Sunday Morning Bloody Mary: Quarterback Debuts Can Be Rough

As I'm sure everybody has heard by now, the Minnesota Vikings will be starting rookie Joe Webb at quarterback tomorrow night when they take on the Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium. Webb will be the third different quarterback to start a game for the Vikings this season, and the seventh different man to start at quarterback since this website went online back in 2006. That illustrious list, in order, looks like this:

-Brad Johnson
-Tarvaris Jackson
-Kelly Holcomb
-Tarvaris Jackson
-Kelly Holcomb
-Tarvaris Jackson
-Brooks Bollinger
-Tarvaris Jackson
-Gus Frerotte
-Tarvaris Jackson
-Brett Favre
-Tarvaris Jackson
-Joe Webb

Yes, six different times in the past five seasons, whether it was because of injury, ineptitude, or a combination of both, Tarvaris Jackson has been named the starting quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings. There won't be a seventh time, as Jackson is now on injured reserve and has, in all likelihood, seen his last game action in a Vikings uniform. Now, Jackson wasn't awful all the time. . .he was just awful when the Vikings could least afford for him to be awful, for the most part.

But now we're onto what could be the start of the Joe Webb era in Minnesota. Now, it may be a little early in the piece to be talking about an "era" for a guy that was taken in the sixth round of the most recent draft with the intent of moving him to a wide receiver position, but stranger things have happened. . .after all, Webb was selected with the same overall pick in the draft, the 199th selection, that that Tom Brady fellow that quarterbacks the New England Patriots was taken with. (Yes, I know there's no REAL connection, but work with me here.)

So, how have other Viking quarterbacks fared in their first NFL starts? Well, there's some good and some bad. But, mostly, it's bad.

We'll start at the very beginning of Vikings' history. Now, everyone remembers. . .or, at the very least, has heard about. . .some third-round pick named Fran Tarkenton coming off of the bench in Minnesota's first ever NFL game and throwing four touchdown passes to lead the Vikings past the Chicago Bears by a score of 37-13. His first start came the next week when the Vikings went to Dallas to take on the Cowboys. The results? Not nearly as positive. . .Tarkenton went just 8-for-24 and threw two interceptions, giving him a passer rating of a robust 15.5 as the Vikings fell to Dallas, 21-7.

When Tarkenton was traded to the New York Giants before the 1967 season, the starting job went to Joe Kapp. Now, make no mistake. . .Kapp wasn't anything resembling a fresh-faced rookie or anything like that, but it was his first starting job in the NFL after having played in the Canadian Football League from 1959 to 1966. Kapp's first start was another ugly one, as the Vikings got throttled by the Los Angeles Rams by a score of 39-3. Kapp completed only eight of the 18 passes he attempted, and threw two interceptions. His passer rating of 35.9 was more than double what Tarkenton had done in his first start, but if you take junk and double it. . .well, you still have junk.

In 1977, for the first time in franchise history, the Vikings used their first-round draft choice on a quarterback, taking young Tommy Kramer out of Rice University. Like Tarkenton, Kramer had a dazzling first appearance in his rookie year in the NFL, relieving starter Bob Lee in a game against the San Francisco 49ers and bringing the Vikings back from a 24-7 third-quarter deficit to win 28-27, throwing three touchdown passes in the process.  So, Kramer got the start the next week, in the second-to-last game of the season against the Oakland Raiders. The result? Another whooping for the Vikings, this time to the tune of 35-13. Unlike Tarkenton and Kapp, Kramer did manage to throw a touchdown pass in his first career start, hitting Sammy White in the fourth quarter. Of course, at that point the game was 35-6, thanks in part to the three interceptions that Kramer had thrown prior to that.

In 1996, Brad Johnson, who never even started at the college level at Florida State, got his opportunity when longtime veteran Warren Moon went down in the season opener. Johnson helped the Vikings beat the Detroit Lions in that game, throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Cris Carter. The next week, Johnson got his first ever NFL start and actually led the Vikings to a victory over the Atlanta Falcons, 23-17. Again, Johnson led a fourth-quarter comeback, finding little-used David Frisch on a three-yard touchdown pass to give the Vikings a 20-17 lead. (Scott Sisson would add another field goal to account for the final margin.) Johnson's numbers against the Falcons were respectable. . .15-for-26, 275 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

After unsuccessfully trying to recruit Dan Marino to come to Minnesota prior to the 2000 season, Denny Green said "to heck with it" and handed the Vikings' high-powered offense to a second-year quarterback named Daunte Culpepper. At the time, many people thought Green was nuts, as Culpepper was viewed by many to be a project rather than a guy that was ready to simply step in and start. However, both men proved their critics wrong in the 2000 season opener, a 30-27 win over the Chicago Bears. Now, Culpepper's passing numbers weren't terribly impressive. . .13-for-23, 190 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. . .but he added a dimension to the Vikings' offense that hadn't been seen since Tarkenton's heyday with his mobility, as he carried the football 13 times for 73 yards and scored three times on the ground.

Lastly, there was Tarvaris Jackson's first-ever NFL start, in what I can simply term one of the worst displays of offensive football I've ever had to bear witness to. After weeks of Brad Johnson being ineffective, Brad Childress went ahead and pulled the trigger on a quarterback change going into a wet, cold, sloppy night at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers on 21 December 2006. As I said, the results were brutal. . .the Vikings' offense generated threefirst downs on the evening. Three. That's not even one first down per quarter. Jackson threw 20 passes, and completed half of them. . .for 50 passing yards (27 net after accounting for the three sacks he took). The Vikings had 104 total yards to 319 for the Packers, but three Green Bay turnovers kept the game close, and the Vikings even had a chance to win the snooze-fest after Fred Smoot returned an interception for a score to make it 7-6. However, the Packers got Dave Rayner's third field goal of the game late, and the Vikings couldn't answer, losing 9-7.

So many of the premier quarterbacks in Vikings history got off to rocky starts. . .but most of them turned out to be pretty good after a while. I don't think anybody expects Joe Webb to go out and throw for 300 yards and have four touchdown passes and look like a six-year veteran out there on Monday night. We're just hoping that he shows us some potential, and gives us a reason to think that this team can build around him going forward. Please keep that in mind while you're watching Monday night's game and critiquing everything afterwards.

ENJOY WITH ABSOLUT RESPONSIBILITY®

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