Three backup quarterbacks led their teams to surprising victories on Sunday — Mike White, Trevor Siemian and Cooper Rush — and a fourth reserve QB, Geno Smith, was magnificent in helping the Seahawks thrash an inferior Jaguars squad.
The first three backup QBs produced stunning performances that were very much unexpected under very different circumstances, and their success stories ended up being some of the biggest bright spots of NFL Week 8. Let’s take a closer look at the heroics of White, Siemian and Rush.
Mike White, the big underdog
The Jets were 11 1/2-point underdogs against the Bengals, the team sitting atop the AFC standings and riding high after last week’s statement road victory against the Ravens, and they had to turn to White for his first NFL start due to rookie Zach Wilson’s sprained knee. By game’s end, Jets fans at MetLife Stadium were chanting White’s name. In the stunning 34-31 victory, White threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns and set an NFL record for most completions in a debut start with 37 out of 45 attempts. He even caught a late 2-point conversion that pushed the lead to its final margin and sparked those chants of appreciation.
"At first, I kind of had to listen again,” White told reporters. “Like, are they chanting my name?”
The 26-year-old White, a Cowboys 2018 fifth-round pick from Western Kentucky, said he learned from his mistakes in the preseason and knew how important it was for him to “never be too high, never be too low.” And, as any backup quarterback will tell you, he was ready for his opportunity.
“I have an immense amount of faith in myself, and I think I can go out there and execute the offense and move the offense. And today was just an affirmation for it,” White said. “In my mind, I knew I was confident enough to be able to execute an offense.”
Trevor Siemian, the emergency replacement
Jameis Winston’s second-quarter knee injury, which Saints head coach Sean Payton called “significant,” necessitated the services of the 29-year-old Siemian, a former Broncos starter who last threw an NFL pass for the Jets in 2019. All Siemian had to do was go toe-to-toe with Tom Brady, and he ended up acquitting himself well, leading the Saints on five scoring drives that led to two touchdowns and three field goals in a 36-27 upset of the defending champion Buccaneers.
Siemian finished with 159 yards and one TD on 16-of-29 passing.
“It was fun,” Siemian told reporters. “You’re practicing so much. You play in the preseason, but your reps are so limited. I think I kind of lost a little bit of the sense of how fun it is when you’re out there in a huddle in the middle of a drive and you score. There’s a joy to this game that you can’t get chasing anything else. And I was kind of reminded of that.”
Payton confirmed that Taysom Hill, the usual backup QB who’s been in concussion protocol, would be the starter if Winston’s injury is severe. But for Payton and the Saints, it’s comforting to know that a veteran like Siemian is ready for duty at all times.
Cooper Rush, the mystery man
The fifth-year veteran with three career pass attempts and one career completion prepared all week like he would be starting for the Cowboys, but he didn’t know for sure until Dak Prescott tested his injured right calf during warmups. When Prescott couldn’t go, Rush — with his family and friends in the stands at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis — embraced the chance to make his first NFL start.
The 27-year-old overcame two turnovers to lead Dallas to a 20-16 victory over the Vikings. He completed 24 of 40 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns, including the winning 5-yard TD to Amari Cooper with 51 seconds left.
“It wasn’t crazy,” Rush told reporters. “I felt like I belonged out there. You’re breaking the huddle, getting to the line and going through your processes. It didn’t feel overwhelming at all.
“I haven’t played a lot, but being around the NFL, you’re practicing against those guys every day, and our defense is pretty good. … It never felt too big in terms of the speed. I felt like I was in command.”
Head coach Mike McCarthy said Rush played like “a seasoned veteran.” Rush’s numbers under pressure support that claim.
Best defensive performance
Saints. New Orleans continued its spell on Tom Brady that forces him into turnovers. As Bucs QB, he has committed eight turnovers in three games against the Saints — all losses. On consecutive drives in the first half, he fumbled on a strip sack by Cameron Jordan and was intercepted by C.J. Gardner Johnson, whose return helped set up a touchdown for a 16-7 lead. Any hope for a last-minute Tampa Bay winning field goal ended when Brady was picked off by P.J. Williams, whose 40-yard TD return secured the win for the 5-2 Saints, who trail the 6-2 Bucs by just a half game.
Best special teams performance
Broncos. When you’re a kicker named Chris Blewitt and three of your five field-goal attempts have been blocked this season, well, you’re a gift to opposing special teams units, headline writers and the internet. But let’s give the Broncos the credit they deserve for joining the Blewitt block party in a 17-10 win over Washington to snap a four-game losing streak. Shelby Harris battled down a 45-yard attempt in the second quarter, and Dre’Mont Jones got his hand on a 47-yard kick with nine minutes left and the game tied at 10.
Cooper Kupp’s incredible season is officially historic. With seven receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown in the Rams’ 38-22 rout of the Texans, Kupp now has a league-best 924 receiving yards and 10 touchdown catches, making him the first player in the Super Bowl era to eclipse 900 yards and 10 TDs in the first eight games of a season. But maybe it’s time to start talking about Kupp’s chances of breaking Calvin Johnson’s single-season receiving yards record of 1,964 yards set in 2012 with Matthew Stafford, the Rams’ current QB. Kupp’s 115.5 yard average puts him right at Johnson’s mark if he plays all 17 games.
Tee Higgins submits his entry for Catch of the Year.
Erik Harris lowers the boom on Robby Anderson for the clean pass breakup.
The 49ers’ rugby scrum pushes Elijah Mitchell into the end zone.
Pat Freiermuth keeps his concentration to complete this remarkable TD grab.
This Justin Fields touchdown run has to be seen to be believed.
DK Metcalf can make 6-foot cornerbacks look real small.
Adrian Phillips makes the diving pick for six against the Chargers, his former team.
Amari Cooper keeps his eye on the ball for this clutch fourth-quarter catch.