately, a berth in the Super Bowl.

And why can't Rosenfels join the ranks of late-blooming quarterbacks like Jeff Garcia, Rich Gannon, and Matt Hasselbeck who didn't become upper-echelon starters until after they reached the age of 30?

During his senior at Iowa State University, Rosenfels spearheaded a Cyclone offense that featured an equal mix of throw and run. Despite throwing for just 208.5 yards per game, Rosenfels was rated the second-best senior quarterback prospect by one scouting organization.

The Washington Redskins selected Rosenfels in the fourth round of the 2001 draft. He didn't play a down during his rookie season, but Steve Spurrier, who had taken over as coach of the Redskins at the end of the 2001 NFL season, announced in April 2002 that Rosenfels would be in the hunt for the starting nod at quarterback.

The promise never materialized as Spurrier turned to former Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, journeyman Shane Matthews, and ultimately, 2002 first-round draft pick Patrick Ramsey.

Wuerffel and Matthews combined to lead six of Spurrier's seven Southeastern Conference title teams at Florida. Their ease with the "Fun-N-Gun" offense Spurrier favored gave them the inside track over Rosenfels, although neither had established themselves as NFL-caliber quarterbacks.

Ramsey embroiled the Redskins in a contract stalemate that kept him out of camp until August, but he was later inked to a long-term contract that stamped him as Washington's long-term fix at quarterback.

Rosenfels excelled in three preseason contests for the Redskins in 2002, completing 32 of 54 pass attempts (59.3 percent) for 476 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions, for a passer rating of 103.6. 

One could argue it was tangible evidence that Rosenfels had mastered Spurrier's complex system and offered a compelling case that Rosenfels had earned a slot on the depth chart.

Instead, Rosenfels was the odd-man out, and the Redskins traded him to the Miami Dolphins for a 2003 seventh-round draft choice on Aug. 22, 2002.

The Dolphins' Senior Vice President-Football Operations/Player Personnel at the time was none other than Rick Spielman, currently Vice President of Player Personnel for the Minnesota Vikings. He stated that Rosenfels would compete for the team's third quarterback position, according to the team's Web site. 

Rosenfels ultimately exceeded the Dolphins' modest expectations.

Over the course of four years, Rosenfels completed 54-of-109 pass attempts for 776 yards, with six touchdowns and six interceptions for a solid 81.2 passer rating. He started two of the 13 games in which he appeared.

His performance, though, wasn't enough to convince the Dolphins that he was starter material, and Rosenfels signed with the Houston Texans as an unrestricted free agent on March 13, 2006.

In 19 games for the Texans, including 10 starts over a three-year span, Rosenfels completed 297-of-453 attempts, with 24 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. He compiled 3,380 yards for an 84.3 passer rating, statistics roughly equivalent to San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers' stat line in 2007.

The Vikings obtained Rosenfels in the expectation that he would challenge Tarvaris Jackson for the starter's role, Spielman said.

This was the plan before the Vikings began to court Brett Favre, which is a clear sign that the Vikings don't have confidence in either Rosenfels or Jackson.

No matter how the scenario unfolds, Rosenfels is facing fourth down and 30 yards to go, in terms of his career prospects ... before he's even taken a snap as a Viking.

If Favre signs with the Vikings, Rosenfels will be holding a clipboard on the sidelines for another year at least.

If Favre doesn't sign and Rosenfels supplants Jackson as the starter at some point in the season, he will have to pull a Kurt Warner to overcome the cynicism of Vikings fans who regard neither he nor Jackson as possessing the requisite panache to enable the Vikings to fulfill their destiny.

Sage, welcome to the land of Purple and Gold, where fans share an aesthetic that views life as beautiful but cruel.

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