Being the best at being second-best

by Gary Shelton on January 26, 2018 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Ryan Fitzpatrick won two games for a team that won five./STEVEN MUNCIE

Ryan Fitzpatrick won two games for a team that won five./STEVEN MUNCIE

Friday, 4 a.m.

For the most part, it's a good gig.

You stand near enough to the coach to get on television. You wear a baseball cap. Sometimes, you carry a clipboard.

You're close enough to get a decent view. You get to eat from the post-game spread. You wake up on Monday, and usually, you aren't sore.

Ah, yes. Being a backup quarterback.

That's the way to cut through a career.

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Sometimes, however, you have to play. In the 32-team NFL, only 12 teams kept the same quarterback all season this year, and that's a high number for most seasons. That's why backup quarterback is so important. He's supposed to steer the boat when the seas get rough. He's supposed to keep the team alive when everyone else is calling for a priest.

Let's face it: In the NFL, a win by a backup quarterback is found gold. That's why it's so special to see Nick Foles work. In two post-season games, Foles has a quarterback rating of 122.1. Foles went 2-1 in the regular season, and he's been 2-0 in the post-season. The Eagles have played wonderfully around him.

For a backup quarterback, much of the job is mental. A backup has to be patient; he usually isn't in a competitive situation. When he gets in, he has to play conservatively for coaches who are trying to protect the game from you.

There is a story. The old Cleveland Browns used to win a lot (honestly), but one day, the fans began to chant for backup George Ratterman. Coach Paul Brown finally pulled him over. "Rat, your fans are calling for you," he said. Ratterman nodded his head. "Well," Brown said, "I think you ought to go up there and sit with them for a while."

Who was the best at being second best in the NFL?

The Doug Williams Right Time Award: So named for someone who takes over late in the season and guides his team in the playoffs, the way Williams did back in 1987. Williams started only two games -- and lost them both -- with the Redskins after taking over for Jay Schroeder. But in the playoffs, Williams beat the Bears and the Vikings to advance to the Super Bowl, where he and the Redskins clobbered Denver.

This year, the award would go to Foles. He's still playing, and . He was with him at quarterback instead of Carson Went, the world thought the Eagles were doomed. But in wins over Atlanta and Minnesota, Foles has a quarterback rating of 122.1.

The Earl Morrall Long Distance Award: Morrall was a godsend for Don Shula. Playing with the Colts in 1968, he stepped in for Johnny Unitas and went 13-1 until losing in the Super Bowl. In 1972, he was 9-0 in relief of Bob Griese with the Dolphins.

This year, that award goes to Case Keenum, who went 11-3 with the Vikings and won more games that any backup in the league.

The Roger Staubach Hope for the Future Award: Staubach was splitting time with Craig Morton in 1971 before taking over and leading the Cowboys to 10 straight wins, including a victory over Miami in Super Bowl VI. Staubach was hurt the following year, but started every game for the Cowboys in his last seven seasons.

This year that award has to go to San Francisco's Jimmy Garoppolo, who won five times for the 49ers (who had one win before he entered the lineup). It's easy to think the 49es are on the right path now,

The Chris Chandler Oops Award: Chandler used to keep replacing Vinny Testaverde, but no one ever explained why. Chandler was 0-6 with the Bucs.

This year, that award goes to Jay Cutler, who led the NFL in relief losses with eight.

How about the Brett Favre Your Turn Neve Comes Award? New England's Tom Brady didn't miss a game. Nor did Baltimore's Joe Flacco, Cincinnati's Andy Dalton, Jacksonville's Blake Bortles, the Chargers' Phillip Rivers, Dallas' Zak Prescott, Washington's Kirk Cousins, Detroit's Matt Stafford, New Orleans Drew Brees, Carolina's Cam Newton, Atlanta's Matt Ryan or Seattle's Russell Wilson.

Other numbers that catch your eye? Jay Cutler went 6-8. Jacoby Brissett won four times for the Colts. Mitch Trubisky won four times for the Bears. Brett Hundley won three times for Green Bay. Drew Stanton won three times for the Cardinals. Houston's Deshaun Watson won three times and had a rating of more than 100.

Tampa Bay's Ryan Fitzpatrick won two times on a team that won only five games. Sam Bradford and Blaine Gabbert also won twice.

Who flopped? San Francisco's Brian Hoyer lost all six of his starts. Denver's Brock Osweiler lost all four of his starts. Bryce Petty lost all three starts for the Jets. T.J. Yates lost all three games for the Texans.

So, yeah, football has a place for relief pitchers, too. Sometimes,they can get you into the playoffs. Sometimes, they can help a team get to the Super Bowl.


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