Quarterback merry-go-rounds

All indications are that the Redskins will turn to Quarterback No. 3 this season – Colt McCoy – when they face the first-place Cowboys on Monday night in Dallas. Robert Griffin III is still working his way back from the dislocated ankle he suffered in Week 2, and backup Kirk Cousins has buried himself beneath a pile of interceptions and fumbles (11 in barely more than five games). Since Sonny Jurgensen can’t run the zone-read, McCoy is about the only option coach Jay Gruden has left.

Generally speaking, a team’s third quarterback is somebody who should be seen and not heard. And if the situation gets even worse and that team has to go to its fourth guy, well, it might want to consider punting on first down. When the Cardinals, for example, started four QBs in 2012 — John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer — they finished last in the NFC West (5-11) and next-to-last in the league in scoring (15.6 points a game). Pretty typical.

Still, not every team that jumps on the Quarterback Merry-Go-Round bottoms out the way Arizona did (and the Redskins might ultimately do). Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present:


● 1984 Bears (10-6, lost NFC title game to the 49ers) — Coach: Mike Ditka. Starting QBs (5): Jim McMahon* (7-2), Steve Fuller (2-2), Greg Landry (1-0), Rusty Lisch (0-1), Bob Avellini (0-1).

● 1986 Bears (14-2, lost first playoff game to the Redskins) — Coach: Ditka. Starting QBs (4): Mike Tomczak (7-0), McMahon* (6-0), Fuller (0-2), Doug Flutie (1-0).

● 1988 Browns (10-6, lost first playoff game to the Houston Oilers) — Coach: Marty Schottenheimer. Starting QBs (4): Bernie Kosar* (6-3), Mike Pagel (2-2), Don Strock (2-0), Gary Danielson (0-1).

● 2003 Broncos (10-6, lost first playoff game to the Colts) — Coach: Mike Shanahan. Starting QBs (4): Jake Plummer* (9-2), Steve Beuerlein (1-1), Danny Kanell (0-2), Jarious Jackson (0-1).

● 1991 Eagles (10-6, missed playoffs) — Coach: Rich Kotite. Starting QBs (4) Jim McMahon (8-3), Jeff Kemp (1-1), Brad Goebel (0-2), Randall Cunningham* (1-0).

● 1988 Patriots (9-7, missed playoffs) — Coach: Raymond Berry. Starting QBs (4): Flutie (6-3), Steve Grogan* (1-3), Tony Eason (1-1), Tom Ramsey (1-0).

*started opener

Note: 1987 strike season (which featured replacement players) not included.

Ditka’s head-coaching career, quarterbacks-wise, was just amazing. Only once in his 14 seasons did one of his QBs start all 16 games — 1991, when Jim Harbaugh went the distance. The rest of the time, Iron Mike averaged 2.9 starting quarterbacks a year. Yet he continued to win, usually big, because he had such an outstanding defense. Could he get away with that today, with the game even more tilted toward passing? Hard to imagine.


Year Team (W-L) QB Starters
1982 Bears (3-6) 2 Jim McMahon, Bob Avellini
1983 Bears (8-8) 2 McMahon, Vince Evans
1984 Bears (10-6) 4 McMahon, Steve Fuller, Greg Landry, Rusty Lisch, Avellini
1985 Bears (15-1) 2 McMahon, Fuller
1986 Bears (14-2) 4 Mike Tomczak, McMahon, Fuller, Doug Flutie
1987 Bears** (11-4) 2 McMahon, Tomczak
1988 Bears (12-4) 3 McMahon, Tomczak, Jim Harbaugh
1989 Bears (6-10) 2 Tomczak, Harbaugh
1990 Bears (11-5) 2 Harbaugh, Tomczak
1991 Bears (11-5) 1 Harbaugh
1992 Bears (5-11) 3 Harbaugh, Peter Tom Willis, Will Furrer
1997 Saints (6-10) 4 Heath Shuler, Billy Joe Hobert, Danny Wuerffel, Doug Nussmeier
1998 Saints (6-10) 4 Kerry Collins, Wuerffel, Billy Joe Tolliver, Hobert
1999 Saints (3-13) 3 Tolliver, Hobert, Jake Delhomme

**Replacement quarterbacks excluded.

Makes your head spin, doesn’t it? During his time with the Bears, of course, Ditka was competing for NFC supremacy against Bill Walsh (49ers, 1979-88), Joe Gibbs (Redskins, 1981-92) and Bill Parcells (Giants, 1983-90), all of whom won multiple Super Bowls. Just to compare: Walsh had six starting QBs in his decade in San Francisco, Gibbs six in his dozen years in Washington (the first time around) and Parcells four in his eight years in New York. Ditka, meanwhile, had 11 in his 11 seasons in Chicago, more than Walsh and Parcells (or Gibbs and Parcells) combined.

Say what you will about Iron Mike as a coach, his career was certainly unique. He won 121 regular-season games, one Super Bowl and went to three NFC championship games despite a virtual revolving door at the most important position on the field (thanks to Mike Singletary, Dan Hampton and the gang). It may never happen again.

Mike Ditka and Jim Harbaugh, the only quarterback who started an entire season for him.

Mike Ditka and Jim Harbaugh, the only quarterback who started an entire season for him.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

One thought on “Quarterback merry-go-rounds

  1. Jeff

    Interesting that McMahon appears in 3 of the 6 seasons and that those teams went 21-5 with him starting but only 13-7 without him. It’s a shame he was so injury prone.

Comments are closed.