Welcome to the weeks leading up to the NFL postseason, a time of hot takes and speculation about what quarterback is going where. Will Alex Smith go to the New York Jets? What will the Denver Broncos do at quarterback? Is this the year where Tom Brady finally retires?
Let's forget about the popular names for a second and think about the quarterbacks who somehow wind up starting a postseason game. Since 2000, there have been more playoff games than you'd expect where either a backup quarterback or one who wound up being forgotten by time ended up starting. Let's look at some!
Really, our only ground rules for this one is no quarterbacks from last season's playoffs, meaning Connor Cook and Brock Osweiler are both eliminated. Also, quarterbacks from the 2000 playoffs for the 1999 season - the one that ended in a St. Louis Rams Super Bowl win - are eligible.
To clarify, the year in parenthesis is the year that the physical playoff game(s) took place. In each entry, we'll look at both the quarterback's stats in the game(s) and how they wound up starting, whether it was because the actual starter suffered a regular season injury or they were simply appointed the starting job.
How many of the following names will you actually wind up remembering - and, if you do remember a good amount, what does that say about your team? Let's find out.
15 Kelly Holcomb, Cleveland Browns (2003)
The stats: Holcomb completed 26-of-43 passes (60.47 completion percentage) for 429 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception in the Browns' January 2003 36-33 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
How? With usual starter Tim Couch struggling the way the former No. 1 pick seemingly always did, Holcomb stepped up late in the 2002 season to help Cleveland to their lone playoff berth since returning to the NFL in 1999. It wasn't Derek Anderson, Colt McCoy, Johnny Manziel, or Couch who took the Browns to their only playoff game this century, but journeyman Kelly Holcomb!
And, for his part, Holcomb played a fine game! If not for the one interception, the Browns may have been able to upset the Steelers and even add a playoff win to their resume. Maybe Holcomb should step in at quarterback now...
14 Anthony Wright, Baltimore Ravens (2004)
The stats: Wright completed 20-of-37 passes (54.1 completion percentage) for 214 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions in a 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans in January 2004.
How? Part of a rotating quarterback circle that only ended with the 2008 drafting of Joe Flacco, Wright at least took the Ravens to the playoffs in a 2003 season that saw him throw for 1,199 yards, nine touchdowns, and eight interceptions. Not exactly the prettiest numbers, but this was also the same season where running back Jamal Lewis ran for over 2,000 yards so all Wright had to do was not throw five interceptions in a game.
Like Holcomb, Wright nearly led the Ravens to a win, only losing on a field goal in the final minute. Where are the blowouts?
13 Joe Webb, Minnesota Vikings (2013)
The stats: Webb completed 11-of-30 passes (36.7 completion percentage) for 180 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in a 24-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers in January 2013. Webb also ran for 68 yards on seven carries in the loss.
How? Another random quarterback, another player whose job was just to hand the ball off to a 2,000 yard rusher in Adrian Peterson. Interestingly, Webb is one of the few quarterbacks on this list pressed into postseason duty after having barely played in the regular season...as in one game. Webb only saw action in one game before regular starter Christian Ponder hurt his elbow and had to miss the Wild Card loss to the Packers.
And if the Packers gave up 68 rushing yards to Webb, it shouldn't be a surprise they were torched by 49ers star Colin Kaepernick on the ground the following week.
12 Quincy Carter, Dallas Cowboys (2004)
The stats: Carter completed 21-of-36 passes (58.33 completion percentage) for 154 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception in a 29-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers in January 2004. Carter also ran for 25 yards and a touchdown on four carries.
How? Carter was no stranger to starting by 2003, having started 15 games over the past two seasons. However, 2003 was his first time fully in the driver's seat and Carter was...adequate, completing 57.8 of his passes for 3,302 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions for the 10-6 Cowboys. Like we said, adequate.
And in the playoffs, Carter was exactly that: adequate. Unfortunately for Dallas, a team that was a few years away from Terrell Owens, Marion Barber, elite Jason Witten, and others, adequate was never going to be enough.
11 Todd Collins, Washington Redskins (2008)
The stats: Collins completed 29-of-50 passes (58 completion percentage) for 266 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions in a 35-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in January 2008.
How? Collins actually has the unique distinction among quarterbacks on this list of playing as a QB in multiple playoff games (Webb saw action as a wide receiver with the Panthers), but only starting one game. With starting quarterback Jason Campbell injured in the final weeks of the 2007 season, Collins - who hadn't thrown a pass since 2004 and started a game since 1997 - went 3-0 with a 63.8 completion percentage and a 5-0 TD-INT ratio in the regular season.
Think about that for a second: Collins hadn't thrown a pass in three years and still led a team to the playoffs. Not bad!
10 Ryan Lindley, Arizona Cardinals (2015)
The stats: Lindley completed 16-of-28 passes (57.14 completion percentage) for 82 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions in a 27-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers in January 2015.
How? You know all of the people that are questioning how certain quarterbacks are employed over Colin Kaepernick? If Lindley was still employed by an NFL team, you'd have a really strong argument on your hands because this was one of the ugliest games you'll ever see. Don't let that relatively solid completion percentage fool you: Lindley was abysmal, even to the point where people were wondering why the Arizona Cardinals didn't sign and start Tim Tebow.
If you ever see a repeat of this game on NFL Network, turn away and don't look back. You won't regret listening to me.
9 Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs (2011)
The stats: Cassel completed nine-of-18 passes (seriously, I don't think I need to say that he had a 50 percent completion percentage) for 70 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions in a 30-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in January 2011.
How? Cassel had seen postseason time with the New England Patriots, but it's funny that we think of him only as "the guy who nearly led the Patriots to the playoffs" when he actually did lead Kansas City to the playoffs two years later! In an unfortunate end to a Pro Bowl season for Cassel, the veteran played an abysmal game in what began another down stretch for the Chiefs...who are still mediocre in the postseason.
Like with Lindley, avoid this game if you ever see it on. (You know, unless you're a Ravens fan.)
8 T.J. Yates, Houston Texans (2012)
The stats: In a 31-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on January 7, 2012, Yates completed 11-of-20 passes (55 percent) for 159 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions. In a 20-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens eight days later, Yates completed 17-of-35 passes (48.57 completion percentage) for 184 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions.
How? The only rookie on this list, Yates started the first two playoff games in Houston Texans history with regular starter Matt Schaub and primary backup Jake Delhomme both out. Yates had started five regular season games before being banged up himself, but can always savor the fact that he was the first quarterback to deliver five consecutive first-round playoff losses to the Bengals. You know, unless he winds up there in a few years.
7 David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars (2008)
The stats: In a 31-29 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 5, 2008, Garrard completed 9-of-21 passes (42.86 completion percentage) for 140 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Garrard also ran for 58 yards on five carries. Seven days later, Garrard completed 22-of-33 passes (66.67 completion percentage) for 278 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception in a 31-20 loss to the New England Patriots.
How? You most likely remember Garrard as the Jaguars' starter before Blaine Gabbert (yuck), but did you remember him taking them to the postseason? Surpassing the mentor in Byron Leftwitch for the 2007 season, Garrard went 9-3 as a starter for the Jaguars and helped them to the second round of the postseason. Why did the Jaguars give up on him so quickly? Was Blaine Gabbert REALLY the answer?
6 Chris Simms, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2006)
The stats: Simms completed 25-of-38 passes (65.79 completion percentage) for 198 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions in a 17-10 loss to the Washington Redskins in January 2006.
How? Of all the games we've described as ugly on this list, the Redskins-Bucs game from the 2006 playoffs is beyond that level. Washington won despite 120 yards of total offense, in large part because Simms had two interceptions and failed to throw a touchdown. Not good.
But, considering Simms nearly died on the field the following season, things could have been much worse. Then, Simms got into things with Jon Gruden, wound up on the Baltimore Ravens by 2008, and such a loss was quickly forgotten. Things never did seem to go well for Phil Simms' son...
5 Tarvaris Jackson, Minnesota Vikings (2009)
The stats: Jackson completed 15-of-35 passes (42.86 completion percentage) for 164 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception in a 26-14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in January 2009.
How? How is a good question. Jackson began the 2008 season as the Vikings' starter, but was benched for Gus Frerotte (!!!) before the veteran sustained a season-ending injury. With the Vikings playing in a weak NFC North, Jackson led them to a division title and a first-round matchup with the Eagles, who shut him down and actually made it to the NFC Championship Game.
After that, the rest is history. Jackson had proven so little, the Vikings knew they had to make a push for Brett Favre if the future Hall of Famer came out of retirement again...which happened. But the Vikings still never won a title.
4 Byron Leftwich, Jacksonville Jaguars (2006)
The stats: Leftwitch completed 18-of-31 passes (58.06 completion percentage) for 179 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception in a 28-3 loss to the New England Patriots in January 2006. Leftwitch also ran for 26 yards on three carries.
How? That picture is exactly how I'd describe Leftwich's playoff game, even if he only had one interception and completed nearly 60 percent of his passes. Despite having a career-best 15:5 TD-INT ratio for the Jaguars in 2005, Leftwich didn't exactly inspire confidence going forward, being benched midway through 2006 and cut by 2007. Woof. Things could have gone worse, especially compared to some of the other players on this list, but Leftwich was doomed in Jacksonville with a performance like that.
Then again, Leftwich at least won a Super Bowl in February 2009 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, so there's that.
3 A.J. McCarron, Cincinnati Bengals (2016)
The stats: McCarron completed 23-of-41 passes (56.10 completion percentage) for 212 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in a 18-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in January 2016.
How? You knew this one was coming by the time you started really reading, right? All of McCarron's career stats through November 2017 - 66.4 completion percentage, 2-1 record, 854 passing yards, and five touchdowns to two interceptions - came in 2015, the same year the former Alabama legend started a playoff game for the Bengals. Really, McCarron's numbers against the Steelers in horrific weather - and against a Steelers defense that was really hitting people - weren't awful, but they weren't enough to win a close game.
Maybe it was the hopes of keeping things lose against the Steelers that wanted the Browns to consider trading for McCarron earlier this season?
2 Vince Young, Tennessee Titans (2008)
The stats: Young completed 16-of-29 passes (55.17 completion percentage) for 138 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception in a 17-6 loss to the-then San Diego Chargers in January 2008. Young also only ran for 12 yards on two carries.
How? This was the beginning of the end for Vince Young...somewhat. After a promising rookie season, albeit with some poor passing numbers that saw the Texas legend throw more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12) and complete only 51.5 percent of his passes, Young threw 17 interceptions to nine touchdowns in 2007 and still helped the Titans to a 9-6 record as a starter. Not bad, right? Given Young's issues that came up the next season and how he'd be out of Tennessee by 2010, it may be fair to call this game the beginning of the end - and that's even with his comeback 2009 season.
1 Marc Bulger, St. Louis Rams (2003-04)
The stats: Bulger completed 27-of-46 passes (58.70 completion percentage) for 332 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions in a 29-23 loss to the Carolina Panthers in January 2004. The next season, Bulger completed 18-of-32 passes (56.25 completion percentage) for 313 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception in a 27-20 win over the Seattle Seahawks.
Seven days later, Bulger was 23-of-35 (65.71) for 299 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception in a 47-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
How? Marc Bulger started three postseason games? Marc Bulger started three playoff games. The first came in 2003, the season that saw him replace St. Louis Rams legend Kurt Warner at quarterback following an early-season concussion and throw for 3,845 yards and 22 touchdowns (and 22 interceptions) while going 12-3 as a starter. The next season, Bulger was 8-6 as a starter with a 66.2 completion percentage, 3,964 passing yards, and a 21-14 TD-INT ratio. Why do we never talk about Bulger anymore?
Which of these quarterbacks most surprised you? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below!