Being a backup quarterback is one of the toughest jobs in the NFL. You must stay ready without ever knowing if you'll get an opportunity, and when you do, it generally means your team's best player is hurt. It's a lot to handle.
I experienced life as a starter and backup during my career as an NFL quarterback. When your number is called as the No. 2 QB, you have to make believers out of the players in the huddle. When I went to the New York Giants to back up Eli Manning, I remember winning over the offensive linemen and wide receivers by extending plays to avoid sacks, giving playmakers a chance to gain yards.
Those are the kinds of qualities I looked for -- along with a proven ability to win games, of course -- when I evaluated QB2s for this exercise. We saw a number of backups take the field in Week 11, making this the perfect time to rank my top five backup quarterbacks in 2020. Qualifying players are non-opening day starters who aren't rookies, so guys like Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa weren't considered. Let's get to it.
Taysom Hill has lined up all over the field during his career. OK, maybe not at defensive tackle, but he's versatile, to say the least. In 46 games prior to his first NFL start as a quarterback on Sunday, Hill completed 10-of-18 pass attempts for 205 yards. In Week 11 against the Atlanta Falcons, Hill completed 18-of-23 pass attempts for 233 yards and rushed for two TDs. He made dynamic plays with his arm and legs in the Saints' win, and although he doesn't always look natural or smooth as a passer, his unique skill set gives the New Orleans offense an advantage over most defenses. It also helps that he has Sean Payton, the best play-caller in the league, on his side.
That said, I was surprised to see Hill drop back to pass in a few third-and-short situations early on against Atlanta. I'm not going to second-guess Payton, but the decision showed the coach's faith in Hill as a passer. I understand why Payton chose Hill over Jameis Winston to start the game given Hill's versatile skill set and most important, familiarity with the system.
It was stunning just to see Smith take the field again after 17 surgeries, so I'm in absolute awe of how well he's playing this season. He earned his first win in 742 days on Sunday and has thrown an accurate ball with nice touch and great anticipation in his two starts. With a strong arm and sharp decision-making, Smith is playing good football and has elevated those around him. Might Smith lead the Football Team to a huge win over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day? Remember, the race for the NFC East title is still wide open.
For the first time since Week 13 of the 2015 season, the Dallas Cowboys won a game with a starting quarterback not named Dak Prescott. Good on you, Andy, for stunning the Minnesota Vikings and keeping Dallas on the Eagles' heels in the division race. The veteran passer played well on Sunday after missing time due to a concussion and COVID-19, completing 68.8 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and a 104.0 passer rating. Dalton is making accurate throws and giving his talented skill-position players chances to make plays. Like Smith in Washington, Dalton should keep his job the rest of the way, barring injury, and give his team a good chance to win the division.
Believe it or not, Joe Flacco has played better than Sam Darnold in 2020. Need evidence? In five games (four starts), Flacco has a 55.2 percent completion rate, 864 pass yards, 6.4 yards per attempt, six TDs, three INTs, an 80.6 passer rating and has taken seven sacks. Darnold, in six starts, has completed 58.6 percent of his pass attempts for 1,045 yards, 5.5 yards per attempt, three TDs and six picks. He has a 65.9 passer rating and has been sacked 19 times. The Jets remain winless, but Flacco has made the team more competitive with his ability to limit errors and stretch the field.
Made the starter less than two hours before Sunday's kickoff when Teddy Bridgewater was officially ruled out, P.J. Walker did a fine job navigating Joe Brady's offense for a majority of the game. He did make a few significant mistakes, which is what you would expect from a player in his first NFL start. The 25-year-old former XFL QB threw for 258 yards, one TD and two picks in a 20-0 victory over Detroit. The thing I like about Walker is his mental makeup. He exudes confidence and his long road to the NFL has made him a gamer. His Week 11 performance proves that he belongs.
Top 15 Offensive Players
Each week in the 2020 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. Now, let's get to it -- the Week 12 pecking order is below.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week's rankings.
Patrick Mahomes recorded the seventh game-winning drive of his career (including playoffs) in Sunday night's battle with the Raiders. The seven-play, 75-yard drive was punctuated with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce with 28 seconds remaining to keep the Chiefs comfortably in the driver's seat for the AFC West title.
Alvin Kamara's stat line (13 carries, 45 yards, one TD; zero receptions on one target) in Sunday's win may not catch much attention, but it was his touchdown late in the first half that allowed Taysom Hill, who made his first career start at QB against the Falcons, and the Saints' offense to settle in. Wil Lutz's extra point after the 3-yard TD scamper gave the Saints their first lead of the game and one they wouldn't relinquish. It's moments like this that truly show Kamara's value.
Aaron Rodgers does a good job of getting all of his pass catchers involved but Davante Adams is still his favorite target. The veteran wideout hauled in seven catches for 106 yards and a touchdown on eight targets in Sunday's loss to Indianapolis, right in line with his league-leading average of 105.9 receiving yards per game. Adams also sits atop the league with the most touchdown receptions (eight) since Week 7.
Like he's done time and time again, Derrick Henry stepped up in the fourth quarter and overtime to lift the Titans to a 30-24 victory over the Ravens. After rushing for 44 yards on 18 carries (2.4 yards per carry) in the first three quarters, Henry posted 89 rushing yards on 10 carries (8.9 ypc) in the fourth quarter and overtime, including his game-winning, 29-yard touchdown run. This game was a microcosm of what Henry's done all season long, with 419 rush yards, 7.1 rush yards per carry and five rush TDs in the fourth quarter and overtime in 2020, compared with 660 rush yards, 3.9 yards per carry and four rush TDs in the first three quarters. The ideal closer comes through again.
Derek Carr played a great game against the Chiefs on Sunday night by repeatedly reading the defense and getting the Raiders' offense into the right play at the line of scrimmage. He gave his team a chance to win, throwing the go-ahead, 1-yard TD pass to Jason Witten with 1:43 remaining in the game. Yes, the Raiders suffered their fourth loss of the season but Derek's having a career year in several categories, including passer rating (108.7) and TD-to-INT ratio (19:3).
The fact that Dalvin Cook has recorded 746 scrimmage yards in his last four games to break Adrian Peterson's franchise record (740) for most in a four-game span tells you what you need to know about how he's playing. After logging 160 scrimmage yards in Sunday's loss to Dallas, Cook is on pace for 2,171 scrimmage yards and 23 scrimmage TDs this season. According to NFL Media Research, he would be the fourth player since 2000 to have at least 2,100 scrimmage yards and 23 TDs in a season, joining Hall of Famers Marshall Faulk (2000) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2006) and Priest Holmes (2002, 2003). Faulk and Tomlinson took home the MVP award in those seasons, but I doubt Cook walks away with the hardware given how rocky the Vikings have been this year.
Despite building a 28-14 lead at halftime, the Packers couldn't overcome costly turnovers, including Marquez Valdes-Scantling's fumble in overtime that set up the Colts' game-winning field goal. Rodgers was responsible for two of the Packers' four giveaways against the Colts' No. 1 defense, including his second interception in as many weeks (fourth on the season). Turnovers are contagious and we've seen how they have affected Russell Wilson's MVP campaign and Seattle's season over the last month. The Packers must nip this issue in the bud now.
In Thursday's loss to the Seahawks, which knocked them down the NFC West ladder, the Cardinals struggled to generate offense consistently due to penalties, Kyler Murray's up-and-down performance and Seattle's improved defense. DeAndre Hopkins finished with 51 receiving yards on five catches and has posted 100-plus yards in half of the Cardinals' games this season but never in consecutive weeks. That means he'll have a big game against Bill Belichick's defense in Week 12 if the trend continues.
Wilson knew the magnitude of Thursday's game and delivered the performance Seattle needed. After turning the ball over 10 times over his last four games, the Seahawks benefitted from the veteran's efficiency (zero giveaways) and a rejuvenated rushing attack and defense. After watching Seattle win with a balanced effort, it's safe to say that letting Russ cook isn't always the best answer.
Kyler Murray's throwing shoulder wasn't quite right for most of Thursday's loss to Seattle, and it was later diagnosed as an AC joint sprain. He played through the pain and actually got better as the game progressed. With no TDs and just 89 pass yards in the first half, Murray ended up finishing 29 of 42 for 269 yards, two touchdowns and a 102.2 passer rating, giving his team a chance down the stretch. Murray isn't expected to miss any time, a relief considering the Cardinals are in the thick of the playoff race.
Despite heading into their Week 11 bye after losing on a Hail Murray, the Bills have to feel good after watching all three of their AFC East rivals fall on Sunday while they were resting at home. I expect Josh Allen and Co. to get out to a fast start against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday to quickly regain that winning feeling.
Behind a porous offensive line, Tom Brady and the Bucs' offense struggled to get in sync for most of Monday night's loss to the Rams. We're still seeing communication errors between Brady and his offensive stars, and they proved costly against the Rams' No. 2 total defense as Brady threw two ugly interceptions. It seems like it's either feast or famine for the Bucs at this point in the season, which has to be a concern for a team eyeing a deep playoff run.
Stefon Diggs' confidence should be at an all-time high after his last time out. The rapport he's built with quarterback Josh Allen is impressive considering the limited offseason. With Diggs ranking second in receiving yards heading into Week 12, it feels like there are a lot of great things to come for Allen and Diggs.
The Steelers' defense deserves a lot of credit for Pittsburgh's first 10-0 start in franchise history, but Ben Roethlisberger deserves some love, too, for the campaign he's putting together in Year 17. The veteran passer has posted career-best marks through his first 10 games of a season in TD passes (24), giveaways (five) and sacks taken (10). He's showing that he can still go win a game at this stage in his career.