Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

15 Oct 2013

Disaster in the Making

History buffs: relive some of the worst quarterback disasters of the modern era! I use the Bills situation as an excuse to go back and look at the 1984 Bears, 1991 Eagles, and other teams that had to call people off the golf course or out of the office supply superstore to play quarterback. Jim McMahon's injury reports make up 35% of the word count.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 15 Oct 2013

44 comments, Last at 19 Oct 2013, 6:07pm by nweb


by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 11:38am

Enjoyed this as several of these were before my time. My nomination would be the 2010 Cardinals as they were the biggest train wreck at QB that I can personally recall.

That was the year that Matt Leinart looked to finally have the job since Warner was retired. Leinart looked fairly decent in the first couple exhibition games but was suddenly cut halfway through the preseason. (Talked back to Whisenhunt one two many times? Was messing with somebody's wife or daughter?) That left them with Derek Anderson and John Skelton, both of whom had looked horrible during preseason...and neither would improve when the real games started.

Anderson, Skelton and Max Hall all started games and somebody named Richard Bartel played part of one game and managed to be the only guy to finish above 51% completions for the year. The best QB rating between all of them was a 65 and they combined for just 10 TDs vs 19 interceptions while getting sacked 50 times. And that was with Larry Fitzgerald pulling in 90 passes for over 1,100 yards. Imagine what those numbers could have been with a decent QB. Conversely, without Fitz that group may not have completed a pass all year.

by Tony_D (not verified) :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 11:54am

I heard a 49ers fan say, apparently sober and totally serious, that the Niners wouldn't miss Alex Smith as a backup because he thought Skelton was just as good.

by yshah21 :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 12:07pm

2010 Carolina Panthers: Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen, Brian St. Pierre, Tony Pike, Keith Null...*shudders*

by Ryan D. :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 12:30pm

2007 Panthers: Jake Delhomme, David Carr, Matt Moore, and Vinny Testaverde. Testaverde, at 43 years of age, was signed mid-week, and started a road game in Arizona 4 days later. The Panthers won 25-10. Yikes.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 1:03pm

If I remember correctly those Panthers, in mid-season, dragged St. Pierre away from his job as stay-at-home dad and inserted him as the starter that very same week.

by Ted (not verified) :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 12:32pm

2005 49ers

This group was led by rookie Alex Smith -- one of the worst QB's of all time by VOA. Through a combination of truly terrible play and injuries, 3 QB's also started that season:
Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, and punt-gunner/part-time bullrider Cody Pickett.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 3:16pm

I would like to nominate either the 1988 or 1989 Detroit Lions. In '88 passes were attempted by Chuck Long (the Joey Harrington of his era), Eric Hipple (he was the next great hope 7 years prior), and something named Rusty Hilger. Combined QB rating 55. Contemporary analysts said that this team was in the running for worst offense of all time (I guess we'll find out next offseason when 1988 DVOA comes out!).

In 1989, the Lions had Rodney Peete, 1987-strike-refugee Bob Gagliano, Chuck Long (still on the roster?), and Eric Hipple (still on the roster!?). Mind you this team ran the pass-happy Run and Shoot offense with those gentleman, and a bunch of receivers nobody every heard of...with rookie Barry Sanders in the backfield (Sanders and respectable defense dragged them to a 7-9 record). Talk about refusing to adjust scheme to fit your personnel.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 4:10pm

John Witkowski (???) also threw a pass as a QB, apparently. This doesn't count a fake punt attempt (0-1) and one by fullback(!) James Jones, who was basically toast after 1986.

The real story of the 1988 Lions was that as badly as they threw the ball, they ran it even more incompetently.

They played Minnesota twice in 1988, and totally 149 yards. Combined. On the bright side, they passed for 21 yards in the first game, and doubled it in the second!

by Travis :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 4:22pm

John Witkowski's one pass with the Lions was critical, too - he came in on the Lions' final drive of regulation in a 10-10 game against the Giants when Hilger was injured. The Lions clearly had no confidence in him - they ran on both 1st&21 and 3rd&18, basically just trying to run the clock out until overtime.

Witkowski then fumbled on a handoff attempt on the first play of overtime, giving the Giants the ball on the Lions' 22. Three plays later, the Giants kicked the winning field goal.

Witkowski was released 19 days later and never played in the NFL again.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 5:02pm

Wow, I didn't know that. That's amazing(ly incompetent).

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 5:05pm

"The real story of the 1988 Lions was that as badly as they threw the ball, they ran it even more incompetently."

My dad told me that Gary James would run with his eyes closed. When I laughed, he didn't crack a smile and said, "I'm not joking."

by nweb (not verified) :: Sat, 10/19/2013 - 6:07pm

Actually Bob Gagliano was acquired because he had played in that exact scheme for Mouse Davis for the Denver Gold of the USFL who was the Lions' new OC in '89 bringing the run 'n shoot, That's the scheme fit. Peete was a rookie, if he played reasonably then OK, if not a backup with specific experience in the scheme Gagliano was a good option (the other USFL QB with specific experience starting a season in the run 'n shoot wasn't available, busy running a variant of the same scheme but calling it the K-Gun). Also, there was some rationale that Gagliano could also help tutor Peer in the scheme. When they did acquire a QB in the draft with run 'n shoot experience a couple years later that worked out even worse for them.

So all in all, while there is some degree of scheme dependence at QB, I'm not sure the failure of the run n shoot at Detroit was the proof of that. Combined with Warren Moons' success in Houston it strikes me as evidence that good QB's play well and bad QB's don't.

by Nevic (not verified) :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 1:15pm

I am too young to remember that 1984 Bears season, but I loved the part about McMahon playing long enough for the Bears to get ahead, then getting replaced before he could get hurt more. Can you imagine any team doing that today?!?

by tuluse :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 1:19pm

In 85 they did the opposite in one game. McMahon was sitting because he was hurt, but they Bears were losing to the Vikings, so he got sent in to lead the comeback.


by justanothersteve :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 3:22pm

I didn't remember it being the SB year, but that was a great game. It was nationally televised. The Bears could do nothing on offense, so McMahon came off the bench (he may have had his arm in sling, but my memory is a bit hazy) and launched a bomb to Willie Gault for a TD. He somehow played the rest of the game.

by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 3:11pm

Will definitely read this M. Tanker story while eating some pork skin tacos in a few hours form now. Illw comment at that timd

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 3:19pm

"M. Tanker" sounds like a character from that old video game Street Fighter.

by Theo :: Wed, 10/16/2013 - 5:40pm

What do you mean "old". It's in my SNES right NOW.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Thu, 10/17/2013 - 2:55pm

The fact that it's in an SNES makes it old. I say that as someone who still owns a functioning Atari 2600.

by theslothook :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 5:49pm

I notice Raiderjoe didn't misspell pork skin tacos. I just have to ask, where in the hell are you getting pork skin RJ?

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 6:00pm

The scarier implication is that "pork" is actually a mispelling, and he's having [something else]-skin tacos.

by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 6:12pm

Authentic Mexican restaurant sells them. Also like the tongue tacos ((lengua) but usually jist load up on pork skin ones

by theslothook :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 6:22pm

I live in the southbay. The most exotic one's I have seen are tongue and cabeza. What's the restaurant you get them at?

by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 8:52pm

Don't liev in Californja

by JoeHova :: Thu, 10/17/2013 - 2:14am

They're called chicharrĂ³n and are fairly common in Mexican restaurants (even here in Minneapolis). They're pork rinds.

by Raiderjoe :: Sat, 10/19/2013 - 1:45am

Not chicarron. Lolkig at mebu now. Called cueritos.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 8:14pm

The 2006 Tampa Bay Buccaneers with an asterisk. First, three games of Chris Simms with 1 TD, 7 INT, ended when Julius Peppers hits him and literally almost kills him, rupturing his spleen. Then, rookie Bruce Gradkowsi. Vaguely respectable 9/9 TD/INT ration through 11 games started, but only 5 yards/attempt; that was the checkdowniest year of checkdowns ever checkdowned. Then, for the asterisk, two games of Tim Rattay, where he plays the best of his life. 4 TDs, two picks over the last three games combined, including my asterisk-making game against Cleveland; in a late-season game against the Browns, Rattay manages to play well enough to win. Why is this important? Because of that @#$!! win, Cleveland picked 3rd in that draft and took Joe Thomas. Tampa picked 4th, and took Gaines Adams.


So, asterisk.

by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 8:51pm

68 Buff Bills so much ibjuriess at QB that Ed Rutkowski had to start 3 games as QB

by Osual (not verified) :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 9:01pm

2004 Bears. Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson, Jonathan Quinn, Rex Grossman.

by arias :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 10:28pm

Gotta think the 1992 Seahawks has to be around the top of any list of QB disasterships with one of the worse offensive DVOAs ever. After trading a 1st round pick for Kelly Stouffer he started 5 games and looked a lot like Matt Flynn did in his sole Raiders start. Mark's brother and 1st round bust Dan McGuire took over the next game and got injured. So Seattle was left with journeyman Stan Gelbaugh save for two games when he got hurt and the musical chairs went back to the inept Stouffer again.

To top it off they were starting rookie tackle Ray Roberts who was the 10th pick in the first round that year but couldn't block anyone to help out the comically bad QB situation. Roberts ended up having a solid 9 season career for the Seahawks and later Detroit. But you never would have predicted it based on his performance that year. He was just awful.

1st receiving option Brian Blades missed 10 games so lazy bust Tommy Kane ended up being the "feature" wideout most of the season. But the leading receiver was the fullback John L Williams. Dump off passes were the only things these poorly poised signal callers could pull off and execute.

Horrible horrible QB position disaster in the making that year. It was gory.

by TomKelso :: Tue, 10/15/2013 - 11:27pm

The 1999 Ravens need to be on this list somewhere -- the defense was better than it would be the next season, and it had to be.

The QB's included Eric Zeier and Stoney Case -- Tony Banks was looked on as an UPGRADE. There is no better definition of wretched.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 10/16/2013 - 8:51am

Wasn't Scott Mitchell in there somewhere? Or was that a different year?

by TomKelso :: Wed, 10/16/2013 - 9:34am

You are correct; it was Mitchell, not Zeier. Zeier and Jim Harbaugh had already flamed out by 1999.

Has any team had as much success in the Super Bowl era with a QB collection as bad as the Ravens? Anthony Wright actually started a playoff game for them; outside of John Fourcade, there may not have been a worse black hole of suck at the helm of a playoff team, aside from one-game injury replacements.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 10/16/2013 - 9:52am

The Lions gave them Scott Mitchell, but the Ravens got even with Stoney Case, who will always have a special place in the heart of Detroit fans. In week 17 of 2000, Case came in for an injured Charlie Batch and got sack/fumbled, blowing what should have been a win over an awful Bears team, costing the Lions a playoff spot. Ownership then blew everything up and ushered in the Matt Miller Error, er, I mean Era.

Why the front office thought having Stoney Case as the backup was a good idea when Batch was so injury-prone still boggles my mind.

by TomKelso :: Wed, 10/16/2013 - 2:18pm

Heck, the Ravens got him from Indianapolis -- that should have told them something. Before the Golden Boy, Indy was especially cursed at quarterback.

It's a pity Stoney didn't spread his particular blend of grit, the ability to derange otherwise sane coaches, and knack for destructive turnovers to every franchise. There are those who claimed he later played under the name Quincy Carter, but I refuse to believe that.

by Jerry :: Wed, 10/16/2013 - 5:34pm

Of course, Stoney was Permian's quarterback shortly after Buzz Bissinger wrote Friday Night Lights.

by Bobman :: Fri, 10/18/2013 - 2:14am

As for the Colts, Art Schlichter alone could have made this list. #4 pick, beaten out by the adequate Mike Pagel, burned through his signing bonus by midseason, then the strike hit and his world really spiraled out of control. I blame Schlichter for that strike. In three games his rookie year (no starts) he racked up 0 TDs, 2 picks, and a 40 passer rating, slightly below his career rating of 42.6. An AV of 1.

Mike Pagel, also a rookie that year (4th round), "led" the Colts to their only winless season, 0-8-1 in nine starts. Though his stats were okay for a 4th round rookie starter--5 TDs 7 INTs and a 62.4 passer rating, very near his career rating of 63.3. An AV of 6.

When you have two rookie QBs who "lead" your team to a winless season, and have bad stats that are roughly their career average (i.e. they never really get better) you are in a sorry state. Of course all that set them up to draft ANOTHER QB in the first round, #1 if I recall, the next draft, but of course he elected to gouge his eyes out with hot pokers (er, that is, threaten to play for the Yankees) instead of QB the Colts, which was his ticket to become the patron saint of the State of Colorado. That Elway kid has a future I tell you. And that Schlichter guy sure as hell has a past.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 10/16/2013 - 7:59am

I've got to put together a 1974 Packers QB story. Not to belittle any of the others, but there are few QB disasters that set back a team for several years like that debacle. It's more than just the John Hadl trade.

by Theo :: Wed, 10/16/2013 - 5:45pm

If anything happens to Henne in Jacksonville...

by LionInAZ :: Thu, 10/17/2013 - 12:29am

Doesn't matter. Jax's QB disaster began and ended with Blaine Gabbert.

by frievalt :: Wed, 10/16/2013 - 9:10pm

.5 ppr 14 team league - anyone think Stevie Johnson has a reasonable chance of producing like a top 30 fantasy WR?

by wr (not verified) :: Fri, 10/18/2013 - 1:23am

How could one the Bobby Douglass Bears teams not make this list?

by Bobman :: Fri, 10/18/2013 - 1:43am

Fun stuff! Van Brocklin sounds like... oh never mind.

Update on Hugh Millen. In addition to calling local Seattle games (Dawgs or Hawks, I forget) he also coaches youth football, where his 7th grader's team regularly pastes the snot out of my 7th grader's team. At one point they were 29-0 over 3 seasons before losing the championship last year. Coaching matters, kids.

by Erik_V (not verified) :: Fri, 10/18/2013 - 12:59pm

I nominate the 2001 Cowboys who started Quincy Carter, Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner (who turned a 24-7 half-time lead over the Giants into a loss by throwing four picks) and
Anthony Wright. But really, Ryan Leaf???