Michael Vick, Jon Kitna, And The Year Of The Backup Quarterback In The NFL

JACKSONVILLE FL - SEPTEMBER 26: Quarterback Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles prepares to come out of the tunnel to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on September 26 2010 in Jacksonville Florida. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Some of the NFL's hottest quarterbacks weren't even on the field when the 2010 regular season began.

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre is in the midst of his latest "well, I'm sore, but shucks, I'll play if I can" routine. When he inevitably plays against the New England Patriots on Sunday, it'll be yet another heroic effort in Favre's epic, tough-as-nails career. Or something.

Should he play, it will also prevent the talented Tarvaris Jackson from becoming the latest backup quarterback to shine in the 2010 season.

As we quickly approach the mid-way point of the 2010 NFL regular season, 15 teams have already turned to backup quarterbacks for extended action this season. If Favre can't play, Minnesota will make it half of the league. Considering it's only Week 8, that's a rather alarming statistic. Consider, also, that five teams have already used three quarterbacks this season - Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh. The Jaguars have used four of them.

But in many cases, the changes have worked out well. Two teams, in particular, have benefited greatly from sliding backups into the starting lineup - for very different reasons. The Dallas Cowboys had better hope that they're on the verge of similar success.

Former Backups, Now Full-Time Starters, Excelling
There has been no better rags-to-riches story at quarterback this season than the re-emergence of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. Pressed into duty in Week 1 when opening-day starter Kevin Kolb left concussed, Vick nearly rallied the Eagles to a come-from-behind victory against a Green Bay Packers team that was at full strength at that point in time. He then led the Eagles to consecutive wins against Detroit and Jacksonville (there's a caveat), and might have had a third against Washington had he not sustained a rib injury.

In his four appearances, Vick completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 799 yards, with six touchdowns, zero interceptions and a quarterback rating of 108.8. With four more passing attempts, he'd qualify for the NFL's official rankings - and when that happens, he'll be the top-rated passer in the league. The Eagles are 2-0 in games he's started, and he might just be playing the best football of his professional career.

On the flip side, the Buffalo Bills are 0-6. They're 0-4 since sliding Harvard grad Ryan Fitzpatrick into the starting lineup after releasing their opening-day starter. Don't blame the Bills' team misfortunes on Fitzpatrick, however: he is currently the second-rated passer in the NFL for qualified throwers, with his 102.2 rating trailing only Peyton Manning's. Yes, you read that correctly.

Through four games, Fitzpatrick has completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 969 yards, with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. Buffalo still hasn't won a game with him this season, but after averaging 8.5 points per game in Weeks 1 and 2, the lowly Bills' offensive output has increased to 24.3 points per game with Fitzpatrick at the helm, including 34 in a hard-fought Week 7 loss to Baltimore, of all teams. He, too, is playing the best football not just of his professional career, but perhaps of his life.

Bruce Gradkowski will get the starting job he stole from Jason Campbell back after he recovers from a shoulder injury. Tom Cable likes Gradkowski, and while he hasn't been perfect - his 71.1 QB rating is pedestrian, and he's thrown as many touchdowns as interceptions - it can be argued that he still gives the Oakland Raiders the best chance to win.

QBs That Remain Backups Performing Well, Too
Kerry Collins has been a productive QB for years, and as the Tennessee Titans' backup this season, he's led his team to consecutive wins spelling Vince Young, and played Pittsburgh tough in Week 2, as well. He's made three appearances in 2010, has two wins and five touchdowns under his belt, and sports a QB rating of 90.9.

The Cleveland Browns are 1-3 in games Seneca Wallace has appeared in, but Wallace is completing a respectable 63 percent of his passes and has an 88.5 quarterback rating. He's kept Cleveland competitive, as the Browns didn't lose any of his games by more than ten points.

Shaun Hill has made many fantasy owners happy this season, throwing for 1,130 yards and eight touchdowns in a four-game stretch spelling Matthew Stafford. He has since suffered an injury of his own, but he led the Detroit Lions to their only W of the season to date, and made many big plays in doing so. Who wants to bet that Mike Singletary and the San Francisco 49ers wouldn't take their old understudy back in about a nanosecond today?

At this point, it seems likely that Tony Romo will overcome his broken clavicle in time to play football for the Dallas Cowboys again in 2010. In the meantime, the 1-5 'Boys will rely on 38-year-old Jon Kitna to keep their extremely faint playoff hopes alive. Kitna threw for 187 yards and two touchdowns while nearly leading Dallas to a come-from-behind win on Monday Night Football, and he has both the experience and the intelligence to perform admirably while the Cowboys attempt to salvage their season.

Players that have only seen spot duty have done well. Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch helped the Pittsburgh Steelers earn key wins while Ben Roethlisberger was sidelined. Drew Stanton put up nice numbers for the Lions. Luke McCown and Todd Bouman acquitted themselves well for the Jaguars. (Trent Edwards? Not so much.) Josh Johnson looked competent spelling Josh Freeman and his growing legend for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Rookies Getting In On The Action, Too
It's helped for rookie backups when they've played Drew Brees and the defending champion New Orleans Saints. Two rookies - Max Hall of the Arizona Cardinals, and Colt McCoy of the Browns - have already beaten the Saints this season. Sure, Arizona and Cleveland scored defensively twice each in those games, but a win's a win, right?

McCoy, in particular, has been efficient in two appearances as Cleveland's third quarterback rating. He's completing 65 percent of his passes and has a respectable 76.5 quarterback rating, considering he's played Pittsburgh and New Orleans. Hall remains Arizona's starter going forward, but he has not been as impressive, barely completing half of his passes and sporting a 43.7 quarterback rating in his four appearances. Still, he's technically 1-1 as the Cardinals' starter, and has some promise.

We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the four backup quarterbacks that have not looked great this season. Another rookie, Jimmy Clausen, got the starting nod for the Carolina Panthers, but played his way back to the bench. The aforementioned Edwards may get another shot in Jacksonville, but was horrendous in mop-up duty on MNF two weeks ago. David Carr was so impressive in his 49ers debut that it took 13 passes for Singletary to turn to Troy Smith. The Chicago Bears turned to Todd Collins after a Jay Cutler concussion, and his 5.9 quarterback rating would look a lot better if we were talking about his rushing average.

Those four players, however, are the clear exception to the rule: understudy quarterbacks are making a very strong impression in 2010. Will that trend continue? Time will tell, but just in case, enjoy it while you can. They're backups, after all.

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