Column: Fate of 3 playoff teams in the hands of backup QBs

9. Numerous Dolphins backups have held their own as starters

Not many teams could survive losing more than half a dozen key starters, but Miami’s rally cry has been “next man up,” and players like Jay Ajayi, Matt Moore, Thomas, Tony Lippett, Bacarri Rambo, Kraig Urbik, Neville Hewitt, Dion Sims and MarQueis Gray, who all began the year as reserves, have backed those words up with solid play as starters.

(Charles Trainor / Miami Herald)

There’s a synchronicity to this NFL season.

Opening weekend featured three young quarterbacks making the first career starts. And Sunday, when the regular season closes, three different quarterbacks —  veterans, but with precious little experience —  will shoulder the playoff hopes of their teams.

Houston’s Tom Savage, Miami’s Matt Moore, and Oakland’s Matt McGloin have shed their sideline headsets for the heady responsibility of leading their franchises into the postseason.

McGloin, who hasn’t started a game since 2013, steps in for Raiders star Derek Carr, an MVP candidate who suffered a broken leg last Sunday against Indianapolis.


The Raiders play at Denver with the AFC West title and a first-round bye up for grabs. If Oakland were to lose, and Kansas City were to win at San Diego, the Raiders would have to hit the road in the first round.

Watch for the Silver & Black to stay grounded in the Mile High City. The Raiders have the NFL’s fifth-ranked rushing attack, and they have run particularly well the past month, averaging 157.3 yards per game over the past four weeks.

In their first meeting against the Broncos this season, the Raiders ran for 218 yards and three touchdowns.

“Obviously, we feel in the running-back room that if we could be the spark for this offense, the sky’s the limit,” tailback Latavius Murray told reporters.


Moving the ball that way would certainly take pressure off McGloin, who started six games at the end of his rookie season in 2013, finishing with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.

The Raiders certainly have the pieces in place to move the ball through the air. Their offensive line has surrendered an NFL-low 16 sacks, and the receiving tandem of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper has averaged 10.8 catches and 137.7 yards per game.

When McGloin was coming out of Penn State, he sent a letter to all NFL teams urging them to consider him. (He wound up going undrafted.)

“To those saying to me now, `You’ll never make it,’ all I have to say is this; `Watch me,’ ” wrote McGloin in the letter, which was obtained by the San Jose Mercury News. “You’re damn right I live my life and play football with a chip on my shoulder, because there is honor and worthy achievement in proving wrong the myth of ‘impossibility.’ ”

Savage, who replaced the struggling Brock Osweiler, is making his second career start after leading the Texans to a pivotal victory over Cincinnati eight days ago. Houston clinched the AFC South win that win, along with a first-round playoff game at home as the No. 4 seed.

The Texans play at Tennessee, and although little is at stake in that finale, Houston could use the confidence boost of some offensive production. The Texans are last in the NFL with 23 touchdowns, and two of those were scored by Houston’s top-ranked defense.

Moore, in his ninth season as a pro, has given the Dolphins a spark in the wake of a knee injury to Ryan Tannehill in Week 14.

Not only did he close the door on a three-point win over Arizona, but Moore directed Miami to road wins at the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. Those performances weren’t perfect, but they were plenty good enough.


“I know there are some things he wants to fix,” first-year Coach Adam Gase told reporters of Moore. “But for a guy that hadn’t played for 4½ years coming off the bench … it’s been very impressive to just see his commitment to what we’ve been doing and his professionalism.”

New England plays at Miami on Sunday, and the game is much more meaningful to the Patriots. They would clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with either a win over the Dolphins, or an Oakland loss at Denver.

The Dolphins are guaranteed to be a road team in the first round, so this game is only about seeding. Miami is currently the sixth seed, but can move up to fifth with a win over the Patriots and a Kansas City loss at the Chargers.

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer

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