Hello Blitzers and welcome to another edition of, “Shots with MZE.” In some of my earlier blog posts (What do you mean you didn’t read them? Alright get caught up. Go ahead. I’ll wait.) I talked about quarterbacks who stepped off of the sidelines and into the limelight - and played spectacularly, just like Nick Foles is doing. It got me thinking that there must be more of them. So your old pal, MikeZimmersEars decided to do some digging to find other backups that answered the call when needed and exceeded expectations. Without further ado, here we go.
Earl Morrall (1972 Miami Dolphins)
The perfect season. No one before or since has done it and if not for Earl Morrall’s efforts off of the bench, we still may not have it. This Dolphins team was led by its “No-Name Defense” that ranked first in yards and points allowed. The offense had two 1,000 yard rushers in Larry Csonka (1,117 yards) and Mercury Morris (1,000 yards). In the team’s week five game against the San Diego Chargers, starting QB, Bob Griese, broke his leg and dislocated an ankle. It was time for the 38-year old Morrall to lead the team. Morrall was not new to stepping in for a star. In 1969 he took over as the Colts signal caller when Johnny Unitas went down in the final exhibition game of the season. He led that team to a 13-1 record and the Super Bowl, where they’d lose to the Jets and their brash, young quarterback, Joe Namath. Under Morrall, the 1972 Dolphins didn’t skip a beat. He’d start the final nine regular season games, winning them all. The Dolphins averaged just under 30 points per game in his starts and his QBR of 91.0 was actually far superior to the 71.6 of Griese. While Griese would return for the playoffs and would cap off the perfect season with a Super Bowl win, it might not have been possible without the man many have called the best backup QB the game ever had.
Jeff Hostetler (1990 New York Giants)
This Giants squad was built on defense, in particular its linebackers, Harry Carson, Carl Banks, and Lawrence Taylor. They led the NFL in points allowed and were second in yards given up. The offense didn’t have to be great, just good enough. Their starting quarterback was Phil Simms, serviceable if never really spectacular. Simms was having a solid season with a TD/INT ratio of 15/4 and QBR of 92.7 and the Giants carried an 11-2 record into its Week 15 game against the Buffalo Bills. The Giants dropped the contest, 17-13 but more importantly Simms broke his foot, ending his season. In stepped Jeff Hostetler. “Hoss” had been with the Giants since he was drafted in 1985. He carried a total of two starts into the season and at one point was the 3rd string QB behind Jeff Rutledge. Let that sink in for a minute. Hostetler led the Giants to a 24-21 win over a bad Cardinals team followed by a 13-10 win over a Patriots team that went 1-15 on the season. If “Hoss” was looking to build a resume, he was going to be lucky to get hired as a fry cook.
The G-Men carried a 13-3 record into their first playoff game against the Bears. Hostetler was steady, throwing two TD passes and running for another, although it was 194 yards from the Giants ground game and the stifling defense that led them to a 31-3 win. The conference title game pitted the Giants against the 49ers at Candlestick Park. Hostetler threw for just 176 yards in the conference championship but didn’t turn the ball over. The two teams combined for 28 points, 22 of them coming from kickers. After falling behind 13-6 on a Joe Montana to John Taylor 61-yard strike, the Giants would score the final nine points of the game and advanced to the Super Bowl and a rematch against the Week 15 foe, the Buffalo Bills. Hostetler would have his best game of the playoffs in terms of yardage, throwing for 222 yards. The game went down to the wire and will always be remembered with two words: wide right (sorry Bills fans). The Giants won 20-19, took home the Lombardi, and the steady and unspectacular Jeff Simms…uh Phil Hostetler…whatever his name was, had a 5-0 record and a Super Bowl ring.
Tim Tebow (2011 Denver Broncos)
The 2011 Denver Broncos season was off to a difficult start. They were 1-4 under Kyle Orton as they headed into their bye week. Maybe it happened by divine intervention but when the team hit the field for Week 7, Tim Tebow was their starting QB. Tebow was a Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida and was the 25th player taken in the 2010 NFL Draft. His first start would end in an overtime win over the Miami Dolphins. The Broncos would lose his next start against the Detroit Lions but they’d rally to win their next six games with Tebow at the helm, two more of which came in overtime. Denver would lose its final three regular season games, finishing at 8-8 but qualifying for the playoffs by winning a mediocre AFC West. That gave them a home game against a Steelers team that went 12-4 (because that makes logical sense).
On paper this was a mismatch but that paper may have been made from the same materials the Shroud of Turin was. After falling behind 6-0, the Broncos would score 20 unanswered points in the second quarter and led 20-6 at the half. After falling behind 23-13, the Steelers would score the final 10 points of regulation and the game headed into overtime. The Broncos got the ball first in overtime. Tebow was not known for his throwing accuracy but on the first snap of the overtime he let it rip and hit Demaryius Thomas in stride for an 80-yard touchdown and a shocking playoff win, Tebow’s fourth OT victory in 12 starts. The Tebow magic ended the following week in the Divisional round when the Broncos lost 45-10 to the Patriots. Sadly not the first time a saint lost to a sinner.
Case Keenum (2017 Minnesota Vikings)
The Vikings were coming off of a disappointing 2016 season. Sam Bradford, who was brought in when Teddy Bridgewater had a horrific preseason injury, would be the starter heading into 2017. Sam had the reputation of being injury prone. I actually believe he could pull a hamstring dreaming about scrambling out of the pocket. He managed to make it through two games in 2017 before suffering a non-contact knee injury that would sideline him for the season. The Vikings turned to journeyman QB, Case Keenum. The Vikings were Keenum’s third team in four NFL seasons and his overall record as a starter was 11-15. He’d make his first Vikings start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, throwing for 369 yards and three TDs. He’d lose his next start against the Lions in a game that saw Vikings hot rookie RB, Dalvin Cook, lost for the season to injury. Keenum would not lose again until Week 14 on the road against the Carolina Panthers. It would be the team’s last regular season loss of 2017. The pinnacle of the season would unfortunately happen in the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs on a play forever to be remembered in Vikings lore as, “The Minneapolis Miracle” (although I prefer calling it the Heist at U.S. Bank), when Keenum hit Stefon Diggs for a 61-yard walk off touchdown that knocked the New Orleans Saints from the playoffs and put the Vikings in position to be the first NFL team to ever play in its home stadium for the Super Bowl. But then…
Nick Foles (2017 Philadelphia Eagles)
Philly fans had a lot to cheer about during the 2017 season. Their young quarterback, Carson Wentz, was making plays with his arm and legs and the Eagles were 11-2 through 13 games. Wentz, however, would tear his ACL against the Rams in Week 14 thus ending his season. Many Eagles fans led a preemptive strike, conceding the season to bad luck as Nick Foles would be behind center for the rest of the way. The tales of the Eagles demise were greatly exaggerated. Foles won the two starts that mattered, losing only to the Cowboys in the final week after home field had been wrapped up. In the Divisional round Foles threw for 246 yards in the Eagles 15-10 win over the Falcons, including a miracle bounce completion near the end of the half that led to a key Eagles field goal (maybe he really IS Saint Nick). Foles would be brilliant against the Vikings in the NFC title game as he threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-7 win. He would cap off the amazing run by throwing for 374 yards and four touchdowns and catching a TD pass in a 41-33 Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots. Foles was named Super Bowl MVP and it has been rumored that should he leave Philadelphia, his replacement will be named only after a puff of green smoke is emitted from a chimney perched atop Lincoln Financial Field.
Those are just a few quarterbacks who got their chance and made good like when Dick Sargent replaced Dick York on Bewitched and killed it, right? Just watch the reruns. You’ll agree.
Until next time Blitzers, dress in layers if you’re outdoors for playoff games in the north, make sure you wipe down that bowling ball before you do a shot from it, and always swipe left when you see a picture of Tom Brady.
Please read the blogs of my colleagues, Blitzed Barkeep and Blitzed Fantasy who do outstanding work.
Mike Zimmers Ears is a Minnesota Vikings fan and regular contributor on Blitzed. He also hosts his own Vikings podcast Sound the Gjallahorn.