- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Sure, they each have lost their starting quarterback to injuries. But the Texans still might be on a path to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history even without Matt Schaub. The Bears were in the playoffs last season, but, at least in the short term, they’ll have to go on without Jay Cutler.
Schaub suffered a foot injury that’s likely to keep him from playing again this season. Cutler reportedly will have surgery on his thumb Wednesday and the Bears say there is some hope he could return sometime around the end of the regular season.
If you’re thinking the Texans and the Bears will fall apart with Matt Leinart and Caleb Hanie as their respective starters, you might be wrong. There’s a moral to this story. It’s the story of Earl Morrall.
This story of a backup stepping in for a long haul and the team not missing a beat would not apply to just any team. But the Texans and the Bears fit the profile quite nicely because they’re already 7-3.
Morrall wasn’t the most talented backup in the history of the world. He got traded several times, started and backed up, but never really did much of anything until finding the perfect landing spot -- twice.
In 1968, Johnny Unitas got hurt and Morrall stepped in and led the Baltimore Colts all the way to the Super Bowl before losing to Joe Namath and the Jets. Don Shula was the coach of that Baltimore team and was coaching the Miami Dolphins in 1972 when he spotted Morrall’s name on the waiver wire. Shula spent $100 and claimed Morrall.
"I happen to have a good memory," Shula said at the time. “I remember what Earl did for me in 1968."
When Bob Griese went down in October of 1972, Morrall stepped in and helped the Dolphins complete an unbeaten regular season. Morrall started a couple of playoff games before Griese returned to lead the Dolphins to a Super Bowl victory.
The best news of all for the Texans and Bears might be that Schaub and Cutler certainly never will be confused with Unitas. Maybe not even Griese. They’re decent quarterbacks who’ve looked good this year because they have good teams around them.
Leinart and Hanie could be confused with Morrall, who, when it came right down to it, was “just a guy." Morrall worked his magic with excellent players all around him.
You could even draw parallels to when Jeff Hostetler took over for an injured Phil Simms late in the 1990 season and led the New York Giants to a Super Bowl win. Hostetler also was “just a guy" who suddenly found himself playing quarterback for a good team.
It’s not all that difficult to imagine Leinart taking the Texans into the postseason. He’s got Arian Foster to hand off to, and Foster’s presence means that Leinart, who hasn’t thrown an NFL pass since 2009, should get some wide-open shots at Andre Johnson. Plus, Houston’s defense isn’t going to give up a lot of points. Even if the Texans go 3-3 the rest of the way, they probably make the playoffs.
Hanie faces a similar situation. Although he has only minimal NFL experience, he can rely on running back Matt Forte and a very good defense.
Leinart and Hanie don’t have to carry the Texans and Bears. They can hop on the backs of their teammates and, as long as they hold on, everything could work out just fine.