Even before Nate Sudfeld broke his wrist in the Eagles’ first preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, and even before Cody Kessler suffered a concussion in their second game against the Jaguars, the team’s situation at QB2 was cause for a bit of concern.
No matter how you feel about Carson Wentz and his abilities entering 2019 (and I believe we’re looking at a surefire MVP candidate this season), the lack of a veteran presence behind Wentz was apparent.
After a rookie season in which he played all 16 games, Wentz suffered that gruesome knee injury after 13 weeks of 2017 and missed the first two games and the final three games of 2018. And while I don’t believe Wentz is an “injury prone” player, it’s clear the Eagles have benefited greatly from having a quality QB playing behind him.
Sudfeld enters 2019 with 25 career regular season passing attempts to his name. That’s not a lot for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
And while it was the right thing to do to let Nick Foles walk to the Jaguars (the guy wanted to be a starter and would have cost an untenable amount of money), convincing Josh McCown to come out of retirement is a wise and prudent move for a team that has needed their back-up QBs in the past.
In fact, there have been a number of seasons in which the Eagles’ primary quarterback has been lost for extended periods of time. On many of those occasions, the Birds have managed to not only survive, but thrive. In others, well, cover your eyes.
So here are six (OK, seven) seasons in which back-up Eagles QBs shined and three in which they cost the team a chance at the postseason. In this piece, we’ll look at seasons starting with the Randall Cunningham era (1985-2018).
Nick Foles 2017-18
What, you were expecting Koy Detmer?
Obviously, when Foles took over for Wentz after their Week 13, NFC East-clinching victory over the Rams in Los Angeles, very few people thought the Birds’ back-up would be able to lead the team to a Super Bowl title. He was the reason the Eagles were underdogs in each of their three postseason games, but ultimately, he not only pulled a Jeff Hostetler, he far surpassed him.
(Cue the obligatory Super Bowl highlight video).
(And hey, let’s throw the NFC Championship Game highlights in here too.)
Then last year, it was deja vu all over again. After Wentz’ season ended because of a back injury, Foles won the last three games of the season, got some help from the Chicago Bears on the last day of the regular season (ha ha ha Minnesota Vikings!!!), beat that same Bears team the following week in the Wild Card round and narrowly missed leading a last minute comeback against the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round.
They were perhaps the greatest two seasons for a true back-up QB in NFL history, with the possible exception of Tom Brady’s second season in which he took over for Drew Bledsoe and won it all.
Nick Foles - 2013
Yep, Foles again.
In Chip Kelly’s first year as head coach, Mike Vick beat out Foles for the starting job and entered the ‘13 season as the starter. He got off to a magnificent start, too, with the Eagles taking a 33-7 lead against Washington before holding them off at the end. However, Vick lost three straight and then got hurt in Week 5 against the Giants.
Enter Foles, who went on to have one of the most remarkable seasons any quarterback has had in NFL history. In 13 games (10 starts), Foles completed 64.0% of his passes, threw for 2,891 yards and famously threw 27 TDs and just 2 interceptions, leading the Birds to a 10-6 record and a wild card berth.
Foles, of course, left with the lead in their wild card loss to the New Orleans Saints in the opening round of the postseason, but the ‘13 season ended that day at the Linc.
Jeff Garcia - 2006
Yes, Jeff Garcia was our baby.
Early in the 2nd quarter of their Week 12, 31-13 loss against the Titans, Donovan McNabb was pushed out of bounds and suffered a torn ACL that sidelined him for the rest of the season. Jeff Garcia entered the game and couldn’t do much in that contest or in the following week’s blowout loss to the Colts in Indianapolis.
There wasn’t much hope for the 5-6 Eagles but, just like last year, they rallied behind outstanding play from their back-up QB to finish 10-6 and win a wild card, beating three straight divisional opponents on the road to do so.
In the wild card game, the 9-7 Eagles won a close battle against the 8-8 Giants on a last-second David Akers field goal, 23-20. Garcia didn’t have a great game against New York, 17-for-31 for 153 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, but he managed the game and didn’t turn the ball over.
The following week, the Eagles went into New Orleans in the divisional round and, just like last year, came up just a bit short. Again, Garcia’s completion percentage was anemic (15-for-30), but he threw for 240 yards, tossed another touchdown and didn’t turn the ball over. In a back-and-forth game against a superior opponent, with a killer penalty that negated a first down with under two minutes remaining and a coward-like call by Andy Reid to punt on 4th and 10, the Birds’ magical late-season run ended.
Michael Vick - 2010
Some forget that, in the first season of the post-McNabb era, it was not Michael Vick who took the reigns immediately, it was their second-round pick Kevin Kolb. Kolb was drafted as the heir apparent to McNabb, but his reign was cut short when he was injured in the season opener against the Green Bay Packers.
Vick started Weeks 2 and 3 and played well, leading the Eagles to victories in both games. Kolb re-entered the starting lineup for the following four weeks and led the team to a 2-2 record, playing pretty darn well in those four games (QB rating of 87.5 over those four weeks with 1,011 yards, a 64.3% completion percentage and a 6/4 TD/INT ratio). However, Reid decided to go with Vick for the remainder of the season, as Vick was clearly the more talented and dynamic player.
Vick was, for that moment in the time, the most talented quarterback in franchise history. He went 8-3 for the Eagles that season, authored a comeback-for-the-ages against the Giants (Miracle at the New Meadowlands), and finished with a QB rating of 100.2.
However, he was not able to lead his team to a wild card victory over the Packers, going 20-for-36 for 292 yards and 32 yards rushing, scoring two total touchdowns in their 21-16 loss.
AJ Feeley - 2002
In 2002, the Eagles were clearly the best team in the NFC. They got off to a red-hot start, and were 6-3 entering a home contest against the Arizona Cardinals. That’s when disaster seemed to strike.
While running around in the pocket buying time, Donovan McNabb got his leg twisted under him on the Vet Stadium artificial turf and broke his ankle (although he stayed in the game after it was determined to be a sprain and he threw four touchdowns in the 38-14 win).
Koy Detmer was the team’s back-up that season and got the start the following Monday night in San Francisco. He was on fire to start for the first three quarters, leading the Eagles to a 28-10 lead until the unimaginable happened. He too went down with an injury, a dislocated elbow, that would cost the Eagles their back-up QB for the remainder of the season.
Unlike the two names on this list before him, AJ Feeley was the third string quarterback. His goal? To help the Eagles get that No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
In five starts, Feeley went 4-1, with the only loss being a final week defeat at the hands of the Giants in a game that didn’t matter. Feeley completed 55.8% of his passes, threw for 1011 yards and tossed 6 touchdowns with 5 interceptions.
Again, not amazing numbers, but remember, this was a third string quarterback. McNabb returned in time to win the team’s divisional round match-up against the Atlanta Falcons but played terribly in a home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, arguably the most painful loss in franchise history.
While Feeley didn’t play in a playoff game, he gets bonus points for doing all this as the No. 3 guy. Of course, revisionist history wonders if the same thing would have happened had Feeley continued to start throughout the playoffs. My guess? Feeley’s probably not beating the Bucs.
Rodney Peete - 1995
The 1995 season did not get off to such a great start.
Game 1 featured Ricky Watters’ “For who, for what?” comments. After a brutal 48-17 loss to the Raiders in Oakland, the team fell to 1-3 and Randall Cunningham was benched by first year head coach Ray Rhodes, who decided the long-time franchise QB was unable to operate in his West Coast offense.
Enter Rodney Peete, who didn’t have nearly the talent Cunningham had but seemed to be a better fit in Rhodes’ scheme. Peete, and the vaunted running duo of Watters and Charlie Garner, led the Eagles to four straight wins and a 9-3 record the rest of the way to a season-ending 11-5 record and the top wild card spot.
Peete’s QB rating was just 67.3 and he threw 8 TDs against 14 interceptions. An improved defense and a terrific running game were what really catapulted the Eagles into the postseason, but Peete did have an amazing wild card performance against the Lions, going 17-for-25 for 270 yards with 3 TDs and 0 interceptions, a QB rating of 143.3.
Unfortunately, he would get hurt early in the Eagles’ divisional round match-up against the Cowboys in Dallas. An unprepared Cunningham (he had left the team that week to be there for the birth of his child) took over in the 2nd quarter and the Eagles ‘95 season was smothered by a Dallas team that fell just short of the Super Bowl.
Jim McMahon/Jeff Kemp/Brad Goebel/Pat Ryan - 1991
Despite having one of, if not the greatest, defenses in NFL history this season, the 10-6 Eagles’ season ended when Green Bay’s Bryce Paup blew out Cunningham’s knee in the season opener.
Everything would have been fine if the back-up, Jim McMahon, had been able to stay healthy. But Jim was at the end of his rope here, and he took a beating behind a less-than-stellar offensive line. McMahon started 11 games and went 8-3 with just 12 TDs to 11 INTs, but it was the four games in which he didn’t start that the Birds’ season collapsed.
Brad Goebel was an undrafted free agent picked up by the Birds and was the first man up. He went 0-2 in his two starts. He went 9-for-20 and threw for 62 yards with 2 interceptions in a 14-13 loss to Tampa, then went 12-for-22 for 106 yards and 4 interceptions in a Week 7 13-6 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
It was as putrid as it sounds.
Jeff Kemp was playing in the final season of a 10-season career and started the final two games of the season, including the penultimate game that ended the Eagles’ chances of making the postseason. In a win-or-you’re-out game at the Vet against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16, Kemp went 18-for-37 for 150 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in a killer 25-13 loss. He got the meaningless “win” in the final week of the season over Washington, the eventual Super Bowl champs, although his stats were lousy in that game, too.
Had Randall not gotten hurt, and/or had McMahon been able to keep himself healthy, the Eagles might have won the Super Bowl. Instead, it became one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.
Bubby Brister/Ken O’Brien - 1993
As the city celebrated the ‘93 Phillies run to the World Series, the Eagles 1993 season collapsed after Cunningham once again saw his season end, this time due to a broken leg in New York against the Jets in Week 4.
The Birds had gotten off to a good start, running off a 4-0 record. Bubby Brister was the back-up that season, and things went south in a hurry. The Eagles lost six straight games to fall to 4-6 and eight out of nine.
Brister started in the losses in Weeks 5 and 6 but got hurt early in that Week 6 game against the Giants, making third string QB Ken O’Brien the starter. It was ugly.
At one point in his career, O’Brien was a quality QB for the Jets, but a 67.4 rating in five straight losses ended any hopes of the Eagles using that 4-0 start to reach the playoffs.
Mark Sanchez - 2014
Foles entered the ‘14 season as the starter and, while he wasn’t lights out, led the Eagles to a 6-2 record over the first half of the season. But when Foles went out in their Week 9 victory against the Texans, Mark Sanchez helped turn what seemed like a surefire NFC East title into a missed postseason opportunity in Kelly’s second season.
Sanchez completed 64.1% of his passes in his eight starts, but threw just 14 TDs against 11 INTs and finished with a QB rating of 88.4 (which was actually higher than Foles’ 81.4). A terrible performance in a home loss to the Cowboys in Week 15 and a killer interception in their crippling Week 16 loss in Washington helped lead to the Birds’ disappointing finish in 2014.
Of course, we remember Sanchez best for his unbelievably awful Thanksgiving Day outing against the Lions in Detroit the following season as Sam Bradford’s back-up, the game which ultimately got Chip Kelly run out of Philadelphia. “Feast” your eyes, if ye dare.
The Eagles, like most teams, have had a long and storied run with back-up QBs. Here’s hoping they never need to use theirs in 2019.