Dan Gartland
Monday September 21st, 2015

Welcome to Top 5 Tuesday, a new feature where we’ll rank the top five somethings, every Tuesday. This week we look at the worst backup quarterback performances of recent memory.


Week 3 in the NFL is shaping up to be a good one, if you’re into bad quarterback play. Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford are all injured, to various degrees. That means Brandon Weeden, Jimmy Clausen, Luke McCown and Dan Orlovsky all could be pressed into action. Let’s hope they do better than the guys on this list. 

5. Dan Orlovsky, 2008

Poor Dan Orlovsky. He’s had a long, prosperous career as a backup but he’ll always be remembered for his boneheaded error in his second start. 

Orlovsky started seven games during the Lions’ 0–16 season in 2008. He wasn’t terrible, aside from the time he ran out of the end zone while trying to evade Jared Allen.

Interactive graphic: NFL Week 2 injuries by body part

4. Joe Webb – Jan. 5, 2013

Christian Ponder is a bad quarterback, right? Well he’s not as bad as Joe Webb. 

In 2012, Ponder led the Vikings Adrian Peterson’s 2,097 rushing yards led the Vikings to a 10–6 record and their first playoff appearance since 2009.

Ponder was adequate that season but was injured for the wild card game against the Packers. Enter Joe Webb.

Webb completed 11 of 30 passes (36.7%) for 180 yards, with a touchdown, a pick and a lost fumble. 

As you could probably guess, the Packers won, 24–10. 

3. The 2011 Colts

The Colts were a disaster in 2011. After Peyton Manning was ruled out for the season with a neck injury, the Colts lured 38-year-old Kerry Collins out of retirement. He played in three games, badly, and was concussed. Enter Curtis Painter.

Painter played eight games, the Colts lost them all and—oh, look, it’s our friend Dan Orlovsky again—they turned to Orlovsky for the last five games. He averaged just 150.1 yards passing per game, but Orlovsky led Indianapolis to its only two wins of the season. He’s only thrown seven NFL passes since. 

Thanks to the ineptitude of their quarterbacks, the Colts finished an NFL worst 2–14, allowing them to select Andrew Luck with the first pick in the 2012 draft. Not a bad tradeoff. 

2. Josh Freeman – Oct. 21, 2013

When the Bucs jettisoned Josh Freeman's four-plus seasons of mediocrity, the Vikings quickly pounced at the opportunity to sign him. Why? Who knows. 

He’d been with the team for 10 days when Leslie Frazier announced Freeman was surpassing Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel on the depth chart and would start the rest of the team’s games. 

Freeman’s first game as the starter was on Monday Night Football against the Giants, and it was historically bad. His stat line: 20-for-53 (37.7%), 190 yards and a pick. After that disaster, Frazier demoted Freeman from starter to third string. 

Freeman never started another NFL game and will be quarterbacking the Brooklyn Bolts of the Fall Experimental Football League this season. 

1. Bruce Gradkowski – Dec. 28, 2008

The 2008 Browns started four quarterbacks, and while they were all pretty terrible, Bruce Gradkowski was the worst.

Injuries to Derek Anderson, Ken Dorsey and Brady Quinn left Gradkowski as the starter for the season finale against the Steelers and their league-best defense. The Browns hadn’t scored a touchdown on offense in five weeks. Pittsburgh extended that streak to six, beating Cleveland 31–0. 

Gradkowski completed five of his 16 attempts for 18 yards—12 of which came on a pass to Donte Stallworth—and threw two interceptions. 

The worst part is Browns receiver Josh Cribbs, a college quarterback, only finished with 10 fewer passing yards than Gradkowski.

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