5 Best Backup Quarterbacks in NFL History

A small number of quarterbacks have come off the bench to win it all

With the high number of quarterback injuries in the NFL this season, backups have had to step up and fill their starters' shoes. Many (Teddy Bridgewater, Kyle Allen in particular) are playing quite well, and showing potential to take their team deep into the postseason. Because of this success, it makes it easier for New Orleans and Carolina fans to wait patiently for the return of Drew Brees and Cam Newton, respectively, But for Kansas City fans (and especially fantasy football owners), Patrick Mahomes can't come back soon enough.

 

A handful of backup quarterbacks have picked up the pieces after an injury or bad play and taken their teams to the Promised Land before going back to their reserve role. Here are the five that did it most memorably. [Note: For this list, I went with true backups; not quarterbacks like Steve Young and Kurt Warner who went on to be enshrined in Canton.]

 

5. Jeff Hostetler

New York Giants (1988-92)

Hostetler came in for an injured Phil Simms in the 14th game of the 1990 season. The Giants were 11-3 and "Hoss" led them to two regular-season wins and gutsy upsets of the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game and the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV.

 

4. Doug Williams

Washington Redskins (1987-88)

As Tampa Bay’s signal-caller in the late 1970s and early '80s, Williams was one of the better quarterbacks in the league before bolting for the USFL. After the upstart league folded in 1986, he signed with the Redskins and mainly backed up Jay Schroeder for two seasons. But head coach Joe Gibbs decided to go with him for the playoffs after the 1987 season and he went on to become the first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Williams threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns in 42-10 rout of the Denver Broncos to earn MVP honors.

 

3. Nick Foles

Philadelphia Eagles (2017-18)

After a strong first run in Philadelphia from 2012-14, Foles returned in '17 to back up Carson Wentz. When Wentz went down with injury in Week 14, Foles led the team to a showdown with the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. There, he gave an MVP performance in 41-33 win. Wentz also was injured the next season and Foles led the Eagles back to the playoffs and a road win in the wild-card round.

 

2. Jim Plunkett

Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders (1978-86)

After being selected as the first overall pick in the 1971 NFL Draft, Plunkett was considered a bust when he arrived in Oakland in 1978. However, he found redemption when he replaced an injured Dan Pastorini in the fifth game of the 1980 season. Plunkett guided the Raiders to nine wins in 11 games and a wild-card berth. Then he led the team to a Super Bowl win against the Philadelphia Eagles and earned MVP honors. Three years later, Plunkett relieved an injured Marc Wilson and quarterbacked the team to a win in Super Bowl XVIII.

 

1. Earl Morrall

Baltimore Colts (1968-71), Miami Dolphins (1972-76)

Morrall played 21 seasons as both a starter and backup, but his greatest moments happened when he came off the bench. In 1968, Colts starter Johnny Unitas was injured in the final preseason game and Morrall led the team to 13-1 record and Super Bowl showdown with the New York Jets, earning MVP honors along the way. When Unitas was injured in the first half of Super Bowl V, Morrall quarterbacked the team to a 16-13 win. The Miami Dolphins picked him up on waivers before the 1972 season and he relieved an injured Bob Griese in the fifth game and led the team to a perfect regular season and two playoff victories, before Griese resumed starting duties in Super Bowl VII.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

 

(Top photo courtesy of philadelphiaeagles.com)

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