If both Nick Foles and Nate Sudfeld were to get knocked out of the divisional playoff game next Saturday, who would step in at quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles?
By all reports it would be Trey Burton. The Eagles’ 4th-year tight end played quarterback at Florida as a freshman. He even broke Tim Tebow’s school record by throwing six touchdown passes in a game. But Burton wound up playing tight end and running back as well as QB during his college career. Although he has learned the Eagles’ playbook as a tight end, old habits are helpful. “I played quarterback in college and high school,” Burton said. “So I always have that built into my brain. I learn the playbook that way.” Burton said he doesn’t get any practice reps at quarterback.
What if Burton gets hurt and has to leave the game? Short of Doug Pederson himself suiting up, I would imagine you’d have to go with one of your running backs taking direct snaps from center the rest of the way.
According to Allen Wiener of The Sports Cheat Sheet, there were three notable times when position players — running backs and defensive backs — have had to come in when the starter and his backups went down with injuries. In one such case, the team had the NFL championship on the line.
1. Brian Mitchell, Washington Redskins
In what is known as “The Body Bag Game” of 1990, the Washington Redskins surrendered eight players to injuries when they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 28-14. Among the casualties: starting quarterback Jeff Rutledge and his backup Stan Humphries. Mark Rypien, the team’s No. 1 QB, was injured earlier in the season.
Brian Mitchell, a rookie running back and punt returner who played behind center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (and later moved to the Eagles), entered the game as the Redskins quarterback. He went three for five for 40 yards and scored one touchdown rushing. After subbing as an emergency quarterback, Mitchell excelled as a kick returner; he is second to Jerry Rice on the all-purpose yards list with 23,330. Mitchell played for the Washington for nine years, and ended his career in 2004, signing a one-day contract with the team so he could retire a Redskin.
2. Tom Matte, Baltimore Colts
In 1965, both the legendary Johnny Unitas and backup Gary Cuozzo were injured. Coach Don Shula called on running back Tom Matte to start against the Los Angeles Rams with the NFL championship on the line. Matte, a halfback who played for Ohio State, threw only two passes and ran for 99 yards. Matte went on to play in the tiebreaker game for the championship against Green Bay, losing in overtime 13-10.
Back in 1965, the teams that finished third and fourth in the standings played for third place rights, and Coach Shula — with nothing to lose — allowed Matte to move from running QB to passing QB. Things worked out for Matte and the Colts as he threw for 165 yards on the way to a 35-3 win over the Dallas Cowboys. The dynamic player ended his career with 4,646 yards rushing and 2,869 yards receiving. In 1969, he led the NFL with 11 touchdowns and 1,422 yards from scrimmage.
3. Tony Dungy, Pittsburgh Steelers
In October 1977, Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw and his backup Mike Kruczek were injured in a game with the then-Houston Oilers. Pittsburgh coach Chuck Noll tabbed rookie defensive back Tony Dungy to become the team’s emergency quarterback. A quarterback at the University of Minnesota, Dungy was undrafted. However, he made the team as a replacement defensive back and special teams player.
He steered the team through the fourth quarter in a 27-10 loss against the Oilers. Subsequently, Dungy holds the dubious record of being the only player in NFL history to make an interception and throw for one in the same game. For his efforts, the Super Bowl-winning coach for the Indianapolis Colts — and a standout defensive back — was three for eight for 43 yards. Dungy threw two interceptions and fumbled a snap, but happily completed passes to Lynn Swan and John Stallworth.
For your Wild Card Weekend viewing reference:
All Times Eastern
Saturday, January 6
Studio and Pregame Shows
AFC Wild Card, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO
Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs — ESPN/ABC/Westwood One Radio
NFC Wild Card, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams — NBC/Westwood One Radio
Sunday, January 7
Studio and Pregame Shows
AFC Wild Card, EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL
Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars — CBS/Westwood One Radio
NFC Wild Card, Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, LA
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints — Fox/Westwood One Radio