Sam Bradford is out for the year with a torn ACL, and to paraphrase former Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino, “Kurt Warner isn’t walking through that door.”
So, what do we have to look forward to? If the past is any indication, the last nine games for the Rams could be grisly. Since the franchise moved to St. Louis, backups aside from Warner have had to make 49 starts due to injury to the starter, and the Rams’ record in those games is 14-35. And even some good guys have struggled as backups here. In 1995, former Super Bowl champ Mark Rypien went 0-3 after Chris Miller went down. At the end of the ’98 season, Tony Banks got hurt and Steve Bono, who had led Kansas City to a 13-3 record in ’95, went 0-2.
Of course, in 1999 Trent Green went down with a torn ACL during the preseason, and we saw the greatest backup story of all time unfold as Warner led the Rams to the Super Bowl and started a Hall of Fame career. Warner had spent a year with the team, and nobody realized what they had. He hadn’t played meaningful snaps in the NFL. He turned out to be a revelation.
When Warner went down in 2000, Green led the Rams to a 2-3 mark. The greatest success story among backups was Marc Bulger, who took over for Warner in 2002 and started off 6-1 before getting hurt himself. Jamie Martin then went 0-2 before the immortal Scott Covington won the finale over San Francisco.
I’m not going to count Bulger again in 2003 because, as it turns out, Warner wasn’t hurt and Bulger was already the de facto starter. Coach Mike Martz was just waiting for a reason to put him in.
Since then, Chris Chandler went 0-2 in ’04 and, after his second game, prompted Martz to say, “It’s tragic for this football team, for that position to hold this whole football team hostage, but that’s where we are.”
Martin returned to go 4-1 in Bulger’s stead in ‘05, but Martin’s injury forced Ryan Fitzpatrick into the starter’s position and he went 0-3. In 2007, Gus Frerotte went 1-2 and Brock Berlin 0-1. Green came back in ’08 and lost his only start. Kyle Boller and Keith Null each went 0-4 in ’09, and in 2011 A.J. Feeley went 1-2 and Kellen Clemens, the starter now, was 0-3.
Clemens is a guy you like to have on the bench. But when you get him into a game, he’s gone 4-8, completing 51.8 percent of his passes with seven TDs and 13 interceptions. This is absolutely no affront to Clemens, but to the quarterback position in the NFL. Very few teams could lose their starter and maintain any semblance of quality. If Carolina lost Cam Newton, they’d have to play Derek Anderson, and we know what he is. We’re seeing what’s happening to playoff teams in Houston and Minnesota, who along with Philadelphia and Buffalo are dealing with quarterback injuries. There aren’t enough really good ones to go around.
There is one tiny ray of light here, and that’s Jeff Fisher. While his Titans teams generally struggled with backups, there was 2008. Starter Vince Young was injured during the opener at Jacksonville, and backup Kerry Collins – by then a pedestrian 36-year-old – came on to lead the Titans to a 13-3 record and a home playoff game.
The odds are against the Rams with Bradford down, but if anyone can change the game plan and help his team circle the wagons and play competitively, it might be Fisher.
And if the Rams do go down the drain? They’ll have to take advantage of what appears to be a deep quarterback draft and develop at the very least a backup, and perhaps an heir to Bradford as their starter.