Can Miami Dolphins bank on backup QB in playoffs? ‘It happens every year’

Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore (8) motions to a teammate during the first half against the Buffalo Bills as Kraig Urbik (60) prepares to snap the ball. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore (8) motions to a teammate during the first half against the Buffalo Bills as Kraig Urbik (60) prepares to snap the ball. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

When Dolphins coach Adam Gase met with the media Friday afternoon for his final briefing before Sunday’s wild-card game at Pittsburgh, quarterback Matt Moore’s name was never mentioned.

If you want evidence in the kind of confidence Moore has earned over these past three weeks, look no further. No alarm bells, no last-minute check on nerves. Just business as usual.

And, truth be told, it is business as usual — not only for the Dolphins, but around the NFL, as these playoffs begin. A 16-week season has taken its toll on quarterbacks through injury or lack of production. Suddenly, teams that thought they had their quarterback situation settled are having to make a change, some on the eve of their most important game.

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07: T.J. Yates #13 of the Houston Texans celebrates after the Texans won 31-10 against the Cincinnati Bengals during their 2012 AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Reliant Stadium on January 7, 2012 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

HOUSTON, TX – JANUARY 07: T.J. Yates #13 of the Houston Texans celebrates after the Texans won 31-10 against the Cincinnati Bengals during their 2012 AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Reliant Stadium on January 7, 2012 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

“It happens every year,” said T.J. Yates, who in the blink of an eye has become the Dolphins’ backup QB.

Veteran Dolfans might recall something to this effect taking place in 1972, but more recent NFL history is littered with names such as Tarvaris Jackson, Randall Cunningham and Sean Salisbury — all fill-in examples from the Minnesota Vikings’ playoff appearances alone. Not to mention Tom Brady, Trent Dilfer and Kurt Warner as Super Bowl-winning QBs who at points of their respective seasons were not the starters.

Yates speaks from experience. As a rookie, he was thrust into the role of starting quarterback of the Houston Texans and even helped them to their first-ever postseason victory.

This year, the Dolphins aren’t alone. Connor Cook will make the first start of his NFL career Saturday when Oakland plays the Texans, who themselves are poised to un-bench Brock Osweiler because of a concussion suffered by Tom Savage. And when Cowboys training camp opened, nobody expected Tony Romo to get hurt and for some rookie named Dak Prescott to alter the future of that franchise.

The Dolphins gave the freshly signed Yates the locker next to Moore’s, so the two have swapped stories of what it’s like to go from holding a clipboard to holding a team’s future in their hands. Their situations have parallels. Both had several starts under their belt before the playoffs. Yates was comforted knowing he had a strong defense and a quality running back, Arian Foster. Moore, of course, has Dolphins MVP Jay Ajayi. Just listen to defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, the former Texan who has had a close-up view of both ex-backups embarking on the playoffs:

“It definitely worked out,” Mitchell said, of Yates’ pinch-hitting. “It says a lot about the team that you have, the guys in the locker room that are encouraging your teammates. We went into that game and we had all the confidence in the world, especially when our head coach had so much confidence — Gary Kubiak has so much confidence in T.J., he’s the one that reassured us.”

And today?

“Nobody is second-guessing themselves when we’ve got a guy like Matt Moore in there,” Mitchell said. “He’s done a great job.”

For all the whining you hear about a lack of quality quarterbacks in this league, there can be no overstating the value of a dependable backup. And no organization can say it learned that lesson any better than the Miami Dolphins.

Morrall

Morrall

Of course, that’s a reference to when Don Shula’s insistence on investing in a whopping $100,000 insurance policy in backup Earl Morrall was vital toward the 17-0 season after Bob Griese broke his ankle and didn’t return until midway through the postseason. Shula knew what he was doing, because in 1968, Morrall filled in when Johnny Unitas was hurt in preseason and led the Colts, coached by Shula, to the Super Bowl. Two years later, Morrall again subbed for the injured Unitas during the Super Bowl and helped Baltimore win.

And that doesn’t even take into account the Clipboard Hall of Fame performance in the 1981 playoffs when Don Strock replaced David Woodley and went 29 of 43 for 403 yards and four touchdowns in Miami’s classic 41-38 overtime loss to San Diego.

Fast-forward to 2001 and how many Patriots fans thought their season was over when Drew Bledsoe suffered a serious chest injury and the Pats were forced to go with Tom Brady? Was the sense of dread any different in Pittsburgh, when the 2004 savior turned out to be Ben Roethlisberger, or in St. Louis, when former stockboy Kurt Warner embarked on a fairtytale 1999 season? Of course, for each of those examples, there also are plenty of cases such as Rex Grossman, who stepped in for Kyle Orton on the 2005 Bears and was 17 of 41 in a loss to the Panthers.

Yates’ experience in 2011 consisted of five regular-season games, “so it’s not exactly like the guy in Oakland, where his first start ever is going to be in the playoffs,” he said.

Yates was called upon after Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart were hurt. He was an efficient 11 of 20 for 159 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions (a 97.7 rating) in a 31-10 victory over Cincinnati in the first round before throwing three interceptions and losing 20-13 to Baltimore the next week.

“The first start of the regular season, I was a little more nervous, because once I had six games under my belt going into the playoffs, I definitely was a lot more calm going in there,” Yates said. “I kind of had more grasp of what we were doing offensively.”

If he were to give the Raiders’ Cook advice?

“Study your butt off and once you get to game day, just let it loose and go play football,” Yates said. “He’s going to have nerves. It’s good to have nerves. Once you get that out of your system, just go out there and play football, because it’s all the same.”

The Dolphins certainly hope so. After five years of inactivity, Moore has exceeded expectations, throwing eight touchdown passes against three interceptions. His passer rating (105.6) actually is better than Tannehill’s (93.5). He’s 2-1.

Although Moore is a nine-year veteran, this will be his first playoff start.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity,” Moore said. “Some guys go a lot and some don’t get those chances. This is my second time ever being a part of a team that has gone to the playoffs, so I’m excited. I know the guys are excited.”

[You can trust Matt Moore. Really, you can. He’s fine.]

[Maurkice talks to Mike Pouncey every day and let’s us know how he feels about missing the playoff game]

[Dolphins’ $40 million defensive line covering a lot question marks behind them]

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