All-time best performances by backup QBs

September, 1, 2009
9/01/09
11:58
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com staff


After surveying your team's backup quarterbacking situation, are you skeptical about the franchise’s chances if the starting signal-caller is sidelined? No matter how discouraging the depth chart appears to be, keep the faith. Some of the NFL's best quarterbacking jobs were supplied by men who were second-stringers pushed into the spotlight by fate. ESPN Stats & Information compiled our top 10 single-season performances by backup quarterbacks.
Top 10 single-season performances by backup quarterbacks
Player Team Year(s) Comments
1. Tom Brady New England 2001 The NFL’s No. 1 overall pick in 1993, Drew Bledsoe had started 123 of 124 games in New England. Then one hit by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis in Week 2 of the 2001 season pushed a somewhat unknown QB into the starting role. Former Michigan star Tom Brady -- a sixth-round pick in the 2000 draft who did not play his rookie season -- led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
2. Kurt Warner St. Louis 1999 When Trent Green went down with a season-ending knee injury in the 1999 preseason, journeyman Warner -- who had 11 career NFL pass attempts to his credit -- became his replacement. A veteran of the Arena League and NFL Europe, Warner went from football footnote to NFL and Super Bowl MVP that season, throwing 41 touchdown passes.
3. Jeff Hostetler N.Y. Giants 1990 Phil Simms had been in control of the Giants’ offense since 1984, leading the team to a win in Super Bowl XXI. With another title in reach, Giants fans winced as Simms suffered a sprained foot in Week 14 of 1990. In stepped Hostetler, who had started only two previous games. Five wins later, the Giants had a second Super Bowl triumph.
4. Earl Morrall Baltimore Colts/Miami
1968, 1972 Morrall is the only man on this list with two memorable backup performances. Stepping in for an injured Johnny Unitas in 1968, Morrall proceeded to lead the Colts to a 13-1 record, an NFL championship and a berth in Super Bowl III. He earned NFL MVP honors along the way. In 1972 with the Dolphins, Morrall took over for the injured Bob Griese and was at the helm for 11 wins during the Perfect Season.
5. Doug Williams Washington 1987 In 1987, Doug Williams made only two regular-season starts for the Redskins, losing both. But he came on in relief three other times, winning all three games. Before the playoffs, he replaced Jay Schroeder as the team’s starter and led Washington to Super Bowl XXII. Despite missing two plays with a knee injury, Williams was named MVP with a then-Super Bowl record 340 pass yards.
6. Jim Plunkett Oakland 1980 In the 1971 NFL draft, the New England Patriots made former Stanford star Jim Plunkett the first overall selection. But by 1980, Plunkett had been let go by two teams and was sitting on the bench for the Raiders. In the fifth game of the year, starter Dan Pastorini suffered a broken leg. Plunkett won nine of his 11 regular-season starts, then led the Raiders to a win in Super Bowl XV, the first for a wild-card team.
7. Trent Dilfer Baltimore 2000 After six years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, five as a starter, Trent Dilfer signed with the Ravens as a free agent in 2000. But four weeks without a touchdown in the middle of the season forced Ravens coach Brian Billick to sit Tony Banks and insert Dilfer. Dilfer lost his first start, but won the next 11, including Super Bowl XXXV.
8. Jake Delhomme Carolina 2003 Former NFL Europe QB Delhomme enjoyed some success with the New Orleans Saints before signing with the Panthers as a free agent in 2003. After Rodney Peete proved ineffective in the first half of the season opener, Delhomme took over in the second half trailing 17-0. Not only did he lead the Panthers to a comeback win in that game, he won the starting job. His Cinderella season ended with the Panthers’ first Super Bowl berth, a last-minute loss to the New England Patriots.
9. Vince Ferragamo L.A. Rams 1979 The Los Angeles Rams were unable to find two things for most of the 1970s: playoff success and quarterback stability. In 1979, Pat Haden started the first 10 games, going 5-5 before breaking a finger on his throwing hand. Starting the final five games of the season, Vince Ferragamo went 4-1, and then won two playoff games to lead the Rams to their first Super Bowl appearance.
10. Norm Van Brocklin L.A. Rams 1951 With two eventual Hall of Famers, it's no wonder the 1951 Rams sought to get both Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin into games. As the season progressed, Waterfield was starting the games, including the 1951 NFL Championship. But in that one, it was Van Brocklin who supplied the game-winning 73-yard touchdown pass to Tom Fears.

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