GREAT ROOKIE QUARTERBACKS don't come along too often. Great rookie QBs from the same area? Well, that's even rarer.

But that's what we in the Delaware Valley have been treated to this season in the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan and Baltimore Ravens' Joe Flacco.

Ryan, who starred at Penn Charter and Boston College, threw a touchdown pass in yesterday's 24-17 win over Minnesota as the Falcons clinched a playoff spot. He now has thrown for 3,280 yards this season with 15 TDs and nine interceptions.

On Saturday, Flacco, who played at Audubon (N.J.) High and the University of Delaware, threw a TD in a 33-24 win over the Dallas Cowboys and now has thrown for 2,674 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Thirty starts, 29 touchdowns and almost 6,000 yards between them. That got us wondering how they stack up against other rookie quarterbacks

We didn't have the time or inclination to check every first-year QB. But we compared Ryan and Flacco to some who went on to highly successful NFL careers and found that, as a rookie:

* Johnny Unitas, starting just seven of the 12 games he played for the Baltimore Colts in 1956, threw for 1,498 yards and nine TDs.

* Fran Tarkenton finished with 18 TDs and 1,997 yards while starting 10 of 14 games for the Minnesota Vikings in '61

* Joe Namath had 18 TDs and finished with 2,220 yards, while starting nine of the 13 games in which he appeared for the New York Jets in '65.

* Bob Griese threw for 2,005 yards and 15 touchdowns while starting 10 of the 12 games he played for the Miami Dolphins in '67.

* Dan Marino, who didn't start until the sixth game of the Dolphins' 1983 season, had 20 TDs and 2,210 yards in nine of the 11 games.

* Peyton Manning, who started all 16 games of the Indianapolis Colts' '98 season, threw for 3,739 yards and 26 TDs. *

- Tom Mahon

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