clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Sunday won’t be the first time Chiefs have turned to a backup

New, comments

The Chiefs have a history with second-string quarterbacks relieving injured starters.

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

When thinking about which football position is the easiest to play, the first positions that come to mind are kickers or punters. They rarely get touched and only play a handful of snaps in each game. The counter to that would be the amount of pressure kickers feel when the field goal is important; the punter also feels some pressure to get off a punt quick and not give the opposition a good setup on a return. Long snapper is in this discussion as well — but one bad snap in the wrong situation and he is out of a job.

The correct answer for the easiest position in the NFL is the backup quarterback. A true backup to a team’s franchise quarterback is never expected to do anything. He is practically a coach with shoulder pads on — and if a season goes as expected, the second-stringer does not see the field in any meaningful scenarios. If they do have to replace an injured starter, they have low expectations: avoid turnovers and get the ball in the playmakers’ hands. If they can’t execute that, then the team may need to look elsewhere for a backup — but sometimes they exceed expectations.

If a reserve quarterback does catch fire in the absence of the starter, it can earn them some money. The most memorable example of this was in the 2011 season. The Green Bay Packers had clinched their playoff seed, so they decided to rest starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the Week 17 game. Backup Matt Flynn came in for the second start of his career and lit up the Detroit Lions for 480 passing yards and six touchdowns. The following offseason, the Seattle Seahawks signed him to a three-year contract with $10 million guaranteed.

Chiefs fans can cross their fingers that backup quarterback Matt Moore performs in a similar fashion. Moore has made a nice career of being the backup. He has earned close to $24 million in his 12-year NFL career and has never been the starter for all 16 regular-season games. He earned contracts from the Carolina Panthers and the Miami Dolphins for his impressive fill-in performances.

Moore has responded well to being thrown into the fire during his career — and the Chiefs will be looking for that to continue until star quarterback Patrick Mahomes can return. The organization has had experience needing to rely on the backup signal-caller throughout its history.

Mike Livingston

Kansas City Chiefs v New York Giants

In the 1969 season, there were high expectations for the Chiefs. They knew they were Super Bowl contenders. They started the year 2-1 — but Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson injured his knee and would be out for an extended period of time. The second-string quarterback, Jacky Lee, came in and broke his ankle during the Week 3 contest — and hope seemed to be dwindling.

The third-string quarterback was a second-year player who had not attempted a pass in the NFL before being thrown in a game. Quarterback Mike Livingston turned out to be the catalyst for the team, as he led them on a five-game winning streak while Dawson recovered from his injury. He had the best passing performance of any Chiefs quarterback that season with 308 yards in 42-22 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Dawson came back to lead the team to the franchise’s first and only Super Bowl win. Livingston finished the year 6-0 as a starter and was invited to the Pro Bowl as well. His 1969 performance allowed him to stay with the Chiefs for the next 10 seasons — but he never replicated the success he had during the championship run.

Rich Gannon

San Diego Chargers vs Kansas City Chiefs

The 1997 season was a very memorable one for Chiefs fans — but probably not in a positive way. The Chiefs were a consistent playoff contender throughout the 1990s and were ready to break through and win games in the postseason. They started off hot with a 7-2 record — but bad news came with that result. Starting quarterback Elvis Grbac suffered a broken collarbone in their seventh win and missed a big chunk of the season until he returned in Week 17.

Backup quarterback Rich Gannon stepped in and did not miss a beat. After a loss in his first start, Gannon led the Chiefs to five straight victories and a division title. There was now controversy about which quarterback should take the start against the Denver Broncos in the postseason game. Head coach Marty Schottenheimer was adamant about Grbac retaining his position.

“Rich Gannon understood exactly what would take place,” Schottenheimer explained about his policy of injured starters keeping their spots once healthy, per the Chicago Tribune. “My reference to him was that you keep the seat warm until Elvis comes back. Rich has been a true professional about it.”

The decision produced a 14-10 loss and another home playoff failure for the Chiefs. Gannon went on to become the NFL MVP with the Oakland Raiders a few years later — while Grbac continued on as the Chiefs quarterback for another three seasons and had zero postseason appearances.

Damon Huard

Kansas City Chiefs v Carolina Panthers Photo by Rex Brown/Getty Images

For the first year of head coach Herm Edward’s tenure, the 2006 season could not have began any worse. Starting quarterback Trent Green suffered an extremely severe concussion in the second half of the season opener. His backup — veteran quarterback Damon Huard — stepped in and was not able to right the ship immediately. The team started 0-2.

After the Week 3 bye, the offense was able to find a rhythm and go on a run of five wins in seven games — including four performances of over 30 points. Huard led the way and was impressively efficient. By the end of the season, Huard held the second-highest passer rating in the NFL while only starting eight games. Green returned and the team went 4-3 down the stretch — making the postseason as a wild-card team.

The offense was horrible in the playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. 126 total yards and only seven first downs in the 23-8 loss. Green would leave via trade in the offseason — while Huard stuck around and started during the 2007 season.

These situations are all different — but there is one thing in common: The team was able to succeed while the starter was injured. The period of time without the starter can help the rest of the team find its identity and strengthen its weaknesses.

Moore will need to execute the game plan head coach Andy Reid has for him — and the rest of the team will prove whether it’s championship material or not.