02/07 20:13 CST Mahomes, Hurts buoy Super Bowl teams amid QB injury spate
Mahomes, Hurts buoy Super Bowl teams amid QB injury spate
By JOSH DUBOW and HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Sports Writers
It matters that Patrick Mahomes is spectacularly talented, of course. Might
matter just as much that he is almost always available for the Kansas City
Same goes for the Philadelphia Eagles and Jalen Hurts.
Those are big reasons the Chiefs and Eagles will meet in the Super Bowl ---
with AP NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year finalists Mahomes and Hurts
taking the snaps --- on Sunday in Glendale, Arizona. Sure, the San Francisco
49ers nearly managed to make it all the way to the championship game with a
last-pick-of-the-draft rookie bumped all the way up to starter from No. 3 on
the depth chart because of injuries to others. But then Brock Purdy hurt his
elbow in the NFC title game at Philadelphia, leaving the Niners to try to rely
on journeyman Josh Johnson, until he got a concussion ... meaning Purdy needed
to go back in ... despite being unable to throw.
"That," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said, "was kind of just hard to stomach."
This season revealed, like never before, a glaring amount of instability at
quarterback in the NFL, whether because of injury --- the reason for nearly
half of all changes during the regular season, according to an AP analysis ---
or poor performance. A total of 68 QBs started at least one game, an average of
more than two per team and a record for a non-strike year.
What's more: 13 clubs, another high, needed to use at least three starters at
the most important position in this, or any, sport. Some even turned to four
--- with the Arizona Cardinals using that many starting quarterbacks in a span
of just four weeks.
Quarterback shuffling can go a long way toward altering a team's trajectory, as
the Jets, Titans and Panthers found out on their way to missing the playoffs.
The Dolphins made the postseason despite losing Tua Tagovailoa to a series of
concussions, then had backup Teddy Bridgewater dislocate his pinky, leaving
them with third-string rookie Skylar Thompson and his 18-for-45,
two-interception performance in their wild-card elimination.
"When you, as a defender, see a guy at quarterback who has not played a lot,
you are going to lick your chops and you assume he's not going to be in rhythm
and you assume he's not going to be ready to go," Hall of Fame defensive back
Ronnie Lott said. "Our coach, Bill Walsh, basically said, ?Hey, Ronnie, a
team's only as good as the backup quarterback, because if the backup
quarterback can't come in and do the things he needs to be able to do, a team
is going to be in trouble.'"
And keeping the starter upright is almost always needed for success.
The top five regular-season teams in the AFC, including the Chiefs, had their
No. 1 QB available for every regular-season game (and when Mahomes did leave a
playoff game with a bad ankle, Chad Henne came in and delivered, leading a
98-yard TD drive in what turned out to be a seven-point victory).
In all, nine of the 14 participants in the postseason never had to turn to a
backup QB to start.
The Eagles came close: Hurts missed two games with a bad shoulder; Philadelphia
went 0-2 with Gardner Minshew in his place.
Seems obvious: Having your preferred QB1 available week after week makes your
offense more likely to succeed. And that makes your team more likely to win.
Consider that the passer rating for QBs slated to be starters was about 10
points higher than for replacements. Or look at the Jacksonville Jaguars and
Trevor Lawrence: He stuck around for 17 games and closed with five wins in a
row --- three against the QB-troubled Jets or Titans --- to earn a playoff spot.
"It's certainly key, just because everybody continues to gel. You get the
chemistry together. The receivers know, ?If I run this route on this step, the
ball is going to be thrown to this point, just because we've done it a million
times,'" Jaguars offensive coordinator Press Taylor said. "You can understand
how (an injury absence) throws guys off."
Backup quarterbacks generally get zero practice time with the rest of the
first-team offense during the season, so when the top choice at that spot is
removed, there can be growing pains. Purdy was an exception, of course, and
there have been others.
"Sometimes when a quarterback goes down," Cowboys guard Zack Martin said,
"there's kind of a sense of panic in the locker room and on the team, like,
?What are we going to do?'"
Some of the season's dominant story lines involved sidelined QBs, from Miami's
Tagovailoa to Baltimore's Lamar Jackson to the reigning Super Bowl champion
Rams' Matthew Stafford, or efforts via officiating to protect them, whether the
outcry among defenders over roughing-the-passer calls or the 15-yard penalty on
Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai for shoving an out-of-bounds Mahomes that
helped KC get into position for the winning field goal in the AFC title game.
Lowering the number of quarterback injuries is "obviously a major priority for
us," said Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football
operations. "It's critical that we examine ... where they're coming from. Are
they legal hits? Are they in the pocket? Out of the pocket?"
Increased impatience when it comes to wins and losses accounts for some of the
switching --- the same sort of itchiness that leads to first-year coaches
But it seems to always come back to injuries.
One potential cause: Rushing attempts by signal-callers reached a record high
(2,309) and were also at their most per game, up 47% from 2012. That increases
the opportunities to get hurt. Another: The 1,297 total sacks around the NFL
were the third most ever and the average of 4.8 per game was the third-highest
over the last nine years. (As an aside, Mahomes and Hurts might want to watch
out on Super Sunday: The Eagles ranked No. 1, the Chiefs No. 2, in sacks.)
It's certainly possible, or at least plausible, that whatever the NFL does to
try to keep quarterbacks safe isn't working --- and, truly, can't work.
"At this point, you're hoping," Lott said, "your quarterback can withstand the
The 49ers under Shanahan are Exhibit A: The team kept one quarterback healthy
only once in his six seasons --- in 2019, when they just so happened to reach
the Super Bowl.
They went through at least three starters in four of the last six seasons; this
time, Trey Lance broke an ankle while running in Week 2 and Jimmy Garoppolo
broke his foot on a sack in Week 13.
"It's awesome," star tight end George Kittle said sarcastically. "It's an
experience. I just have a plethora of quarterbacks to choose from."
The rash of injuries for the 49ers and others raises the question of whether
the league should bring back some form of the 1991-2010 rule that let teams
have a third QB in uniform who would not count against the game-day roster
limit and would be available in an emergency.
"We were scared to death when that rule ended, but you kind of forget about it,
since you just don't see anyone have to go through it," Shanahan said. "But
then you get reminded of how quickly a football game is over once that happens."
The NFL's Vincent said there have been "multiple discussions" about restoring
the third quarterback rule, and the general manager advisory committee "is
considering" putting it before the full membership.
"What you don't want is Christian McCaffrey playing quarterback," Lott said,
referring to the 49ers' do-everything running back. "With all due respect ---
he's a hell of an athlete, but he needs to be where he is most effective, and
that is running and catching the ball, not playing quarterback."
AP Pro Football Writers Schuyler Dixon, Mark Long and Teresa M. Walker, and AP
Sports Writers Dave Skretta and John Wawrow contributed to this report.
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