He wasn’t the only backup quarterback to be tested in Week 3. An incredible total of 20 quarterbacks who are 26 years old or younger started games this week, a number we haven’t seen since the 1987 strike year when the replacement players took over.
Normally, teams will see as much as a six- or seven-point drop in going from a good or great starting quarterback to a backup. But there were far more success stories than failures among this week’s fill-in passers:
— Daniel Jones won his first start replacing Eli Manning for the New York Giants, bringing the team back for a huge comeback.
— Kyle Allen bought time for Cam Newton to recover from a foot injury by leading the Carolina Panthers to an 18-point win over the Arizona Cardinals.
— Rookie Gardner Minshew has stunned everyone by keeping the Jacksonville Jaguars competitive after the loss of Foles to an injury.
— Jacoby Brissett led the Indianapolis Colts to a 27-24 win over the Atlanta Falcons, giving them an impressive 2-1 start since taking over following Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement
— Mason Rudolph somewhat justified the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade by giving the Pittsburgh Steelers a chance to win on the road in San Francisco, with Ben Roethlisberger out for the season following elbow surgery. Fitzgerald is the seventh first-round pick on the Steelers defense, and it will be eight when linebacker Devin Bush, this year’s 10th overall pick, totally assumes leadership role on the defense. At the moment, though, the defense isn’t living up to its talent level and the Steelers are 0-3.
Longtime NFL coach Ted Marchibroda always preached that a good backup quarterback can win a team three games, but if you play him six games, he can lose a team the next three. The Saints and other teams are about to put that maxim to the test, but in the case of Bridgewater and Brissett, there seems to be a path to sustainable success. The loss of a great starting quarterback, in both teams’ cases, may not kill a season.
Brissett completed 28 of 37 passes for 310 yards in the win over Atlanta, giving the Colts a share of first place in the AFC South at 2-1. Three of their next four games are at home (albeit with a road trip to play the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs), with a bye week mixed in. This is a team that could enter midseason very much in the postseason mix. The Colts felt good enough about Brissett to upgrade his contract and give him a two-year, $30 million deal. With his history of protecting the football and his recent success at completing a high percentage of his passes, Brissett is living up to the deal.
Bridgewater went to the playoffs and earned Pro Bowl honors for the Minnesota Vikings before suffering a severe knee injury that almost ended his career. His win over the Seahawks wasn’t a great performance, but it was a good start. The big thing is that he didn’t screw it up by committing turnovers, and he made enough plays to win.
The Saints were aided by Seahawks’ mistakes, in the form of 14 points from a punt return touchdown and a recovery of a Chris Carson fumble for a touchdown. At the half, Payton said he needed more help from his teammates for Bridgewater to succeed, and got that from halfback Alvin Kamara, who rushed for 69 yards on 16 carries and caught nine passes for 92 yards. Bridgewater completed 19 of 27 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
Before the game, the thought was if Bridgewater can get through the next six games with a 3-3 record, Brees could come back and get the Saints to the playoffs. Maybe Bridgewater can do better than 3-3. He wasn’t the only backup to give his team that kind of hope on Sunday.
More Week 3 takeaways
— The NFL very quickly addressed its holding penalty problem. Before this Sunday’s games, Al Riveron, the league’s supervisor of officials, had a conference call with referees and told them to ease up on the offensive holding calls. In the first two weeks, officials called 178 holding penalties — a 66 percent increase over the first two weeks last year. Scoring dropped significantly, and players had begun to complain.
On Sunday, the offensive holding calls dropped to 41. Scoring went back up, and there were fewer stoppages because of the flags. Riveron told referees that they should still call the supposed “lobster blocks” in which a lineman grabs a defender on the back side of running plays. That’s more for safety. What he wanted to cut down on was the number of calls in which blockers get their hands outside the framework of a defender.
— Patrick Mahomes is off to the kind of start that will give him a shot at back-to-back MVP seasons. He’s on pace to again through 50 touchdowns. He’s completing 71.9 percent of his passes. The Chiefs beat the Baltimore Ravens, 33-28, and there were times when their offense looked unstoppable. What’s amazing is that the Chiefs have never scored fewer than 26 points in a start during his NFL career.
On the losing end, Lamar Jackson completed 22 of 43 passes, which may not be great, but he showed that he and the Ravens could at least hang with the high-powered Chiefs in the close road defeat.
— The New York Jets are in deep trouble until Sam Darnold returns, and maybe after that. In the 30-14 loss to New England, third-string quarterback Luke Falk was sacked five times and hit on 10 other plays. Le’Veon Bell was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage often. The team is paying cornerback Trumaine Johnson $17 million per year, but he was only on the field for eight plays against the Patriots. The Jets are 0-3, and this looks like it will be a long season.
— The Giants got a jolt from Jones’s NFL debut, but their offense also took a big hit. Expect Saquon Barkley to miss four-to-six weeks with a high ankle sprain for the Giants. That’s a disappointing blow for the team, but at least it isn’t a season-ending injury, which seemed to be a possibility when he was first helped off the field.
— The Detroit Lions might be the quietest undefeated team in the league. Off to a 2-0-1 start, the Lions aren’t playing great, but they are doing enough to win. They squeaked out a 27-24 victory over an injury-riddled Philadelphia Eagles team on Sunday. The next three games will provide them with a test, however: They host the Chiefs next week, then play at the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football following a bye week, then host the Vikings.