With AFC playoff picture in focus, game of musical quarterbacks begins – Los Angeles Times
For half of those teams with a ticket to the postseason, the future is hopelessly fuzzy.
New England, Pittsburgh and Kansas City are fine. But Oakland, Houston and Miami are all down to their second-string quarterbacks.
Now, the game of musical quarterbacks.
The Raiders appear to be in the most dire situation after their dream of a season. Their leader, quarterback Derek Carr, underwent surgery Sunday for a broken fibula suffered in Saturday’s victory over Indianapolis.
Though still on track for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye, the Raiders have handed the keys to the offense to Matt McGloin, who hasn’t started a game since 2013 and has as many career interceptions (11) as touchdowns.
“Teams have to find a way to pick up and move on,” said Coach Jack Del Rio, whose 12-3 Raiders are Oakland’s first winning team since 2002. “We’ll rally around the next guy as best we can.”
The Dolphins have done that well. They lost Ryan Tannehill to a knee injury on Dec. 11, but have played well with backup Matt Moore at the helm. They scored 34 points each in wins over the New York Jets and Buffalo the past two weeks, with Moore compiling six touchdowns and two interceptions in those games.
Tannehill is out of a cast and walked around the locker room Saturday without crutches, fueling hopes that he might be able to return for the playoffs.
The Texans, meanwhile, changed quarterbacks by choice. Coach Bill O’Brien benched the struggling Brock Osweiler, even though Houston signed the former Denver backup to a deal worth $18 million a season. Tom Savage made his first career start Saturday in Houston’s 12-10 victory over Cincinnati, with the Texans clinching their second consecutive AFC South title.
Savage completed only two passes for 13 yards in the first half, but started to click in the second. He finished with 176 yards, and did his job well enough to not get in the way of a victory.
“It was just taking a deep breath and realizing what we have on defense, what they’re doing for us,” Savage said. “All week it’s just protect the ball and find a way to win and that’s what we did. The guys really rallied around me and made some huge plays for me.”
Writing off teams is a risky proposition, even with all the quarterback problems. Lots of teams that are either in the playoffs or on the bubble looked like flops earlier this season.
Sunday, the Steelers proved they too can rebound. They had lost four in a row earlier this season and looked nothing like a franchise headed back to the playoffs.
The enduring message: In the NFL, it’s not who can start strong, but who can finish.
For instance, the Broncos started 4-0, then lost seven of their next 11.
It was hardly a breeze for the Steelers on Sunday, as Ben Roethlisberger was picked off twice in the third quarter, deep in Pittsburgh territory.
“I kind of dug ourselves a hole,” the Steelers quarterback said. “I take all that blame.”
Roethlisberger atoned for his mistakes with a pair of late touchdowns, the clincher a four-yard toss to Antonio Brown who just stretched the ball across the goal line with nine seconds to play. That ended a four-game losing streak to the Ravens and gave Pittsburgh its second division crown in three years.
“It’s pretty special the way we won it,” Roethlisberger said. “Especially after feeling the way I felt at a certain point in that game and feeling like you let guys down and you blew it.”
Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said his players have a “no-blink mentality” that has helped them recover from setbacks.
Redemption has been an overarching theme this season. Only a handful of teams have consistently kept their foot on the gas week after week.
The Chiefs have been solid, but they have yet to prove they have anything more than warning-track power when it comes to carrying regular-season excellence into the postseason.