A History Of In-Season NFL Quarterback Changes

HOUSTON (CBS HOUSTON) – Tom Savage received a roaring ovation from the NRG Stadium crowd when he entered Sunday’s game versus the Jaguars. While the cheering seemed to be directed at Savage, Texans fans likely would have cheered just about anyone entering the game to replace the struggling and ostracized starter Brock Osweiler who threw two first half interceptions to run his season total to 16, a new Texans record.

Savage led a comeback, and despite not throwing a touchdown pass, Savage brought a new life to the Texans offense throwing for 260 yards and putting his team in position for the go-ahead touchdown.

There have been several non-injury related quarterback changes in NFL history. Below you will find a list is some of the more interesting and higher profile changes, plus the recent ones we have seen relating to the Houston Texans.

There was an attempt to not use injury related changes unless it involved the incumbent starter being healthy enough to play in the season and was not re-inserted.

2015  Denver Broncos –  Peyton Manning for Brock Osweiler

Change: Week 17 mid-game

Result: Manning wins regular season finale. Goes 3-0 in playoffs. Broncos win Super Bowl 50.

The Broncos actually went to Osweiler earlier in the season for Manning who was having the worst season of his NFL career. Manning threw four interceptions in a Week 10 match-up against Kansas City and was benched for Osweiler in the third quarter.

It was announced Manning had a bout of plantar fasciitis and Osweiler would start week 11. Osweiler went 5-2 for the Broncos during his time as the starter, and it seemed he would be the starter for the remainder of the season.

He would get benched in the third quarter of the team’s final regular season game against the Chargers after throwing a pair of interceptions and fumbling. Manning led the team to a 27-20 win over the Chargers and the top seed in the AFC playoffs.

Manning would start the entire postseason and the 24-10 Super Bowl 50 win over the Carolina Panthers.

2015 Houston Texans – Ryan Mallett for Brian Hoyer – Hoyer for Mallett

Change: Brian Hoyer pulled for Ryan Mallet in second half of season opener against the Chiefs. Hoyer replaced Mallett in Week 5 after an injury and was the starter remainder of the season.

Result: The Texans eventually cut Mallett and Hoyer would go 5-4 as the Texans starter, but suffered a pair of concussions during the season and the Texans would start both TJ Yates and Brandon Weeden in his absence. Mallett would eventually be cut from the team after he missed a team flight to Miami during the season. This was the last straw after he was late to practice during the pre-season the day after he lost the starting job to Hoyer.

Hoyer would start the playoff game against Kansas City, throwing four interceptions as the Texans were shut-out 30-0. The Texans signed Brock Osweiler in the offseason to be their starting quarterback.

2014 Houston Texans – Ryan Mallett for Ryan Fitzpatrick

Change: Week 11 start.

Result: Mallett goes 1-1 as the starter and Fitzpatrick takes over again before a season ending injury.

Not much to this one here. Fitzpatrick was not great in his first nine starts going 4-5 and losing some winnable games to the Steelers and the Colts. Mallett had been acquired at the end of the pre-season, which led to the team cutting local hero Case Keenum. Mallett was the great unknown who had worked with a similar offense with Bill O’Brien during their time together in New England. The curiosity behind Mallett’s unknown potential was intriguing to many in Houston with Fitzpatrick’s struggles.

Mallett took over in week 11 and won his first start 23-7 against the Browns. Mallett would injure his pectoral muscle and struggle in his second start, a 22-13 loss to the Bengals. the muscle injury ended Mallett’s season and Fitzpatrick re-assumed the quarterbacking duties.

Fitzpatrick threw six touchdown passes in a win over the Titans in his first game back as the starter and it looked like he had renewed confidence. That confidence did not last as he suffered a broken tibia in a game against the Colts two weeks later. Case Keenum, who was re-signed was brought in to start the final two games of the season. The Texans finished 9-7 and only Mallett (and back-up Tom Savage) returned for 2015.

2013 Houston Texans – Case Keenum for Matt Schaub (See a trend here?)

Change: Week 7 start

Result: Keenum goes 0-8 as the Texans starter and in the process head coach Gary Kubiak is fired. The Texans finish the season 2-14, with the two wins coming in the first two weeks of the season. Schaub does not return to the Texans as he was traded to Oakland in the offseason.

2013 is the season Texans fans wanted to forget. They ultimately finished 2-14 after winning the first two games of the season. Matt Schaub, despite two Pro Bowl seasons, was never all that popular as the quarterback of the Texans. He was made the scape goat when he began to struggle and as the fan base learned that they had an opportunity to bring in Peyton Manning, but management elected to stick with Schaub.

Case Keenum was the local hero, a standout at the University of Houston, many in town wanted to young gunslinger to have a shot at starting for the Texans. He got his opportunity in Week 7 and showed potential in a 17-16 loss to the Chiefs. He would retain the starting job and dazzle in the first half against the Colts throwing three touchdowns. He ultimately would lose 27-24 and would himself get benched for Schaub, a move that ultimately cost Gary Kubiak his job.

2012  San Francisco 49ers – Colin Kaepernick for Alex Smith

Change: Week 10 mid-game

Result: Kaepernick goes 5-2 in regular season as a starter. 2-1 playoffs. Lost Super Bowl XLVII 34-31 to Baltimore Ravens.

San Francisco had expectations that weren’t quite met by Alex Smith. As a former top overall selection he struggled under different offensive systems but began to shine when Jim Harbaugh showed up.

In 2012 Smith has led the 49ers to a 6-2 start and was posting career high numbers as he was third in the league in passer rating (104.1) after the team’s first eight games. During the team’s Week 10 match-up against St. Louis, Smith suffered a concussion and was replaced mid-game by Kaepernick and the game finished in a 24-24 tie.

Smith would not play the next week, a game that Kaeperick would win 32-7 over Chicago. despite being 19-5-a as a starter for Harbaugh Smith would not get his job back and Kapernick remained the starter. Kapernick went 5-2 as the starter and threw for 1603 yards with 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions.  Kaepernick led the 49ers to playoff victories over the Packers and Falcons to become the NFC Champions. The 49ers played in the Super Bowl where they loss 34-31 to the Ravens. Kapernick had a 302 yard passing day with a touchdown pass and run during the game.

Kaepernick, despite recent struggles, is 31-31 as the 49ers  starting quarterback counting postseason games.

Smith was traded to the Chiefs in the offseason where is 40-22 as the Chiefs starting QB.

2011 Denver Broncos – Tim Tebow for Kyle Orton

Change: Mid game Week 5

Result: Tebow goes 7-4 as starter in regular season and 1-1 in the playoffs including throwing game-winning touchdown pass in Wild Card win over Pittsburgh.

Tebow was surprisingly drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL and sat behind Kyle Orton who was acquired a few years earlier in exchange for Jay Cutler. Orton struggled in his third season with the Broncos with just a 1-4 record with seven interceptions.

Tebow was inserted mid-game into a week 5 match-up against the Chargers and nearly brought the team back from 16 points down. Tebow had a few strong games but had just two games the entire regular season where he threw for over 200 yards.

He had a remarkable performance in the playoff game against the Steelers by throwing for a career high 316 yards with two touchdown passes. The Tebow hype in Denver was short lived as the Broncos signed Peyton Manning and traded Tebow during the offseason to the Jets.

2006 Dallas Cowboys – Tony Romo for Drew Bledsoe 

Change: Week 6 mid-game.

Result: Romo goes 6-4 and 0-1 in playoffs. Lost to Seahawks in Wild Card round.

It was a move that Cowboys fans were clamoring for. While Bledsoe was still effective at this stage in his career, starting the season 3-2 and going 9-7 the previous year. Romo was ready to take over as the starter and got his chance after Bledsoe was benched for the second half of a Week 7 Monday night game against New York. Despite Romo throwing three interceptions, including one on his first throw, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells named Romo the starter for the following week.

Romo would go 6-4 as the starter and threw 2903 yards and 19 touchdowns and led the Cowboys to the post season. The legends of Romo’s late season struggles began when the Cowboys had an opportunity to put the Seahawks away late in the game, but Romo would fumble the snap of a field goal attempt and fail to run it in.

Ultimately the move paid off as Romo has had several Pro Bowl seasons as Cowboys QB despite the lack of post season success. Romo has set several Dallas passing records during his tenure.

2004 Pittsburgh Steelers – Tommy Maddox for Kordell Stewart

Change: Week 4 mid-game

Result: Maddox goes 9-5-1 (including come from behind victory after being inserted mid game) and went 1-1 in playoffs.

Maddox had a tumultuous start to his NFL career. He was drafted in the first round of the 1992 draft by the Denver Broncos who still had the highly productive John Elway under center. Maddox started four games for an injured Elway in 92 but would go 0-4. He bounced around from the Rams to the Giants before ending up out of the NFL and becoming an insurance agent. He spent time in the Arena Football League and has the unique distinction of becoming the first and only MVP of the XFL and winning the league’s only championship.

With that success he found himself back in an NFL training camp as the back-up for Kordell Stewart. In his second season with Pittsburgh, Stewart went 13-3 the year prior and fell to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Patriots. He was naturally the starter for the 2002 season. Stewart quickly fell out of favor with Bill Cowher after an 0-2 start and a key interception in the fourth quarter of a Week 4 game against the Browns, Cowher inserted Maddox who led the Steelers to a 16-13 comeback victory. Maddox was named the starter the following week.

The Steelers finished the season 10-5 and win the AFC North (Stewart would start and win two games mid-season for Maddox who suffered an injury) Maddox would start in the playoffs and Stewart was replaced permanently.

Maddox would start all 16 games in 2003, but would eventually be replaced after two games in 2004 by rookie Ben Roethlisberger.

2000 Baltimore Ravens – Trent Dilfer for Tony Banks

Change: Week 9 Start

Result: Dilfer goes 7-1 in regular season and 4-0 in playoffs. Won Super Bowl XXV

Trent Dilfer had been considered a bust after his struggles as the starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when he was the sixth overall pick in the 1994 draft. Dilfer did have some success with the Bucs, but it was mostly due to being a game manager and allowing his rushing attack and defense to win games.

The 2000 Baltimore Ravens started the season strong with Tony Banks as their quarterback with a 5-1 record and one the best defenses in NFL history, the Ravens looked poised to have a dominant season. The offense would start to sputter, as they did not score a touchdown the entire month of October.

As Banks continued  struggled to put points on the board Brian Billick elected to go to Dilfer, who despite losing his first start, would lead the team to seven straight regular season victories and a 4-0 record in the postseason with a victory in Super Bowl XXV. The Ravens won in spite of Dilfer as he threw just three touchdown passes in the four postseason games.

The move to Dilfer was temporary as he would not be re-signed for the following season and the Ravens brought in Elvis Grbac.

1999 Minnesota Vikings – Jeff George for Randall Cunningham

Change: Week 6 Mid-game

Result: George lead Vikings to 8-2 regular season; 1-1 in playoffs. Lost in Divisional Round to Rams.

Cunningham came back to the NFL in 1997 with the Vikings after spending the 1996 out of football. In 1998 he led one of the greatest offenses in NFL history and guided the Vikings to a 15-1 record, before losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Atlanta Falcons, ending their Super Bowl hopes.

In 1999 Cunningham was not the same player he was the previous season, throwing nine interceptions in the team’s first six games. Cunningham turned the ball over twice in a week six match-up against the Lions, prompting Dennis Green to replace him with George in the second half.

George started the next 12 games for the Vikings and led the team to a wild card berth in the NFC playoffs. George won his first playoff game in the NFL with a 27-10 victory over the Cowboys before losing 49-37 to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Rams. George and the Vikings did not agree to terms on a new contract in the offseason and eventually signed with the Redskins. The Vikings moved on and made their second-year quarterback Daunte Culpepper the starter for the 2000 season.

1999 Buffalo Bills – Rob Johnson for Doug Flutie 

Change: Week 17 start

Result: Johnson goes 1-0 in regular season. Loses Wild Card Game to Tennessee Titans

This is one of the most bizare quarterback switches in NFL history. Johnson was traded to the Bills from the Jaguars in 1998 for a first and fourt round pick to be the starting quarterback as he signed a multi-million dollar deal and was named the starter immiedately . However, he battled injuries throughought his first season and took a back-seat to Doug Flutie who took over for him after a rib injury in Week 5. Johnson would miss several games and Flutie would perform strongly in his absence and took over as the team’s starter. The quarterback room would get tumultuous as Johnson said, “I’m not a back-up.” Flutie led the Bills to a 10-6 record, but a first round playoff exit would end the Bills season.

Flutie and Johnson were “Co-number ones” to start the 1999 season with Flutie ultimately winning the job and leading the team to a 10-5 record. Wade Phillips elected to sit Flutie for the regular season finale and Johnson led the Bills to an impressive win over the Colts who had won 11 in a row. Bills owner Ralph Wilson then met with Wade Phillips about the quarterback position and was convinced to start Johnson over Flutie in the Bills playoff game with the Tennessee Titans. The Bills lost to the Titans thanks to the famous Music City Miracle.

Despite Flutie playing better than Johnson throughout their entire tenure in Buffalo, after the 2000 season the Bills would cut Flutie.

Alex Del Barrio  and Matt Murphy can be heard on Saturday afternoons 4-7 pm  Follow Alex Del Barrio on Twitter: @alexdelbarrio

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