Has an NFL Team Ever Won a Game With a Third-String Quarterback?

As the face of the franchise, a quarterback leads and motivates a team. When stakes are high, teammates can trust a long-time starter like Brett Favre, who started 297 consecutive NFL games. Losing a starting QB creates uncertainty. When your backup goes down, your team must rely on the third-string quarterback — an even scarier experience. However, NFL fans have celebrated some third-string quarterback success stories.

Third-string quarterback: Jacoby Brissett, 2016

In the wake of the controversial 2014 Deflategate scandal, Patriots starting quarterback Tom Brady faced a four-game suspension at the start of the 2016 NFL season. Jimmy Garoppolo took Brady’s place as the Patriots’ starter. However, he suffered a shoulder injury during the Week 2 game against the Dolphins. This left unknown rookie QB Jacoby Brissett to take over the Patriots offense.

Brissett was able to hold off the Dolphins in the Week 2 matchup. In his first NFL start, he led the Patriots to a commanding 27-0 victory over the Texans. Although the Patriots lost their Week 4 matchup against the Bills, the NFL took notice of Brissett.

At the end of the 2016 season, the Indianapolis Colts signed the third-string quarterback to be Andrew Luck’s backup. However, with Luck’s unexpected retirement at the beginning of the 2019 season, Brissett became the Colts’ starter, signing a $30 million deal in the process.

Third-string QB: Devlin Hodges, 2019

During a Week 2 matchup between the Steelers and Seahawks, long-time starter Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury in the second quarter. Mason Rudolph replaced him. Unfortunately, weeks later, Rudolph suffered a concussion via a gruesome hit from Ravens safety Earl Thomas. This left undrafted rookie QB Devlin Hodges to take the helm. 

In his first-ever NFL start, Hodges and the 1-4 Steelers, were up against the LA Chargers and sure-fire Hall of Fame quarterback Philip Rivers. After losing Pittsburgh’s first two QBs and starting 1-4, the season looked bleak. However, Hodges completed over 75% of his passes and threw for a touchdown in a 24-17 win over the Charges, giving life to the Steelers’ franchise.

The QB led the Steelers to victories over Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Arizona in the 2019 season. Although he finished the year with a 30.1 QBR, Hodges helped the Steelers earn an 8-8 record after a 1-4 start, leaving the Steelers just one game out of the 2019 playoffs.

The NFL’s third quarterback rule

Before the 2011 season, there was a not-so-commonly-known NFL rule regarding third-string quarterbacks. If a third-string QB enters the game before the fourth quarter, the first two quarterbacks can’t reenter the game. Although this is exceptionally rare, there have been times when this rule went into effect.

None as important as the 2010 NFC Championship between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Bears starter Jay Cutler suffered a knee injury in the first half, leaving backup Todd Collins to step in. However, after almost throwing two interceptions on just four pass attempts, Chicago pulled Collins for Caleb Hanie with 1:13 left in the third quarter.

When Hanie entered the game, the Bears were down 14-0. Chicago struggled all game on offense. However, Hanie led the Bears on two scoring drives in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to 21-14. Under two minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Hanie drove the Bears down the field for the game-tying drive. Although the Bears lost the game, they were on the brink of the 2010 Super Bowl via their third-string quarterback.