Pat McAfee Was Once Incredibly Close to Going in at QB for a Banged-up Colts Team: ‘We Were Probably Punting on First Down Whether You Liked It or Not’

Sports media personality Pat McAfee was an All-Pro punter during his eight-year career with the Indianapolis Colts. He almost became the team’s quarterback, though, during the last game of the team’s injury-plagued 2015 season.

With so many backup quarterbacks playing in 2021, it brought up memories of this wild situation, which McAfee and his former head coach Chuck Pagano reminisced about on the former punter’s talk show.

The 2015 NFL season was tough for Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks

Pat McAfee of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates after the 55 yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri during the game against the Denver Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Pat McAfee | Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images.

Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks had a tough go of it in the 2015 NFL season.  

After starting every game for his first three years in the league, former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck picked up injuries that knocked him out of the 2015 season.  

The first major injury of his career came in Week 3 against the Tennessee Titans, per CBS Sports. Luck sprained his shoulder and, although he stayed in the game and led the Colts to a 35-33 comeback win, he missed the next two weeks recovering.

In Week 9 against the Denver Broncos, Luck was roughed up in a 27-24 Colts win. He stayed in the game, but the following day, after he found blood in his urine, the young star found he had a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle. That injury put him out for the remainder of the season. 

Luck’s primary backup was then-40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck, who was in the final year of his 17-year NFL career. The veteran signal-caller took over in Weeks 4 and 5 and then again in Week 10 through 16. 

In the season’s penultimate game, Hasselbeck went out after 15 pass attempts with a Grade 1 shoulder separation. Charlie Whitehurst came on in relief, but after the game, the Colts placed him on IR as well with a hamstring injury, per the Indy Star

The QB MASH unit led to the Colts signing to out-of-work passers for the season’s final game: Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley. These two quarterbacks were playing in the Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL) and driving an Uber in New York City, respectively, when the Colts called. 

Punter Pat McAfee almost had to play QB in the last game of the season

Despite the quarterback carousel in 2015, the Indianapolis Colts went into a Week 17 matchup with the Tennessee Titans at 7-8 with a minuscule chance of still making the playoffs with a win and a little help.

Not wanting to waste a roster spot on a third QB, head coach Chuck Pagano named punter Pat McAfee the emergency third quarterback.

With all the drama happening in Green Bay around the quarterback situation, Pagano and his former player reminisced about McAfee’s game as a backup QB on the Pat McAfee Show.

Pagano shared some hilarious memories of working out Freeman and Lindley for the job and how, when game day came, the coaching staff planned to start Freeman but give Lindley the two-minute drill package, unbeknownst to McAfee.

When the punter saw Lindley heading into the game at the end of the first half, he thought Freeman was hurt, and he was on-deck under center. McAfee remembered thinking:

Lindley’s a little smaller guy, and I knew the NFL. We’ve seen seven quarterbacks already die on our roster, and if there is only him for the rest of the game — he was just driving an Uber in New York — I mean, there’s a chance that I’m f******* taking some snaps here. And we’re probably punting on first down, whether you like it or not. I don’t know what the play call was going to be, but we’re probably punting that thing early.

Pat McAfee on his time as a backup QB

Lindley led a touchdown drive right before half, and he and Freeman finished the game, with the Colts winning 30-24. The team miraculously finished the season 8-8 but did miss out on the postseason as the Houston Texans beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 17 to clinch the AFC South.

The 2021 NFL season is turning into the year of the backup QB

While no team in 2021 has gone through the sheer number of signal-callers that the Indianapolis Colts did in 2015, this season is shaping up to be the year of the backup QB.

The parade of second-string passers started in Week 1 when the Washington Football Team’s Ryan Fitzpatrick went down with a hip injury, and Taylor Heinicke took over. Then, injuries to the Chicago Bears Andy Dalton and the San Francisco 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo led to rookies Justin Fields and Trey Lance’s pro debut.

In a Week 5 Thursday Night Football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson broke his finger, giving way to Geno Smith. Two weeks later, on TNF, Case Keenum started for the Cleveland Browns on place of an injured Baker Mayfield and led the team to a 17-14 win over the Denver Broncos.

Week 8 was the real backup bright spot, though. Cooper Rush led the Dallas Cowboys to a Sunday Night Football win over the Minnesota Vikings, Trevor Siemian came in for the New Orleans Saints and helped them upset the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Mike White threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns for the New York Jets, who stunned the Cincinnati Bengals.

Week 9 is shaping up to be more of the same. White and Siemian are expected to keep their jobs for at least another week, and, with Aaron Rodgers’ shocking positive COVID-19 test, second-year backup Jordan Love will get his first NFL start.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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