Tuesday trends: Value of the backup QB

The traditional big names of the NFL are still making the headlines, but backups across the NFL are getting a workout through the first eight weeks of the season.

With injuries limiting but not completely knocking out some of the biggest quarterback names in the NFL this weekend – Tony Romo with the Dallas Cowboys and Aaron Rodgers with the Green Bay Packers – perhaps it’s time to give it up for the backup quarterbacks of the league.

Colt McCoy highlighted the importance of the backup, or even the third-stringer in his case, on Monday night when he engineered the Washington Redskins to a 20-17 overtime win over the favored Cowboys in Texas.

The Redskins entered the game starting McCoy, their third-string quarterback at the beginning of the season, and with a 2-5 record. The Cowboys entered Monday night on a roll and tied for the best record in the NFC with at 6-1. But McCoy was strong when it mattered most.

McCoy finished the game completing 25 of 30 passes for 299 yards and an interception, but he scored on a 7-yard quarterback draw on third down early in the fourth quarter to give Washington a 17-10 lead. On the first drive of overtime, he picked up first downs with passes of 23, 5 and 16 yards to set up the eventual game-winning field goal.

McCoy has now led two game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, and no other player in NFL history has completed 80 percent of his passes and averaged 10 yards or more per pass in his first two games with a team (minimum of 25 passes), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

But McCoy is far from alone when it comes to being a well-used backup.

Through eight weeks this season, 44 quarterbacks have thrown 40 or more passes. That includes three for Washington (McCoy, Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III), the Minnesota Vikings (Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Ponder) and the Tennessee Titans (Jake Locker, Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger).

One of the backups to start the season and now firmly entrenched as the starter is Kyle Orton. He completed 10 of 17 passes for 238 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions for a 142.8 passer rating in the Buffalo Bills’ 43-23 win at the New York Jets. He has started four games since supplanting E.J. Manuel and has compiled a 3-1 record and 104.0 passer rating.

Of course, the established starters and stars of the league are still dominating the headlines.

In Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger completed a franchise-record 40 passes for 522 yards and six touchdowns on Sunday, becoming the first player in NFL history with two 500-yard passing games.

In New England, Tom Brady completed 30 of 35 passes for 354 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions to improve his winning percentage at home to .870, the highest of any starting quarterback with a minimum of 50 home starts in the Super Bowl era. He is also the only player in NFL history with at least 350 passing yards, a completion percentage above 85 percent, five or more touchdowns and no interceptions in a game (he did that in 2009, too).

In Detroit, Matthew Stafford is the comeback king, joining Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe as the only quarterbacks to have three comebacks of 21 points or more for a win.

Other nuggets after Week 8 in the NFL:

  • The two longest ongoing winning streaks in the NFL both reside in the AFC. New England and the San Diego Chargers are both atop their respective divisions thanks to four-game winning streaks.

  • The two longest ongoing losing streaks in the NFL are also in the AFC, and also in the AFC East and West, just like the winning streaks. The New York Jets and Oakland Raiders have each lost their last seven games. But at least the Jets won their first game of the season while the Raiders remain winless at 0-7.

  • The best road record belongs to the Dallas Cowboys, who are 3-0 on the road but 3-2 at home.

  • Washington’s win at Dallas on Monday night was the first time a game between those NFC East rivals went into overtime in a game played in Texas (they’ve gone to overtime three times in Washington), according to Elias. It also gave Washington coach Jay Gruden and his brother Jon, who was ESPN’s color commentator for the Monday night game, wins in Dallas as first-year head coaches.

  • The Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints’ contest marked only the third time in an NFL regular-season game that there were no punts. The Packers were involved in one of the previous times, as well, and it was earlier this year – a win over the Chicago Bears on Sept. 28. The other game without a punt was a Buffalo Bills win over the San Francisco 49ers in 1992.

  • Despite the loss Monday night, Tony Romo and Jason Witten became the first quarterback-tight end duo in NFL history to reach 600 career completions (they have 603 now).

  • Antonio Gates set the franchise record for the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night, moving his career receiving yards total to 9,610, now 26 yards more than Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Lance Alworth.

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