The Bracket: Most Interesting NFL Quarterback Competitions

In “The B-Straw and Pauly G Bracket”, Paul Gallant and Brien Straw create tournaments – in the world of sports and beyond – where only one can prevail. They accept listener and reader nominations every week, announcing the topic every Monday at 9 PM CT on “B-Straw and Pauly G”.

This week’s topic was inspired by the Texans . . . and their underwhelming quarterback competition:

What was the most interesting QB controversy in NFL history?

1. 1987 – 1991 San Francisco 49ers
Joe Montana v Steve Young

You’re Joe Montana. You’re widely considered one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. And for good reason. You’ve won two Super Bowls (16 & 19) and were MVP of both. Also, THIS.

But injuries happen. And after Montana suffered  a back injury in 1986 – one that required immediate surgery AND caused doctors to suggest he outright retire – the 49ers realized they needed a backup. Enter Steve Young. Drafted by the Buccaneers in 1985, he was considered a bust. San Fran head coach Bill Walsh saw otherwise, and traded for him.

Montana would win two more Super Bowls (23 & 24), plus two MVPS (1989 & 1990). And yet, Young played so well as a backup that competition conversations never entirely went away. It probably didn’t help that Young refused to be acknowledged as number two. Per teammate Brent Jones, Young said “I’m 1-B.’ So there’s 1-A [Montana] and 1-B [Young].”

The 49ers came within two points of the chance for a three-peat with Montana under center. But an elbow injury in the 1990 NFC Championship Game (a 15-13 loss to the Giants) saw him miss the entire 1991 season. Enter Steve Young. And in 1992, Montana was traded to Kansas City.

2. 1969 – 1971 Dallas Cowboys
Craig Morton v Roger Staubach

If you lead a team to the Super Bowl the year before, the quarterback job should be yours. Right?

That wasn’t the case with the 1970 Dallas Cowboys. Despite a close loss to the Colts in Super Bowl V, the solid Craig Morton found himself entrenched in a positional battle with the ever-mobile Roger Staubach the next season. Cowboys coach Tom Landry even had the two ALTERNATE PLAYS in week 7 of ’71 against the Bears.

After that game – one with 7 Cowboy turnovers – Landry turned to Staubach for the rest of the year. Staubach made the gamble pay off, winning the final ten games of the season including Super Bowl VI.

Still, Morton would start more games for Dallas after Staubach suffered a shoulder injury the next year. At least until the opening round of the ’72 playoffs against the 49ers, where Morton struggled. Staubach stepped in, and rallied the Cowboys to a 30 – 28 victory with two touchdown passes in the last two minutes. Later, Craig.

3. 2001 New England Patriots
Drew Bledsoe v Tom Brady

This controversy wasn’t as simple as Mo Lewis injuring Drew Bledsoe (shearing a blood vessel in his chest) and knocking him out for the season two games in. Tom Brady was steady – but not spectacular – guiding the Patriots from 0-2 to 5-5.

Bill Belichick had to pick between the two TWICE in 2001. And he picked Brady each time. First, against the Saints in week 11 (after Bledsoe had just been cleared to return from injury). Second, in Super Bowl XXXVI (Brady had suffered an ankle injury in the AFC Championship against the Steelers, and Bledsoe helped them advance in relief duty). Those choices worked out okay.

4. 1999 – 2003 St. Louis Rams
Trent Green v Kurt Warner v Marc Bulger

Injury creates opportunity. Look no further than the Trent Green/Kurt Warner/Marc Bulger era in St. Louis.

  • 1999: Trent Green suffered a season ending knee injury in the preseason. Kurt Warner stepped in, went 13-3, and won Super Bowl XXXIV
  • 2000: Warner entered the season as a starter. But after breaking his hand, Green started five games over the middle of the year. The duo would combine for an NFL record in passing yards that year. Green was traded to the Chiefs the offseason for a first round pick.
  • 2002: After losing Super Bowl XXXVI to the Patriots, Warner started 0-3 the following year. And then he broke his finger. After backup Jamie Martin lost two more games, in stepped Marc Bulger. Bulger won all six games that he started and finished.
  • 2003: Warner fumbled 6 times in the season opener against the New York Giants, and Bulger took over for good.
  • 2008: Ironically, Bulger would be benched twice this season – in week 4 against the Bills after an 0-3 start AND after falling behind 40-0 to the Jets in November – by Trent Green. Talk about full circle.

 

5. 1999 Buffalo Bills
Doug Flutie v Rob Johnson

The quarterback controversy that never should have been one. Doug Flutie led the Bills to a 10-5 record. With no chance to better their playoff seeding, the Bills rested Flutie and other starters for the season finale against the Colts.

Indy DID have something to play for though: Home field advantage in the AFC. They didn’t show it in the regular season finale though. Flutie’s backup Rob Johnson and Buffalo backups took down the Colts 31 – 6. Crazily, that was enough for Bills owner Ralph Wilson to start Johnson over Flutie in the playoffs.

It wasn’t Rob Johnson’s fault that the Music City Miracle happened. Technically. But I like to believe it was karma. You don’t bench a guy with his own cereal.

6. 1993 Cleveland Browns
Bernie Kosar v Vinny Testaverde

The first quarterback controversy that Bill Belichick dealt with. Kosar was a Browns legend, but Belichick was never much of a fan. He signed Vinny Testaverde before the 1993 season, and made him starting quarterback after Kosar struggled the first three games. Problem solved right?

Wrong. Testaverde got injured, and Kosar returned for the eighth game of the season against the Broncos. Despite a respectable stat sheet in a losing effort – 16-30, 226 yards, 2 TDs – the Browns would release him after the game. Why? Per Belichick, who said it was because of “diminishing skills” at the press conference announcing the decision.

It may have been more than that though. In David Halberstram’s book  “The Education of a Coach”, Kosar supposedly ignored coaching in that game.

7. 2011 Denver Broncos
Kyle Orton v Tim Tebow

Thirty years from now, I doubt anyone will think this controversy was all that interesting. Both of these quarterbacks are AND were mediocre at best. But you can’t deny that Tebow’s term as an NFL starter was entertaining . . . as hell.

He probably wouldn’t like that phrasing.

8. 2012 San Francisco 49ers
Alex Smith v Colin Kaepernick

Yeah, you CAN lose your job to an injury in the NFL. Alex Smith is the latest major example.

In 2011, he took the 49ers to the NFC Championship. He was a muffed punt away from making it to the Super Bowl. And in ’12, he led San Francisco to a 6-2 start.

But a concussion in a tie ahainst the Rams sent him to the bench. Colin Kaepernick stepped up, led the 49ers to a 5-2 finish, and ultimately within 1 yard of a Super Bowl victory.

Smith was traded to the Chiefs the next season. I wonder if San Francisco is regretting that trade now . . .

Did we miss any QB controversies? Then let us know. Listener and reader nominations will be accepted until Thursday at midnight. Friday at 9 PM CT on “B-Straw and Pauly G”, a bracket will be created, and a “Championship” will be won.

Paul Gallant co-hosts the “B-Straw and Pauly G” show – weeknights 7-11 PM on SportsRadio 610. He also hosts SportsZone Unfiltered – Fridays at 10 PM – on The Kube: Channel 57. Get in touch with Paul via email or at his facebook page: Paul Gallant: SportsRadio610.

 

Brien Straw also co-hosts “B-Straw and Pauly G” – weeknights 7-11 PM on SportsRadio 610. Get in touch with Brien via email.

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