Eight in the Box: Best performances by backup QBs this season (so far)
Each Friday, Eight in the Box will highlight a list of eight players, teams or moments and their impact on the 2013 season and beyond …
News that Tony Romo is officially out of the Dallas Cowboys’ lineup for Sunday’s game vs. Philadelphia means Kyle Orton will step into a critical, must-win situation with the division on the line. That’s a tough spot against a very good Eagles team, but there is evidence from throughout the 2013 NFL season that backup QBs can get the job done.
Here are eight of the best performances from No. 2 guys who were pressed into action:
8. Brian Hoyer vs. Cincinnati, Week 4 (17-6 win): 25-for-38, 269 yards, two TDs, no INTs
Who knows where the Browns might have ended up this season had Hoyer not suffered an injury in Week 5. This game marked win No. 2 in the 3-0 stretch Cleveland put up with Hoyer in the starting lineup. One week prior, in his 2013 debut, Hoyer whipped the ball around 54 times in a 31-27 win over Minnesota.
He followed that up with a very impressive and composed performance against the eventual AFC North champion Bengals. Hoyer hit Jordan Cameron for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, then cemented the victory with a 1-yard TD toss to Chris Ogbonnaya in the fourth.
7. Case Keenum vs. Indy, Week 9 (27-24 loss): 20-for-34, 350 yards, three TDs, no INTs
Slight penalty for the loss, but this was the height of Keenum Mania in Houston. After stepping into the starting lineup for Matt Schaub, Keenum nearly led Houston to an upset win at then 6-0 Kansas City, before lighting up Indianapolis early in Week 9. Keenum threw all three of his touchdown passes in the first half — and all to Andre Johnson — as the Texans opened up a 21-3 halftime lead.
Unfortunately, the game took a dire turn at halftime, when Texans coach Gary Kubiak collapsed on his way off the field. Perhaps shaken by seeing their coach leave the stadium in an ambulance, the Texans lost momentum and eventually the game.
6. Matt McGloin vs. Houston, Week 11 (28-23 win): 18-for-32, 197 yards, three TDs, no INTs
Houston was on the other end of this performance (though on the losing side again). This was McGloin’s first game as the Oakland starter and still stands as his only win. His numbers were not off the charts — the 197 yards actually represent his lowest passing total in a game which he started — but he did enough to chalk up a W.
5. Kirk Cousins vs. Atlanta, Week 15 (27-26 loss): 29-of-45, 381 yards, three TDs, two INTs
Turnovers plagued Cousins and his Washington teammates, otherwise this would have been a road victory. Cousins himself coughed it up three times (two picks plus a fumble), part of seven miscues in total by the Redskins. They came within a failed two-point conversion attempt of victory despite that, with Cousins frequently testing Atlanta’s suspect pass defense downfield.
Cousins completed passes to nine different players — and threw touchdowns to three targets (Santana Moss, Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis). It wasn’t enough, but the effort was impressive.
4. Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Oakland (Week 12): 23-19 win, 30-for-42, 320 yards, two TDs, no INTs
Fitzpatrick had settled in as the Titans’ No. 1 QB by this point with Jake Locker shelved by injury. (That’s in contrast to, for example, Tampa Bay’s Mike Glennon, who won the starting job of his own accord and thus is not included on this list.)
Start No. 4 for Fitzpatrick was his finest to date in 2013, and the only win until he toppled Jacksonville last Sunday. Fitzpatrick is not alone in carving up Oakland’s secondary, but he did so with aplomb on the road. Most of the damage came in the second half: Fitzpatrick connected with Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright for TDs in the third and fourth quarter, respectively.
3. Matt Cassel vs. Philadelphia, Week 15 (48-30 win): 26-of-35, 382 yards, two TDs, one INT
We come now to the NFC North portion of this week’s Eight in the Box. Cassel’s highlight of 2013 prior to Week 15 came way back during Minnesota’s Week 4 trip to Wembley Stadium. There, he fired two touchdown passes and racked up 248 yards through the air en route to a win over the Steelers.
He struggled in his next outing, at Carolina, then was pushed to the bench for chosen starter Christian Ponder (and once for Josh Freeman). It’s been a tale of two (well, three) cities since Cassel regained the reins, with Ponder fighting post-concussion symptoms. In his two road starts the past three weeks, at Baltimore and Cincinnati, Cassel has completed just 46.2 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and three picks; at home, in the game featured here, he ripped apart a Philadelphia defense that had been in a groove.
2. Matt Flynn vs. Dallas, Week 15 (37-36 win): 26-of-39, 299 yards, four TDs, one INT
This was the most impressive single half by a backup … following one of the worst halves a team has played in 2013. The Packers fell behind Dallas at the break by 23, as Flynn fired an interception and failed to get anything going on offense.
But over the final two quarters, Flynn could do no wrong. He was 16-for-22 after the break, with all four of his touchdown passes coming in a 26-minute stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters. Eddie Lacy’s late rushing TD gave Green Bay a shocking win, with Flynn playing the hero in Aaron Rodgers’ absence.
1. Josh McCown vs. Dallas, Week 14 (45-28 win): 27-of-36, 348 yards, four TDs, no INTs
The Cowboys were equal-opportunity patsies for the Packers and Bears (and Dallas’ inclusion in the top two spots should give you some idea why Jerry Jones’ squad may miss the playoffs). Flynn stole the show in Week 15, but McCown delivered an even more impressive showing just seven days earlier.
Off back-to-back road losses in St. Louis and Minnesota, McCown badly needed a rebound performance to get his team on track. He wasted no time solving his issues, hitting Earl Bennett for a TD on Chicago’s first drive. After that, McCown scampered in from seven yards out for a score, then fired touchdown passes to Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and Michael Bush before all was said and done.