QB quest new for Patriots, but familiar for AFC East foes

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NEW YORK (AP)Welcome to the club, Patriots.

You know, that unsettling feeling over not being sure who your starting quarterback will be this season, next year – or beyond. Just ask New England’s AFC East rivals about it. Miami, Buffalo and the New York Jets have lived through that frustrating uncertainty for much of this century.

For the first time since 2001, the Patriots will enter a season without Tom Brady as the clear-cut starter under center. Even during Brady’s four-game suspension to begin the 2016 season, Bill Belichick’s bunch knew he’d be back in Week 5.

In that same span, the rest of the AFC East has resembled the turnstiles at Penn Station, starting a combined 55 players at quarterback.

Yes, 55 – more than an entire in-season roster.

It’s no wonder the Patriots won the division title 17 times in the Brady era.

Well, the six-time Super Bowl champion and three-time NFL MVP will be in Tampa Bay this season to lead Bruce Arians’ Buccaneers

that’s fully guaranteed. So,

for the Patriots.

Maybe it’ll be 34-year-old veteran

with New England – after serving as Brady’s backup during two previous stints in Foxboro.

It could be Jarrett Stidham, a fourth-round pick out of Auburn last year who threw four passes as a rookie – including one that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by the Jets’ Jamal Adams in a blowout win by the Patriots.

Or, it might be one-time Browns starter Cody Kessler, who was on New England’s roster last year.

Maybe Belichick doesn’t even have his Week 1 starter on hand yet.

Either way, this isn’t something the Patriots or their fans are used to. Since Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe and made his first start on Sept. 30, 2001 – a 44-13 win over Peyton Manning and the Colts at old Foxboro Stadium – only three other players have started at quarterback for New England:

– Matt Cassel: 15 games in 2008, when Brady injured his knee in the season opener.

– Jimmy Garoppolo (two) and Jacoby Brissett (two): in 2016, when Brady was suspended by the NFL for the first four games for his role in the deflated footballs scandal.

The Jets have used 16 players at the position since the start of the 2001 season, the Bills 19 and the Dolphins 20.

New York believes it has its franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold, but it has been there before during Brady’s reign with the likes of Chad Pennington, Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith failing to have sustained stretches of success and/or health.

So has Buffalo, which is excited by the progress of Josh Allen. But the Bills also had high hopes for J.P. Losman and EJ Manuel, one-time first-round picks who quickly fizzled.

Miami thought it finally had Dan Marino’s successor when it drafted Ryan Tannehill in 2012. He never quite lived up to those lofty expectations in South Florida. It appears the Dolphins will enter this season with 37-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter, with Josh Rosen also on the roster – and a very real possibility they target a quarterback with the No. 5 pick. Yep, starter No. 21.

Fun fact: Fitzpatrick has started for all three of the Patriots’ division rivals, while Pennington (Jets, Dolphins) played for two. Oh, and Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo in 2002 and started for the Bills a year after being hit hard but cleanly, and injured by the Jets’ Mo Lewis – setting into motion nearly 19 years worth of stability at QB for the Patriots.

Here’s every player that has started at least one game for New England’s division foes since 2001:

DOLPHINS (20): Jay Fiedler (44 games, 2001-04), Ray Lucas (six, 2002), Brian Griese (five, 2003), A.J. Feeley (eight, 2004), Sage Rosenfels (two, 2004-05), Gus Frerotte (15, 2005), Daunte Culpepper (four, 2006), Joey Harrington (11, 2006), Cleo Lemon (eight, 2006-07), Trent Green (five, 2007), John Beck (four, 2007), Pennington (20, 2008-10), Chad Henne (31, 2009-11), Tyler Thigpen (one, 2010), Matt Moore (12, 2011; 5, 2016-17), Tannehill (77, 2012-16; 11, 2018), Jay Cutler (14, 2017), Brock Osweiler (five, 2018), Fitzpatrick (13, 2019) and Rosen (three, 2019).

Hot Reads: Tannehill started 77 consecutive games to begin his NFL career before a knee injury during training camp in 2017 ended the streak. That’s the most games any QB in the division has started in a row since 2001 other than Brady, who had streaks of 111 and 112 games during that span. … Fitzpatrick’s 93 combined starts are the most by any QB in the AFC East not named Brady since 2001. Tannehill is next with 88, followed by Pennington (81).

BILLS (19): Rob Johnson (eight, 2001), Alex Van Pelt (eight, 2001), Bledsoe (48, 2002-04), Losman (33, 2005-08), Kelly Holcomb (eight, 2005), Trent Edwards (32, 2007-10), Fitzpatrick (53, 2009-12), Brian Brohm (two, 2009-10), Manuel (17, 2013-16), Thad Lewis (five, 2013), Jeff Tuel (one, 2013), Kyle Orton (12, 2014), Cassel (one, 2015), Tyrod Taylor (42, 2015-17), Nathan Peterman (four, 2017-18), Allen (27, 2018-19), Derek Anderson (one, 2018), LeSean McCoy (one, in the wildcat, 2018) and Matt Barkley (one, 2018).

Hot Reads: Yep, that’s right – McCoy lined up as the quarterback instead of Anderson – in the wildcat to open a game in 2018. The running back is technically listed as the starter, so he counts. … Cassel took the first snap in the 2015 season opener while Taylor was split out wide as a receiver. But Cassel never threw a pass for the Bills.

JETS (16): Vinny Testaverde (27, 2001-03; 4, 2005), Pennington (61, 2002-07), Quincy Carter (three, 2004), Brooks Bollinger (nine, 2005), Kellen Clemens (eight, 2007; one, 2009), Brett Favre (16, 2008), Sanchez (62, 2009-12), Greg McElroy (one, 2012), Smith (29, 2013-14; one, 2016), Michael Vick (three, 2014), Fitzpatrick (27, 2015-16), Bryce Petty (seven, 2016-17), Josh McCown (16, 2017-18), Darnold (26, 2018-19), Luke Falk (two, 2019) and Trevor Siemian (one, 2019).

Hot Reads: No, Tim Tebow never started a game at quarterback in his one season with the Jets in 2012. He actually did get two starts that season, though: at tight end in the season opener at Buffalo, and at fullback in Week 3 against Miami. … While Sanchez never became the next Joe Namath (no one else has for the franchise, either), he does have Broadway Joe in one category: most career playoff victories by a Jets quarterback, with four. But, there’s also the “Butt Fumble,” of course. Naturally, against Brady and the Patriots, on Thanksgiving night in 2012.

AP Sports Writers John Wawrow and Steven Wine contributed.

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