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Cooper Rush, Mike White, & Trevor Siemian: The Week of the Backup QB

The Cowboys, Jets, and Saints all scored improbable victories in Week 8 after reserve signal-callers took over the QB1 reins.

Week 8 of the NFL was the week of the backup quarterback. And it’s hard to think of a convergence of events that was less likely than what we saw Sunday.

Three understudies — Dallas’ Cooper Rush, the New York Jets’ Mike White, and New Orleans’ Trevor Siemian led their respective teams to huge upset victories this week in games they had no place not just holding their own, but thriving in. Reserve QBs are told to be ready each week and always prepare like they’re the starter, but this was the week where not only did all their names get called, but they were able to meet and conquer the moment.

(And this doesn’t even mention Geno Smith, who just had his best performance to date in place of Russell Wilson in Seattle.)

So, who on earth are these people, and how might their big moments impact their prospective futures?

Let’s dive in.

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Cooper Rush, Dallas Cowboys

Age: 27
College: Central Michigan
NFL Draft: Undrafted, 2017
Contract: One year, $920,000

About 90 minutes before kickoff Sunday night, the Cowboys announced that Dak Prescott was out for their primetime matchup in Minnesota against the Vikings and that Cooper Rush would start. During that short time, sportsbooks and bettors moved the line from Cowboys -1.5 to Vikings -2.5.

There was little faith in Rush, a 27-year-old undrafted free agent from Central Michigan whose prior NFL experience amounted to three pass attempts over two games with Dallas in 2017. Then, the red-bearded Rush shocked the world by completing 24 of 40 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner to Amari Cooper with 51 seconds left to win the game 20-16, pushing the Cowboys to 6-1. Cooper to Cooper.

After the game, the shots of his family in a state of delirious glee and disbelief punctuated the mood tens of millions witnessed across the country.

Though he turned it over a couple of times, Rush became the first player to pass for at least 300 yards and win his first career start on the road in a night game since fellow CMU alum and Dallas Cowboys gunslinger Gary Hogeboom in 1984.

“It was just as good as the dream,” Rush said.

Assuming Prescott comes back next week, Rush will return to the backup duties that will earn him $920,000 this season. But when he enters free agency in March, he could look the part of an intriguing veteran signing.

Mike White, New York Jets

Age: 26
College: South Florida (2013–2014), Western Kentucky (2015–2017)
NFL Draft: 2018, Fifth round, No. 171 overall
Contract: One year, $850,000

At one point on Sunday, White asked fellow Jets quarterback Josh Johnson what the fans at MetLife Stadium were chanting. It was, it turns out, his name.

“At first, I kind of had to listen again,” White said. “Like, are they chanting my name?”

They sure were.

Making his first career start in place of injured rookie Zach Wilson, the 26-year-old out of Western Kentucky completed an insane 37 of 45 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-31 shocker over Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and the Bengals. Those 37 completions were the most ever for a QB in his first start.

The only other QB to pass for at least 400 yards in his first start since 1950? Cam Newton in 2011.

“His composure was unbelievable,” NBC’s Tony Dungy said.

White became the Jets’ first 400-yard passer in a single game since Vinny Testaverde in 2000. And with a matchup against Indianapolis on Thursday, he’s gonna get a chance to quickly prove himself again.

If White’s out-of-nowhere success continues, will there actually be a QB controversy with Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft? Maybe so, maybe not. But either way, the Florida native (but not the Gators’ basketball coach!) should make much more than the $850,000 he’s earning this year.

An unrestricted free agent after the season, green won’t just be the color of White’s jerseys going forward if he can keep things rolling.

Trevor Siemian, New Orleans Saints

Age: 29
College: Northwestern
NFL Draft: 2015, seventh round, No. 250 overall
Contract: One year, $990,000

As the most experienced signal-caller of the trio featured here, you’ve probably heard Siemian’s name before.

The 29-year-old journeyman has made 25 career starts for the Broncos and Jets, but this one was different. Not only did Siemian have to come in to relieve an injured Jameis Winston — he had to do it against Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers.

Siemian completed 16 of 29 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown, leading the Saints to five scoring drives in a 36-27 home win over Tampa Bay all sealed by PJ Williams’ pick-six of TB12 with 1:24 left.

“Siemian is a guy who can execute the offense very well,” Saints legend Drew Brees said Sunday night. “He knows where the ball needs to go, he’s going to get it out on time, and so he’s a guy who can execute.”

He may have to be the guy to execute for 5-2 New Orleans moving forward. Winston’s injury is significant, head coach Sean Payton said after the game, which means that Siemian will likely start games going forward unless the team looks externally for a starter.

(With the trade deadline coming up Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, there’s not exactly unlimited time to conduct that sort of search given the Saints’ reported lack of interest in Cam Newton.)

Siemian’s $990,000 salary for the season could get a boost for 2023 if he gets the opportunity to start and succeed for the Saints, who are looking like a contender in a wide-open NFC.

“What I was thinking was just don’t mess it up. Keep it running smooth. Have fun,” Siemian told NBC Sports’ Peter King. “I had so much frickin’ fun out there.”