“You’re only as good as your backup quarterback.” This was uttered by one of the commentators at some point during last night’s Thursday Night Football broadcast. It’s not a very accurate statement. The Seahawks are a much better team than Tarvaris Jackson is a quarterback (although as far as backups go, I think Tarvaris is just fine). And historically, the nineteen-nineties Cowboys were far superior to Jason Garrett and the Colts of the twenty-aughts were much better than both Jim Sorgi and Curtis Painter. The list goes on and on of great teams with mediocre to bad to downright awful backup quarterbacks. In fact, I suspect this is more the rule than the exception. I suspect most really good teams don’t waste a ton of resources on backup QBs; they just avoid using them altogether.
But, of course, sometimes this isn’t possible; sometimes it is true that you’re only as good as your backup quarterback; sometimes the second-stringer needs to take off his ball cap and headset and try to run the show. And sometimes it all works out. Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, and Tom Brady each went from unheralded reserve to Super Bowl MVP. But when the backup thing does work, this is usually how — a young kid gets his chance to shine and does. Rarely do you see a thirty-something, lifelong backup quarterback get a desperation start or two and suddenly turn into a top-shelf NFL talent. In fact, off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single example. The best I can come up with is Todd Collins, who, in 2007, at age 35, took over a 5-7 Redskins team from an injured Jason Campbell and won the next four games to squeak into the postseason. Much was made of Collins’ interception-less season (5 TD, 0 INT), which lasted until the first playoff game when he threw two fourth-quarter pick-sixes in a 14-35 loss (to the Seattle Seahawks, of course).
All of this is a very windy way to say, Kellen Clemens — the presumptive starting quarterback for the Rams in their Monday night game against the Seahawks — probably isn’t very good. (The spate of Brett Favre and Tim Tebow rumors also suggest this.) He’s probably never been good. Not in the NFL, maybe not even in college. He started at least one game* in all four of his seasons at the University of Oregon, but it was during a down period for the Ducks; it was the lull between Joey Harrington and Dennis Dixon, back when they would lose to the Huskies and Cougars, and they still wore green and yellow instead of … whatever it is they wear now.
Clemens wasn’t bad in college, but it was a stretch when the Jets nabbed him in the second round of the 2006 draft. He got a chance to start in 2007 when Chad Pennington slumped. It didn’t go well: 3-5 record, 52% completion percentage, 6.1 yards-per-attempt, 2-to-1 INT-to-TD ration. Clemens was again relegated to clipboard duty, and prior to this week, last I heard of him, he was on Hard Knocks having an awkward conversation with the Jets’ brass about how they would release him if he didn’t take a pay cut. Pro Football Reference tells me that since then he’s played six games for the Rams, but I certainly don’t remember any of them.
And all of this is a windy way to say that I see no realistic scenario in which the Seahawks lose on Monday. Yes, the Rams beat the ‘Hawks last year at home and played them tough as hell in Seattle. But they had their starting quarterback (who’s kinda, sorta, maybe halfway decent) and a top-10 defense. This season they have neither. Sam Bradford is on the shelf, and that excellent D deteriorated into one of the worst in the league. If this game is close, I’ll be shocked; if the Rams win, absolutely dumbfounded. I’m going Seahawks big here. My doppelganger is this one — just move it forward two years. Seahawks 30, Rams 13.
*I was in person to watch Clemens start as a freshman against Wake Forest in the Seattle Bowl. Do you remember the Seattle Bowl? It was a real thing once, I swear. The Ducks fell to the Demon Deacons and their NFL-bound fullback Ovie Mughelli 17-38.