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Rookie QBs Really Do Beat World Champs

Seven times since the 2000 season there have been rookie quarterbacks who started against the defending world champions and beat them. Justin Fields is trying to make it eight.

Bears coach Matt Nagy sees steady incremental improvement in Justin Fields but his quarterback might need to jump this rate up a bit this week.

After all, they are facing the world champions and Fields is playing like the rookie quarterback he is.

"So for us now we want to keep growing, whether that's a concept, whether that's something we do that maybe he didn't do in Cleveland that first game," Nagy said. "Maybe we can grow him a little bit there, but I do think there's a little bit of patience involved with that and that's certainly natural. But he is getting better and you see it at practice."

The question for the Bears is whether a rookie quarterback with a 67.4 passer rating and only 6.4 yards per attempt can knock off a team which hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in February, one quarterbacked by the GOAT, Tom Brady.

It happens. It doesn't happen a lot, but it happens—the team with the rings loses to a rookie quarterback.

In fact, it happened once to Tom Brady. This big rookie quarterback from the Mid-America Conference, Ben Roethlisberger, beat Brady and the New England Patriots in 2004, 34-20. Brady threw two interceptions, got sacked four times and had a 72.9 passer rating.

Roethlisberger's win was hardly typical of rookie QBs upsetting defending Super Bowl champions. 

Brady has lost to rookies even when not a defending world champ. He last lost to one in 2013 when Geno Smith and the Jets beat the Patriots, a year after Baltimore won the Super Bowl.  Brady has won 10 straight starts against rookies.

Normally, some freakish thing occurs or sometimes the defending champions have already collapsed to become a punching bag for even rookie QBs.

Almost always the rookies are backed by great defensive play in the upset.

Pulling off the upset hardly meant the rookie quarterback was destined for greatness, like Roethlisberger, unless Max Hall is secretly a serious candidate for Canton.

Since the turn of the century there have been seven instances when a rookie quarterback was able to pull off an upset of the defending Super Bowl champions. One of those players will be in the stadium Sunday at Tampa, and it's not Brady.

Here they are:

Byron Leftwich, 2003

The current Buccaneers offensive coordinator led the Jacksonville Jaguars to a 17-10 win as a rookie over the team he now coaches, except the head coach then wearing a ring was Jon Gruden. The Buccaneers had just beaten the Raiders in the Super Bowl the previous year. Leftwich went 20 of 34 for 224 yards with two touchdown passes on Nov. 30, 2003.

Ben Roethlisberger, 2004

As mentioned, Roethlisberger beat Brady, going 18 of 24 for 196 yards with a pair of TD passes and a passer rating of 126.4.

Max Hall, 2010

Not only was Hall one of the great forgotten stories of the 2010 season, the way the defending champion Saints lost twice to rookie quarterbacks in the most unlikely fashions remains great trivia. 

Hall is the nephew of former Cowboys quarterback Danny White and his grandfather was Wizzer White. Hall was an undrafted 25-year-old rookie from BYU and on Sept. 10 he led the Cardinals to a 30-20 win over the Saints. Or rather, he accepted a 30-20 win. The defense handed him the win. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie returned an interception for a touchdown and both Kerry Rhodes and Levi Brown returned fumbles for TDs, so all Hall had to do was guide the team to three Jay Feely field goals. Hall did go 17 of 27 for 168 yards with an interception and four sacks, to beat Drew Brees.

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Colt McCoy, 2010

A month and a half later, on Oct. 24, the Saints got zapped by lightning again. Again Drew Brees' offense melted down with turnovers and in his second career start McCoy only needed to throw for 74 yards on 9 of 16 with a sack. David Bowens had a 30-yard interception return for a TD and a 64-yard interception return for a TD, while Peyton Hillis scored on a 4-yard run. The Saints really were struggling against inexperienced, undistinguished passers after they won the Super Bowl. Later in the season they also got beat by Josh Freeman in his second season as a starter.

RG III, 2012

Robert Griffin III led the Redskins to a 17-16 win over the defending champion Giants on Dec. 3. He threw for 163 yards and ran for 72 yards. They won the game on an 8-yard TD pass by Griffin to Pierre Garcon and Kai Forbath's extra point with 11:31 left in the game.

E.J. Manuel, 2013

Manuel beat the Baltimore Ravens with only a 48.9 passer rating. He was 10 of 22 for 167 yards with a TD and interception. But the Bills defense intercepted Joe Flacco five times and sacked him four times on Sept. 29, 2013.

Justin Herbert, 2020

The only time in the last eight seasons a rookie quarterback has beaten the defending Super Bowl champions was the final game of the 2020 season, but it was somewhat fluky as the Chiefs were playing with Chad Henne at quarterback with a bunch of subs. They had nothing to win in the regular-season finale. There was nothing sketch about Herbert's effort as he was 21 of 31 for 302 yards with three TDs and a 134.1 passer rating.

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