IN THIS SPECIAL PROJECT, SKOR NORTH’S MATTHEW COLLER AND PRO FOOTBALL FOCUS DATA SCIENTIST ERIC EAGER HAVE TEAMED UP TO INVESTIGATE THE GREATEST SEASONS EVER PLAYED BY JOURNEYMAN QUARTERBACKS. WE WILL RELEASE THE CREATION IN CHAPTERS… FOR CHAPTER 1, OUR INTRODUCTION AND THE COUNTDOWN FROM THE 20th TO 16TH BEST JOURNEYMAN SEASONS…..
Introduction by Eric Eager
Football is one of our favorite things in the world, and like many people who adore the game the way that we do, there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching Patrick Mahomes guide the Kansas City Chiefs back from double digits, Russell Wilson throw a perfect corner route to Tyler Lockett, or Tom Brady destroy a defense with a drive full of surgical passes. The NFL is immeasurably better because of Peyton Manning and Dan Marino, and here’s to hoping the same is true about Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa.
However, our love for the NFL runs far deeper than this. You see, the path to Mahomes was paved with the Steve Bonos, Steve DeBergs and Elvis Grbacs of the world, while that to Wilson with the Dave Kriegs, John Frieszes and Rick Mirers. In a league where scarcity is the rule at its most important position, teams are often left with journeymen, and these players’ stories are often pure gold. Did you know that
– the Buccaneers once traded what amounted to the second-overall pick for Chris Chandler?
– Steve DeBerg was the quarterback that preceded Joe Montana, John Elway and Steve Young?
– Jim McMahon won 33 of his 39 career starts against the NFC Central division?
– Steve Beuerlein started and won the first playoff game in the Jimmy Johnson era, despite Troy Aikman being healthy enough to play?
It’s with great pleasure that we bring you our favorite 20 journeyman quarterback seasons of the past 35 years. To make it onto this list, a quarterback had to be on multiple teams during his career and have at least one season that was not characteristic of a journeyman. Both of us were born in the mid-80s and this list, i.e. what we constitute as “favorite”, certainly reflects this.
We wanted to choose players for which the history of the league would be difficult to write without. For example, the NFL wouldn’t be the same if not for Chris Chandler helping the Falcons take down the 15-1 Vikings in 1998, and the same can be said for what Nick Foles did to conclude the 2017 season against the league’s most-recent dynasty. Steve DeBerg’s career was so middling that people forget that he had a terrific season for the upstart Chiefs in 1990, which can also be said for Steve Bono in 1995. There are the lessons to be learned from Josh McCown’s season with Marc Trestman in 2013, while Case Keenum’s run leading up to the Minneapolis Miracle in 2017 was something we both enjoyed and knew would end as soon as the 2017 season wrapped up.
The stories of these journeymen help us appreciate both brilliance and complete ineptitude at the quarterback position, as well as the hope sold each time one of these men were tasked to lead a team. As the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins go into the 2020 season poised to start Nick Foles and Ryan Fitzpatrick, respectively, Josh McCown heads beautifully into retirement, and Case Keenum transitions back into his role as career backup, come enjoy some of the best seasons their ilk had to offer.
With that said, we begin our countdown…
Quarterbacks don’t get much more journeyman than Matt Cassel. Six NFL teams, 14 seasons, and zero college starts. That’s right, Matt Cassel sat behind Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at the University of Southern California for four years. Despite this lack of experience, Bill Belichick and the Patriots selected Cassell with the 230th pick of the 2005 NFL draft, and he ascended to the role of Brady’s primary backup by the start of the 2006 season, a role he’d keep until his departure from New England in the spring of 2009.
While Cassel’s 2008 season is not the one highlighted here, it’s a required part of the context in which we discuss his 2010 season. The 2008 Patriots, coming off of a 2007 season that saw them go 16-0 in the regular season, only to lose the Super Bowl to a 10-6 New York Giants team quarterbacked by Eli Manning, opened the season at home against the Kansas City Chiefs. On the Patriots’ second drive of the game, Brady completed a 26-yard pass to Randy Moss. During the process of the throw, Bernard Pollard of the Chiefs rolled up on Brady’s left knee, tearing his ACL and MCL. Cassel, who started all four preseason games while Brady nursed another injury, entered the game and guided the Patriots to a 17-10 win.
Cassel would go on to start the remaining 15 games of the season, throwing for almost 3,700 yards and 21 touchdowns, with a passer rating of 89.4. After starting the season 6-4, the Pats won five of their remaining six games, scoring over 40 points in three of those wins, to finish the season 11-5. While they tied with the Dolphins for the best record in the AFC East, they would be on the outside looking in at the AFC playoffs, however, losing out on tiebreakers with both Miami and Baltimore (the Chargers won the AFC West in 2008 with an 8-8 record).
Despite Brady’s return in 2009, the Patriots used the franchise tag on Cassel, a pending free agent, in hopes of working out a trade with a quarterback-needy team. Former Patriots offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, who became the head coach of the Denver Broncos, was one of the first to show interest in his former pupil. This precipitated Denver’s quarterback at the time, Jay Cutler, to force a trade to Chicago, leaving the Broncos with Kyle Orton. Eventually Cassel made his way to Kansas City to play for Todd Haley, who was formerly the offensive coordinator of the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals. The Chiefs received Cassel and long-time Patriot Mike Vrabel in exchange for the 34th pick in the NFL draft.
Cassel’s time in Kansas City got off to a shaky start, as an MCL sprain kept him from debuting with the Chiefs until week 2. He went 4-11 as a starter that year, throwing as many touchdowns (16) as interceptions (16) and completing only 55 percent of his passes.
In 2010 the Chiefs signed Charlie Weis to be their offensive coordinator, after his tenure as the Notre Dame head coach concluded. Weis and Cassel’s tenures in New England never intersected, but you would have never known it from the effect he immediately had on the young quarterback. With the help of a running game that generated a ridiculous 6.4 yards per carry by running back Jamaal Charles, and 15 touchdown receptions from Dwayne Bowe, Cassel threw 27 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions, while completing over 58 percent of his passes. He led the Chiefs to a 5-2 start, and as a result of a month where he threw for 1,111 yards with 12 touchdowns (to just one interception), he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month for November. The Chiefs won five consecutive games started by Cassell in weeks 11-16, with their only loss during that stretch a 31-0 defeat at the hands of the San Diego Chargers, in a game started by backup Brodie Croyle after Cassel underwent an appendectomy.
In winning their first AFC West title since 2003, the Chiefs hosted a playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium against the Baltimore Ravens on January 9th, 2011. The last Chiefs quarterback to win a playoff game at that time was Joe Montana, who defeated Houston at the Astrodome in January of 1994. Despite taking a 7-3 lead on a 41-yard run by Charles late in the first quarter, Cassel and the Chiefs were ultimately overmatched in the contest, losing 30-7. Cassel had his worst game of the season, throwing for 70 yards on 18 attempts with three interceptions. He would appear in the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement (again) for Tom Brady later that January, becoming the first Chiefs quarterback to play in that game since Trent Green in 2005.
The loss to Baltimore would be the only playoff game Cassel would start in his career, and was, surprisingly, the beginning of the end for his time as the starting quarterback for the Chiefs. Haley reportedly pushed Weis out because he was jealous of the credit he was getting for turning Cassel into a Pro Bowl quarterback. Weis moved on to the University of Florida to be their offensive coordinator at the conclusion of the 2010 season, leaving the Chiefs with offensive line coach Bill Muir in his stead.
The 2011 Chiefs got off to a horrible 0-3 start, only to rebound to 4-3 on the back of three close wins and a blowout of Oakland on a day where Carson Palmer would make his Raiders debut. With the playoffs on their mind, the Chiefs would lose 31-3 at home to Matt Moore and the Miami Dolphins, and then 17-10 again at home to Tim Tebow, his two completions and the Denver Broncos. In the latter game, Cassel would go just 13 of 28 for 93 yards and injure his hand, ending his season. Todd Haley would be replaced not that long after by Romeo Crennel, who would oversee a 2-14 2012 campaign that saw Cassel go 1-7 as a starter and lose his job to Brady Quinn. Cassel was released by the Chiefs in March of 2013 and subsequently played for Minnesota, Buffalo, Dallas, Tennessee and Detroit, never starting more than the seven games he played in relief of the injured Tony Romo in 2015. He started opening day for the Vikings in 2014 before giving way to rookie Teddy Bridgewater in week 4 of that year.
In 81 career starts, Cassel went 36-45, completing 58.8 percent of his passes, with 104 touchdowns to 82 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 78.5. His 2010 season shows what’s possible when a solid, but unspectacular, quarterback gets the right combination of supporting cast and coaching, and also what’s possible when said player loses that infrastructure. In an era where most of the quarterbacks in the NFL are first-round picks that are groomed from the second they show elite potential at the college level, it will be interesting to see if we ever get the chance to see another college backup like Cassel have his day as a starter in the NFL.
Cleveland Browns fans have a remarkable level of optimism for a fan base that’s been through sports hell numerous times, but when head coach Romeo Crennel decided the team’s starting quarterback for the preseason opener with a coin flip, it’s hard to imagine many Clevelanders saw a winning season on the horizon. They couldn’t have predicted Derek Anderson’s stunning Pro Bowl season.
Anderson was a sixth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2006 draft. He was waived out of camp and signed by the Browns as the No. 3 QB behind Trent Dilfer and Charlie Frye. By 2007, the Browns had added Brady Quinn to the mix via a first-round pick, giving Anderson very low odds of seeing action after he’d been ineffective in five appearances in 2006.
Frye won the starting job to start the ‘07 season but lasted all of one quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Crenell pulled him in favor of Anderson and traded Frye two days later. In Week 2, Anderson put together one of the greatest games by a Browns quarterback in history. In a 51-45 win over Cincinnati, throwing for 328 yards and five touchdowns.
The following weeks were bumpy for Anderson and the Browns. He defeated his former team 27-13 and registered a 109.5 rating in Week 4 but was handled easily by the Patriots on the road. Then came back-to-back performances that should be a part of Browns lore.
In wins over Miami and St. Louis, Anderson managed nearly identical stat lines. He went 18-for-25 in both games, threw for 245 yards against the Dolphins, 248 against the Rams and tossed three touchdowns in both contests. The two games, in which his QB rating was over 140 in each, combined with a 33-30 victory over Seattle gave Browns fans reason to think they had finally found a franchise quarterback after years of struggles since the team’s return to Cleveland.
Over the following weeks, however, reality would set in. After throwing 16 touchdowns, eight interceptions and putting up a 95.0 rating in his first seven starts, Anderson finished the final eight games with a 73.7 rating.
He was the winning quarterback in a wacky 8-0 game in the wild winds of Ralph Wilson Stadium, despite going 9-for-24 passing. A four-interception performance in his second matchup with the Bengals cost the Browns a chance to return to the postseason despite a solid 10-6 record.
Because of his less-than-stellar end to ‘07, a quarterback controversy hung over the Browns the following year between Anderson and Quinn. All we can say here is: Poor Browns fans. The timeline went something like this:
Anderson started the first eight games of 2008 before being benched for Quinn in early November
In a loss to Houston several weeks later, Quinn was benched
Anderson started the following week and got hurt, leaving the Browns to turn to Ken Dorsey
Quinn started 2009 but Browns turned to Anderson by Week 3
Anderson won a 6-3 game over Buffalo in which he went 2-for-17 passing
Anderson was benched in Week 9
Quinn finishes 2-7 as a starter in ‘09
Over his 16 starts in ‘08 and ‘09, the former Oregon State standout went 6-10 with a remarkably bad 48.0 completion percentage, 12 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and 56.9 rating.
Arizona took its chances with the 6-foot-6 quarterback next. He went 2-7 as Arizona’s starter, a stint that included a famous meltdown in which Anderson was asked about laughing on the sideline during a blowout loss.
From 2011 to 2017, Anderson backed up Cam Newton before being signed by the Bills for one last year in 2018. In the final eight seasons of his career, he started just six games and threw a total of 238 passes.
He did have one final shining moment in 2014 against the Tampa Bay Bucs. Starting in place of an injured Newton, Anderson went 24-for-34 with 230 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-14 win. Coincidentally he won 10 games in the years following his 10-win season in ‘07.
So many times with journeyman quarterbacks we wonder “what if?” We imagine other scenarios in which a quarterback like Anderson could have seen more success or received more opportunities to start. But with Anderson, we wonder “how?” How did he end up with a season in which he finished second all-time in single-season touchdowns for the Browns franchise and fifth all-time in single-season yards? How was he at the helm for two receivers’ 80-catch seasons (Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow Jr.)?
The right set of circumstances and small samples can allow for some unexpected players to become heroes and Anderson is no better example.
The 2013 NFL season had many a quarterback moment. Second-year Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles threw 27 touchdowns versus just one interception for first-year coach Chip Kelly and the resurgent Philadelphia Eagles. Alex Smith was traded to Kansas City, and managed a 9-0 start for a previously 2-14 team re-energized by the man Kelly replaced in Philly, Andy Reid. Peyton Manning, of course, threw 55 touchdowns to set a new single-season record and propel the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl berth. But the journeyman quarterback of 2013 was an easy choice. A man who, as recently as 2011, was out of football, teaching physical education and coaching high school football after being released by the San Francisco 49ers, put together an outlier season for the ages. The journeyman quarterback for 2013 was none other than Chicago Bears backup Josh McCown.
Josh McCown is in the Journeyman Hall of Fame. Drafted by the Cardinals in the third round of the 2002 draft, he matriculated his way to Detroit (where he played some wide receiver), Oakland and Carolina before landing in Chicago. His pre-Chicago career was highlighted almost exclusively by a throw he made in week 17 against the Minnesota Vikings in Sun Devil Stadium. Down 17-12 and after being sacked by Lance Johnson on third down and 14 yards to go, McCown, with the clock winding down, escaped from pressure on the subsequent fourth down and 25 and hit seldom-used Nate Poole in the right corner of the end zone between Vikings defensive backs Denard Walker and Brian Russell. While Poole did not get both of his feet down in bounds, he was ruled to have been “pushed out” by Walker and Russell, implying his feet would have landed in play had he not been. The rule was changed in a subsequent offseason, requiring receivers to get both feet in bounds whether they were hit or not. McCown’s touchdown pass, his second in the final two minutes of the game, defeated Minnesota 18-17 to snap a seven-game losing streak for the Cardinals and knock Mike Tice’s Vikings, who started the season 6-0, out of the playoffs for the third-consecutive season.
McCown’s throw against the Vikings did little to propel him to stardom in subsequent seasons, though, as new Cardinals (and former Vikings) head coach Dennis Green pulled the plug on McCown in favor of veteran Shaun King and rookie John Navarre during a three-game stretch that saw the Cardinals fall from 4-5 to 4-8 and out of contention before turning back to the third-year player to finish the season.
McCown’s 14 games and 13 starts in 2004 were and tied career highs, respectively, and his 6-7 record as a starter was not enough to avoid starting the next season behind Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, who was signed after an unsuccessful season in New York. McCown started nine games for the Raiders in 2007 before a stint as Jake Delhomme’s backup in Carolina and a stretch in the UFL, going 3-5 as a starter for the Hartford Colonials.
With Jay Cutler suffering from a broken thumb and Caleb Hanne ineffective in his stead, the Bears turned to McCown in 2011 to start the final two games of the season. The first, a 35-21 loss to the 15-1 Green Bay Packers on Christmas in Lambeau Field and the second a victory over the 3-13 Minnesota Vikings in the Metrodome, saw McCown complete over 63 percent of his passes for over 400 yards. He continued with the Bears through the 2012 offseason, before being released during final cuts. He returned to the team in November to back up Jason Campbell, who was in relief of Jay Cutler during Colin Kaepernick’s coming out party on Monday Night Football in San Francisco, where the second-year player threw two touchdowns in a 32-7 win in his first-NFL start. He remained with the team as the third-string quarterback for the remainder of the 2012 season.
Despite finishing 10-6, the 2012 Chicago Bears did not qualify for the NFC playoffs, resulting in Lovie Smith’s dismissal and the hiring of long-time NFL assistant and CFL head coach Marc Trestman to coach the Bears. Trestman was thought of as something of a savant as an offensive mind for his time as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers (1995-96) and the Oakland Raiders (2001-2003) and the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes (2008-2012). In 2002 journeyman quarterback Rich Gannon earned the NFL MVP award under Trestman’s tutelage by leading the league in passing attempts, completions and passing yards while earning Oakland a berth in the Super Bowl. He won two Grey Cups in his first stint as a CFL head coach (2009, 2010), and gave fans of the Monsters of the Midway hope that he could revive the career of Bears signal caller Cutler, who after being acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Broncos in 2009 had compiled only one playoff win, a 59.5 percent completion percentage and a pedestrian 82/63 touchdown-to-interception ratio in four seasons.
McCown, although something of an afterthought going into the 2013 season, opened the season immediately behind Cutler on the depth chart. After Cutler and the Bears got off to a 4-2 start, with the Chicago offense averaging 28.7 points a game, the Bears starting quarterback injured his groin against Washington, forcing McCown into action. He immediately went 14-20 for over 200 yards and a touchdown in a 45-41 loss. The following Monday night in Green Bay, he started and passed for over 270 yards and two touchdowns in the Bears first win at Lambeau since 2007.
The following week Cutler returned to the lineup to play the Lions back at Soldier Field. However, Cutler exited the game in the fourth quarter with another injury, this time an ankle, and with time running out McCown drove the team down the field, throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall to bring the Bears within two points. A missed two-point conversion, however, meant that McCown was 0-2 in relief efforts in Cutler’s stead, and the Bears were 5-4.
McCown was given the starting nod in the next four games, in which his passer rating increased in each effort, from 92.9 in a victory at Baltimore to 141.9 in a Monday-night trashing of Dallas at Soldier Field. He threw nine touchdowns to one interception during that stretch – bringing his touchdown-to-interception ratio to 13-1 on the season, good for a passer rating of 109.0. His Pro Football Focus passing grade was fourth best in the league, surpassed only by league MVP Peyton Manning, the resurgent Philip Rivers and future Hall of Famer Drew Brees.
Despite this brilliance, the Bears returned to Cutler for the season’s final three weeks, which included a one-score win in Cleveland, a 54-11 loss in Philadelphia and a heartbreaking 33-28 loss at home to the 8-7-1 Packers in a game where Aaron Rodgers, injured in the first Bears Packers game, returned to throw a 48-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass to Randall Cobb in the game’s waning moments. The 8-8 Bears were left watching the 2013 playoffs from home, and in January of 2014 extended Cutler with a seven-year deal worth well over $100 million dollars, despite his passer rating being roughly 20 points short of that of McCown.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, fresh off of hiring Smith to be their head coach, reunited him with McCown during the 2014 offseason, inking him to a two-year deal worth roughly $10 million dollars. He would share the position with second-year player Mike Glennon during the 2014 season, going 1-10 in his 11 starts, completing just 56.3 percent of his passes while throwing for more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (11). His completion percentage was over 10 points lower than in 2013, and his passer rating under pressure (per PFF) fell from 112.2 (best in the NFL) in 2013 to just 41.4 (third-worst). His passer rating when not pressured didn’t budge nearly as much (107.5 to 86.6) and was the catalyst for research done at PFF showing that passer rating when pressured, historically, is a lot more volatile than passer rating when clean.
After being let go by Tampa, McCown spent two years and 13 starts (again, with just one win) for the rebuilding Cleveland Browns before joining the New York Jets in 2017 to start a career-high-tying 13 games in 2017, generating a 94.5 passer rating, before giving way to third-overall pick Sam Darnold in 2018. After a brief retirement he joined the Eagles, coming off the bench in a 17-9 playoff loss against Seattle in which he played hurt and performed reasonably well.
Trestman’s career with Chicago would last only one additional season, as he and general manager Phil Emery’s bet on Jay Cutler would blow up in their face almost immediately in 2014, resulting in both of their dismissals. After starting the season with a reasonable 5-6 record, the Bears would lose their remaining five games, including a home game against the Detroit Lions, where former Carolina draft pick Jimmy Clausen would start for an ineffective and benched Cutler. Cutler’s 2014 passer rating was a pedestrian 88.6, and while he was given another chance to start for subsequent Bears head coach John Fox again in 2015 and 2016, he would ultimately lose his job when the Bears signed Glennon and drafted Mitchell Trubisky second overall in the 2017 NFL draft.
McCown’s career included 76 starts for seven teams and an overall record of 23-53 (30.3% win percentage). While his time in the NFL traverse at least two eras of passing productivity, his 60.2 percent completion percentage and 98/82 touchdown-to-interception ratio are fairly respectable given that he never started a game for a team with a playoff roster. He will be remembered for that 2013 season, though, a season that shows what is possible when an innovative (if fleeting) offensive mind and a quarterback click in an offense with immense talent around him.
There has never been a more appropriate nickname in NFL history than “Fitzmagic.”
While most journeymen produce one or maybe two wild rides for fans during their career, Ryan Fitzpatrick has done it in nearly every stop.
But just like magic, never turns out to be real.
As a seventh-round pick out of Harvard (maybe you’ve heard that mentioned before on an NFL broadcast), he was a long shot to see the field for the St. Louis Rams but both Marc Bulger and Jamie Martin got hurt, opening the door for the kid with the perfect Wonderlic test (which he finished in nine minutes, if you haven’t heard that one either) to see the field.
Right away, there was Fitzmagic.
In Fitzpatrick’s first game, he went 19-for-30 with 310 yards, three touchdowns and one interception and a 117.4 rating in a 33-27 victory over the Houston Texans. If you have already sensed the theme here you know that he quickly fell apart thereafter. In his following three starts, Fitzpatrick threw one touchdown, seven picks with a 41.2 rating.
Oh, but there was plenty more to come. Not only did he convince the Buffalo Bills to give him a long-term contract extension, Fitz’s magic led to Buffalo missing out on Cam Newton in the 2011 draft.
In 2009, the Trent Edwards experiment officially went bust for the Bills and Fitzpatrick went 4-4 as a starter, opening the door for him to get a shot in 2010. He lost the gig in camp but was given the starting job Week 3 after Edwards faltered in the opening two weeks. Right away, Fitzmagic arrived with Fitzy going toe-to-toe with Tom Brady in a 38-30 loss. He went 20-for-28 for 247 yards and it was clear he was QB1 for 2010.
The following weeks had more ups than downs and a number of close calls. The Bills lost three straight three-point games to wrap up the first half of the season with an 0-8 record. They were perfectly in line to draft Newton, who was dominating college football at Auburn, with the No. 1 pick.
But Fitzmagic would strike at an inopportune time. Instead of tanking their way to a franchise QB, the Bills caught fire. Fitzpatrick put up 49 points with four touchdown passes in a victory over the Bengals in Week 11 and beat lowly Cleveland and Miami teams in Week 14 and 15. Buffalo finished the year 4-12 and missed out on Newton and Von Miller. In the draft, they picked Marcell Dareus instead of AJ Green, Patrick Peterson and Julio Jones.
Fitz’s time in Buffalo didn’t end there. In fact, it got crazier.
To open the 2011 season there were plenty of FitzSkeptics but he started the year 4-2, including a wild win over Brady and the Patriots at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and the Bills signed him to a six-year, $59 million contract extension. One week later, Fitzpatrick led a 23-0 win over Washington and the Bills were 5-2 and in line to make the playoffs for the first time since Doug Flutie and Rob Johnson were the starting QBs.
But Fitz took a shot to the ribs in the game and quickly fell apart. The Bills lost the next three games by a combined score of 106-26 and they finished the year getting crushed by the Patriots in Week 17.
By the end of 2012, another 6-10 season, the run was over. But Fitzmagic would ride again just two years later with the Houston Texans after a brief stint in Tennessee.
Out of camp, Fitz beat Ryan Mallett for the starting gig. He was benched and replaced by Mallett at the Week 10 bye week but the young quarterback got hurt in a loss two weeks later and — no surprise — Fitzpatrick went full Fitzmagic. He threw for 358 yards and six touchdowns in a 45-21 win over the Titans and won AFC player of the Week.
It appeared he would actually have a chance to make the postseason for the first time but Fitzpatrick suffered a fractured tibia and was replaced by Tom Savage.
The next year, at age 33, Fitz would break another set of hearts — this time in The Big Apple. Putting together the best year of his career, Fitzpatrick found a special connection with Brandon Marshall and the New York Jets passing game was a legitimate threat in 2015. The Fitz-coaster was real in ’15 with wins in four of his first five — one of which was a 19-for-26, 253-yard performance in a win over Washington.
When he hit the skids in back-to-back losses to Buffalo and Houston, the Fitzmagic seemed to end but he bounced back from two sub-50% completion percentage games to win five straight. He threw 13 touchdowns, one interception and registered a 106.5 rating during that stretch, which was capped off by a three-touchdown win over Tom Brady and the Patriots. With former Bills head coach Chan Gailey as his OC, the Jets entered Week 17 against the sorry Bills needing a win to get Fitz into the playoffs.
But all fell apart. With Rex Ryan coaching Buffalo, Fitz went 16-for-37 with two touchdowns and three interceptions and the Jets lost 22-17 and fell short of the postseason. The Jets brought him back but it wasn’t the same. Fitz went 3-8 and his time was over in New York.
Fitz’s greatest magic trick has always been the bad luck of every quarterback ahead of him. In Tampa Bay in 2018, Jameis Winston was suspended for the first three games of the season. To open the year, Fitzpatrick threw for 1,230 yards in those three weeks with 11 touchdowns, four picks and a 124.8 rating. The Bucs were sold and he remained the starter when Winston was reinstated. Naturally, over his next five games that rating would drop to 80.4.
He joined the Miami Dolphins in 2019 and, while he has yet to help his own team in any sort of playoff run, he was instrumental in giving the Chiefs the first-round bye that would eventually lead to their first Super Bowl in 50 years by beating the New England Patriots on the road in week 17 of the season, dropping the Pats to the three seed for the first time since 2009, where they would lose to Tennessee in round one of the playoffs.
As we write this, all is not said and done with his career and we can only dream of what magic could come if Fitzpatrick ever got hot in the playoffs. If he never starts another game, he’ll have won AFC Player of the Week four times, NFC Player of the Week three times, AFC Player of the Month once, Ed Block Courage Award (2015) and set the record for most TD passes by an Ivy League quarterback.
You could call it a pretty magical ride.
By 1999, Steve Beuerlein had established himself as the best veteran backup quarterback a team could buy. As a fourth-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 1987, he quickly proved that he had the ability to fill in for a team’s starter and keep the club from falling over the edge. In his first two seasons in which he saw game action, Beuerlein came in for starter Jay Schroeder and held serve by going 4-4 in 1988 and then 4-3 in 1989, including three game-winning drives. He then sat out the 1990 season due to a contract dispute, which resulted in landing with the Dallas Cowboys.
Nearly a decade before his all-time great journeyman season, Beuerlein made his way into backup quarterback lore with the Cowboys. Troy Aikman suffered an injury and the job was turned over to Beuerlein, who promptly won four straight games, giving the Cowboys an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. En route to the postseason, Beuerlein won a game over the rival Eagles in which he went 9-for-31 for 145 yards and one touchdown (the 1991 Eagles were one of the best defenses in league history, but failed to make the playoffs because of this game). Aikman returned to health but Jimmy Johnson decided to stay with the hot QB and was briefly rewarded for the decision. Beuerlien followed up his ugly win with another grind-it-out 17-13 victory in the Wild Card round over Chicago in which he also completed only 13 passes.
The Phoenix Cardinals made him their starter in 1993 and where flashed signs of what was later to come in ‘99. While he finished with a 6-8 record, the Cards were a top-10 offense and Beuerlein proved he could be a downfield passer, finishing with 7.6 yards per pass attempt and over 3,000 yards.
That would be the peak of the mountain for a while. The following year the Cards made a coaching change and he was benched by Buddy Ryan. Few people remember that he started Jacksonville’s first ever franchise game and lost 10-3 while only throwing for 54 yards.
He finished his Jags career 1-5 but opportunity came knocking again in Carolina. He backed up Kerry Collins, who struggled with off-field issues during his time with the Panthers and was ultimately benched for Beuerlein in 1998 after going 0-4 as a starter.
The Panthers fired Dom Capers and gave the head coaching position to legendary coach George Seifert. Looking like a rebuild season, they elected to roll with the long-time backup. But Beuerlein proved he could make something of the pass-first offense.
Surrounded by a strong group of weapons including Muhsin Muhammad, Wesley Walls and Patrick Jeffers, Beuerlein operated a high-octane offense that finished fourth in points and sixth in yards and ranked in the top five in net yards per pass attempt. They scored 30-plus points in eight games, including the most memorable game of Beuerlein’s career in Green Bay on December 12, 1999.
The Panthers were fighting for playoff position against Brett Favre on a muddy day in which Beuerlein out-dueled Favre, throwing for 373 yards and three touchdowns. On the final drive he ran into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown on fourth down.
While the Cats did not make the playoffs, they finished the year with a 45-13 win over the Saints and Beuerlein ended the year with 4,436 yards, 36 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and his one and only trip to the Pro Bowl.
The following season Carolina failed to protect our legendary journeyman, who was sacked 62 times en route to a 7-9 season. He considered calling it quits but Mike Shanahan, his former Raiders coach in the late-80s, convinced him to hang around with the Broncos in the post-Elway era for two years. Even at ages 37 and 38, he found his way to two wins in five games as a Denver starter.
As so many journeymen do, Beuerlein has gone on to become a broadcaster for CBS. Few people can say they won a playoff game for the Cowboys, played the opening game for a few franchises and led the NFL in passing.
Stay tuned for Chapter 2, the 15th-11th ranked journeyman seasons coming soon….