Is there a better backup than Fitzpatrick?

by Gary Shelton on August 14, 2018 · 2 comments

in general, NFL

Fitzpatrick won two games for the Bucs in '17./CARMEN MANDATO

Fitzpatrick won two games for the Bucs in '17./CARMEN MANDATO

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

First, let's review the odds.

You start with an unimpressive football team, one that won only five games a year ago, one that hasn't won a playoff game in 15 seasons, one that the experts believe will finish fourth in its own division...again.

Then you throw the toughest streak of the season against it. New Orleans, champion of the NFC South. Philadelphia, Super Bowl champions. Pittsburgh, champions of the AFC North. In a row.

Not enough? How about you suspend the starting quarterback for three games. Oh, no one is saying Jameis Winston didn't deserve his punishment, but it's hard on a team when the player the Bucs count on most to help them win is cast out of the huddle.

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Yeah, the odds are pretty intimidating, all right. Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is in charge of making sure the season doesn't slip away before it starts.

Now for the good news.

Who would you rather have facing those odds that Fitzpatrick?

Think about it. If you had to put your football season in the hands of any NFL backup quarterback, who would it be? Who can keep the ship steady? Who can get the cattle to market?

That's the thing. We have grown up with great backup quarterbacks, Frank Reich and Don Strock and George Blanda. Or Doug Williams, Jim Plunkett or Earl Morrall.

That doesn't appear to be the case in most places these days. Most starting quarterbacks are entrenched by their contracts, leaving little room for a backup challenger.

Oh, there is Philadelphia, of course. Granted, Nick Foles went on a playoff run last year that ended with a Super Bowl championship. But during the regular season, Foles had exactly two wins. The same as Fitzgerald. His quarterback rating was five points lower. He threw for half the yardage. He hit a lower percentage of passes and fewer touchdowns.

That's the thing you probably didn't realize. Only two backup quarterbacks in the NFL won more than the two games Fitzpatrick won. Green Bay's Brett Hundley won three .... and lost six. Hundley's rating was 16 points lower than Fitzpatrick's. Arizona's Drew Stanton won three of four starts, but his rating was 20 points below Fitzpatrick's.

Sam Bradford wo two games for Minnesota, equaling Fitzpatrick.

USA Today recently ranked the Bucs sixth among backup quarterbacks.

Some others you might have thought of:

Carolina's Derek Anderson. Didn't win a game for Carolina.

New England's Bryan Hoyer? Lost all six starts for San Francisco.

Texas' Tom Savage? He had a 1-6 record.

The Bears' Mike Glennon, the longtime Bucs' backup? He was 1-3.

Hey, it isn't easy to win with a backup quarterback.Only 18 games -- total -- were won by a quarterback you wouldn't define as a team's starter. That's something to keep in mind, too. Most of those no. 1 draft picks will eventually start for their teams. Jimmy Garoppolo, Deshaun Watson and Mitch Trubiski all started as backups, but they took over their teams  shortly afterward.

The mass of the other quarterbacks, Geno Smith of the Chargers and Brock Osweiler of the Dolphins and E.J. Manuel of the Raiders and A.J. McCarron of the Bills and Chad Henne of the Chiefs, just carry clipboards. If pressed into playing, sure, they'll do the best they can with limited practice time.

The best story about a backup quarterback I know is this one. Once, when Otto Graham was having a bad day for the Cleveland Browns, some fans began to cheer for backup George Ratterman to enter the game. The game went along, and Graham kept struggling, and the fans got louder.

Finally, coach Paul Brown called Ratterman over to him. He put his arm around him and said.

"George, those fans are yelling for you."

"Yes, coach," Ratterman said, getting mentally ready to play.

"Well, George, I think you ought to go up there and sit with them."

The truth is that -- with the exception of Foles -- the Bucs are about as good as anyone at the backup position.

He might not be good enough, but he's as good as Tampa Bay is going to get.

Besides. When David beat Goliath, he wasn't the starter, either.



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