They call it “trial by fire.”
A starting quarterback goes down by way of injury or poor play and the newly drafted signal caller or young backup leaps up from the bench and trots out on the field. The crowd doesn’t quite know what to think.
Fans and critics alike flood Twitter and the blogosphere with questions: Does he have enough time to prepare? Will he be the quarterback we all think he can be, or will he go the way of Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell and be a titanic bust?
(Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flicker SA 2.0)
The job of a rookie/backup quarterback isn’t easy, and because of that there have been many epic flame-outs where the cheers turn to boos as quickly as it takes for him to throw a pair of first-half interceptions.
However, recent NFL history shows that there are those rare cases where a rookie/backup seems like he’s born for the position. He comes in and, like the proverbial hero, saves the day by making sound decisions and leading the team to victory.
We’ve compiled a list of what we think are the four greatest season-long performances of a rookie quarterback who filled in for an injured or benched starter.
#4 Dak Prescott for Tony Romo, 2016
Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott was a bit of an afterthought as pundits discussed the top quarterbacks of the 2016 NFL Draft. Cal signal caller Jared Goff, North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and three other quarterbacks went off the board before Prescott’s name came up in the fourth round when the Dallas Cowboys drafted him.
When Tony Romo broke his back early in the preseason, the pressure of leading the country’s most recognizable football franchise fell on Prescott’s young frame. He handled the immense task with ease, playing well through the preseason.
The Cowboy’s 2016 regular season started with a loss to the Giants, inevitably leading pundits to wonder how early Romo could return from his injury.
However, as of week eight of the 2016 NFL season, Prescott has managed to pull off six wins in a row, including a historic performance against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Even at his worst against the Philadelphia Eagles, Prescott managed to pull off an overtime victory with a TD pass to Jason Witten after a nice bit of scrambling.
Prescott’s performance against the Eagles, led FOX Sports reporter Chris Chase to write, “It’s Dak Prescott’s world and Tony Romo is just wearing a backward hat, holding a clipboard and watching it all unfold.”
#3 Tony Romo for Drew Bledsoe, Dallas Cowboys, 2006
Near the halfway point of the 2006 season, legendary-but-declining quarterback Drew Bledsoe was looking bad. So, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells decided to make a change at halftime in a game against the New York Giants. He brought in Tony Romo, an undrafted quarterback out of Eastern Illinois University.
Romo’s first pass was an interception – not a good sign. He lost two of his first three starts, but then went on a four-game win streak highlighted by what might be one of the two greatest games of his career: a 306-yard, five-touchdown performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
#2 Tom Brady for Drew Bledsoe, 2001
Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick out of the University of Michigan. His senior season with the Wolverines was ho-hum at best: 16 TD’s and 6 INT’s.
He started the 2000 season buried on the Patriot’s depth chart, but eventually worked his way up to the backup role. Good thing, too – in week two of the 2001 season, starting QB Drew Bledsoe went down with internal bleeding after a vicious hit.
(Photo credit: Keith Allison, Flicker License SA 2.0)
Brady stepped in for the final series of the game the Patriots ended up losing. Brady started the next two games, going 1-1. At that point, the Patriots were 1-3 on the season and Brady was looking like the unspectacular QB that many thought he was.
However, the Hall of Fame QB flashed his now well-known brilliance when the led the Patriots to a come-from-behind victory over the chargers in the fifth week of the season. Brady then led the Patriots to the playoffs after winning 11 of his 14 starts that year.
Brady won his first playoff game against the Oakland Raiders (the infamous “Tuck Rule” game), then played well against the Steelers but went out of the game with a knee injury. Bledsoe led the team to victory, and then Brady returned as the starter in Super Bowl XXXVI to lead the Patriots to victory.
#1 Ben Roethlisberger for Tommy Maddox, Pittsburgh Steelers, 2004
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger was one of four first-round quarterbacks selected in the 2004 NFL Draft, along with Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and J.P. Losman. He started the season third on the depth chart, but moved into the second slot when journeyman Charlie Batch got hurt during the preseason.
Starter Tommy Maddox went down with an injury during the Steeler’s second game of the 2004 season, a relief for many who thought Maddox was ineffective. Roethlisberger stepped in and led the Steelers to 13 straight victories (he didn’t play the final game of the season), a feat that may never be matched. Big Ben threw multiple interceptions in a game only twice during the regular season.
However, Roethlisberger struggled in the Steelers two playoff games. He managed to pull out a victory in a divisional game against the Jets, but his three interceptions in the AFC Championship game proved to be the Steelers undoing. They lost the game 42-17 to the New England Patriots, who would go on to win the Super Bowl.
The following season, Roethlisberger was 9-3 as a starter (he sat out four games due to injury). Big Ben finished the season with eight straight wins, including a 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
About the Author: J.R. Duren is a regular contributor to the iM Sports Blog. His work has been featured in numerous online publications.