By DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Carson Palmer and Deshaun Watson are all big-name quarterbacks out for most of or the rest of the season because of injuries.
Now, Jameis Winston is banged up, too.
The shake-up under center around the league has left the position a mish-mosh of big names, no-names, youngsters and veterans who may or may not be part of their teams’ futures.
That includes the likes of Brett Hundley in Green Bay, Jacoby Brissett in Indianapolis, Drew Stanton in Arizona, Tom Savage in Houston, Case Keenum in Minnesota, C.J. Beathard in San Francisco, Brock Osweiler in Denver and Ryan Fitzpatrick in Tampa Bay all starting this week.
“It’s a quarterback-driven league,” Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb said. “It’s always going to be about the quarterback. We win or lose, it’s going to be about the quarterback.”
Especially in Green Bay, where the Packers’ season hinges in large part on the development of Hundley, a third-year quarterback who’s running the offense in place of the injured Rodgers, a two-time league MVP.
The Packers are 4-4, but have lost three in a row. Hundley, a fifth-round pick out of UCLA who has thrown one touchdown pass and four interceptions this season, has played in all three losses and started the last two since Rodgers went out with a broken collarbone .
“You all are putting it on Brett right now with the losses,” Cobb said. “It’s not him. It’s us as a team. That’s the way we always look at it. Obviously, when you have one of the greatest, if not the greatest, to ever play the game, it’s definitely going to be a lot of chatter about him not being out there.”
In a season marked by major injuries to significant stars, the quarterback position has been hit particularly hard. That has paved the way for some unexpected starters around the league, including Hundley.
With Luck sidelined in Indianapolis with a shoulder injury , Brissett is the man for the Colts — and he wasn’t even on the roster until after training camp when New England traded him for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. Brissett is 3-5 for the Colts after replacing Week 1 starter Scott Tolzien.
Brissett has thrown two touchdown passes in each of the last two games and has just one interception in his last four while providing the Colts with a spark in Luck’s absence.
“He’s a talented, talented guy,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “He’s got the ‘it’ factor.”
The same was being said of Watson in Houston, where the rookie was quickly establishing himself as one of the league’s most exciting playmakers with 1,699 yards passing and 19 touchdowns.
But a torn ligament in his right knee ended his season prematurely , and now Savage is back as the starter after opening the season under center for the Texans. After what he called a “cringe-worthy” performance last week against Indianapolis, Savage will need to bounce back in a big way or T.J. Yates — in his third stint with the team — could find himself at the top of the depth chart.
Things got so bad in San Francisco that Brian Hoyer was benched and then released while Beathard, a third-rounder this year, was being given a chance to show what he can do for the winless 49ers.
His audition might not be for long, though. San Francisco acquired Jimmy Garoppolo last week from New England , getting the supposed heir-apparent to Tom Brady as its likely quarterback of the future.
There are a handful of other quick-fix situations around the league with players who weren’t expected to be playing at this point.
That’s the case in Arizona, where Stanton has stepped in for an injured Palmer , who has a broken left arm. Same for Minnesota, which has Keenum starting with Sam Bradford out for the rest of the regular season with an ailing knee. Teddy Bridgewater has returned, as a backup for now , after missing all last season with a knee injury.
Fitzpatrick is in for the Buccaneers with Winston sidelined for at least a few weeks with a banged-up shoulder. And, fittingly, his first start will come against the Jets on Sunday — the team for which he played the last two years, capped by a miserable 2016 campaign.
“It’s something I’ve had to do in my career plenty of times in going up against former teams,” said Fitzpatrick, starting for his seventh team. “It seems like, especially in the last five or six years, that’s been a standard theme.”
The same can be said for the Jets’ Josh McCown, who was signed in the offseason as a mere stopgap for youngsters Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty. But the 38-year-old quarterback is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career, ranking second in the NFL with a 70.4 completion percentage for the surprising 4-5 Jets.
“Yeah, we have the league covered between me and Fitz,” said McCown, who’s with his 10th franchise.
In Denver, Trevor Siemian is out and Osweiler is in again . Siemian wasn’t up to the task of leading the Broncos’ struggling offense, so Osweiler is back — after a whirlwind past few months.
He signed with Houston as a free agent last year, but the Texans traded him to Cleveland in March, and the Browns surprisingly cut him after training camp. That opened the door for a reunion in Denver.
And then, of course, there’s the Browns’ ongoing — and seemingly everlasting — search for a franchise quarterback. They’re hoping they might have one in DeShone Kizer, who made Osweiler expendable.
But Kizer has also had his fair share of rookie struggles, having been benched twice. Cleveland also fumbled an attempt to acquire quarterback AJ McCarron from Cincinnati last week when it failed to get the necessary paperwork to the league in time before the NFL’s trade deadline.
“When you’re in a position where you’re 0-8, when you are on a club that hasn’t been winning in the recent past and hasn’t had a solid quarterback in a long time, you’ve got to prove that every time you step out there,” Kizer said. “It’s going to take a lot for a guy to hold onto this position for a while, and that’s why you have seen so many guys who haven’t been able to hold on to it.”
And, as we’ve seen all across the league this season, it’s all about the quarterbacks. From Cleveland to Green Bay to San Francisco — and everywhere in between.
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