Backup NFL Quarterbacks Seize Reins With Starters Dropping Like Flies

QBs including Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, Kenny Pickett and Tyrod Taylor all went down

Third-string Giants QB Tommy DeVito.
Tommy DeVito was forced into action for the New York Giants against the Jets.
Kathryn Riley/Getty

When Aaron Rodgers went down with a torn ACL on Monday Night Football just minutes into his debut with the New York Jets, it should have been a sign that this was not going to be a good year for starting quarterbacks in the NFL.

Rodgers was the first QB to go down, but he was far from the last as many other teams besides the Jets were rolling with backup quarterbacks in Week 8 due to injuries to their Week 1 starter. Those teams included the Colts (Gardner Minshew), Bears (Tyson Bagent), Browns (PJ Walker) and Giants (Tyrod Taylor). By the end of the day, there were plenty of other teams relying on backups as there were a number of injuries in Week 8 that could impact how a number of teams approach tomorrow afternoon’s trade deadline.

The most serious injury was suffered by Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins, who tore his Achilles tendon in Sunday’s win over the Packers and is done for the season. In all likelihood, Cousins is also finished with the Vikings as his contract is up and the team was already considering moving on from the 35-year-old veteran, who has never missed a game due to injury. Now 4-4 on the season, the Vikings may look to make a move at the deadline as their quarterback depth (rookie Jaren Hall, veteran Nick Mullens and practice-squad player Sean Mannion) is lacking.

Elsewhere in the NFL, Rams QB Matthew Stafford injured his thumb and was replaced by Brett Rypien, the Steelers lost Kenny Pickett and had to go with Mitch Trubisky and Taylor, who was starting in place of No. 1 quarterback Daniel Jones, was knocked out with a rib injury, forcing the Giants to turn to undrafted New Jersey native Tommy DeVito (no relation to Danny). Unlike the Vikings, the Rams, Steelers and Giants all lost with the backups at the helm.

“You never know what play it is, what time it is, if it’s going to happen, if it’s not going to happen so there’s a tough part about staying ready, being ready for that role, which is what makes that position so difficult,” DeVito said.

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Sunday’s rollout of the backup brigade wasn’t bad news for every team as the Titans were able to get a good look at rookie Will Levis with Week 1 starter Ryan Tannehill out with an ankle injury. Prior to Tennessee’s game with the Falcons, there were some reports that Levis might rotate snaps with second-year QB Malik Willis. Levis was apparently not in a sharing mood against the Falcons as he tossed four touchdowns and finished with 238 yards. Three of those touchdowns went to DeAndre Hopkins and the fourth was a dime to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine.

“I’ve been dreaming of this moment as a kid my entire life,” Levis said. “Even to just touch the field in an NFL game, let alone get a win, is incredible.”

The four passing scores were tied for the most passing TDs by a player in his debut in NFL history. The afternoon wasn’t as successful for Atlanta backup Taylor Heinicke, who took over for second-year starter Desmond Ridder after he was sacked five times before halftime and evaluated for a concussion. Ridder was cleared but didn’t return and it’s uncertain if he will take back his starting job or if the Falcons will give Heinicke a shot as their top QB.

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