The greatest games by NFL backup quarterbacks

Profile Picture: Danny Howard

October 27th, 2020

These guys may not have been elite gunslingers with Hall of Fame careers, but opposing defenses hated it when they came off the bench. Join us as we turn the spotlight on the greatest backup quarterbacks in NFL history and revisit their most memorable games.

5. Frank Reich

Reich was the longtime backup to Jim Kelly during the glory days of the Buffalo Bills, but he's best remembered for orchestrating the biggest comeback win in franchise history. With Kelly injured, Reich took on starting duties in the 1993 AFC Wild Card game against the Houston Oilers, who had a 32-3 lead in the third quarter. Undaunted, Reich commanded a remarkable comeback to defeat Houston 41-38 in overtime. The Bills advanced all the way to the Super Bowl that year, where they fell to the Dallas Cowboys.

4. Jeff Hostetler

"Hoss" had been riding the bench since being drafted by the Giants in 1985 and was ready to retire at the end of the 1990 season. However, when Phil Simms went down in Week 15, it was his time to shine. Hostetler would not only end the Joe Montana era in the NFC Championship Game, but he eventually won the Super Bowl as well. His postseason success led to a job with the Raiders, where he playing well enough as a starter to earn his first Pro Bowl appearance in 1994.

3. Jim Plunkett

The Hall of Fame debate rages on for Plunkett, the only QB to come off the bench twice in winning Super Bowl efforts. His regular season outings for the Patriots, 49ers, and Raiders were largely forgettable, but he came up big when his team needed him the most, and was even named MVP of Super Bowl XV after throwing for 261 yards and three touchdowns.

2. Nick Foles

After briefly retiring and then stinking it up with the Chiefs, Nick Foles returned to the Philadelphia Eagles for a second tour of duty in 2017 to fill in for the oft-injured Carson Wentz. Running plays in a familiar scheme, Foles played the best football of his career, which cumulated in a Super Bowl MVP in the Eagles’ 41-33 victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

More recently, Foles replaced embattled Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky and has helped turn Chicago into legitimate contenders.

1. Earl Morrall

Morrall is easily the best quarterback to come off the bench, and it isn’t even close. He won three Super Bowls, guided the 1972 Dolphins to a perfect season, and even won a league MVP in 1968 all from the QB2 position. While his statistics are pedestrian by today's standards, Morrall was an unquestionable winner and never failed to rise to the occasion.

Morrall's greatest moment as an NFL backup quarterback came during Super Bowl V, when he replaced injured starter Johnny Unitas during the second quarter and propelled the Baltimore Colts to a 16-13 comeback win by completing seven of his 15 passes.