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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

After 39 years, Mac Jones, Jalen Hurts aim to deliver in NFL playoffs

For the first time in NFL history, two Alabama alumni will start at quarterback in the same postseason this weekend.

During the NFL’s Super Wild-Card Weekend, Mac Jones will be under center for New England when the Patriots play the Buffalo Bills at 7:15 p.m. CST Saturday and Jalen Hurts will take the snaps for Philadelphia when the Eagles play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at noon Sunday.

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When Jones takes the field at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, he’ll become the first former Alabama quarterback in a postseason game since Jan. 9, 2016, when AJ McCarron made the only NFL playoff start of the past 37 seasons for a Crimson Tide signal-caller.

Jones will be trying to become the first former Alabama QB to start for a winning team in a playoff game since Jan. 15, 1983. On that date, Richard Todd led the New York Jets to a 17-14 victory over the Los Angeles Raiders in an AFC second-round game.

Todd completed 15-of-24 passes for 277 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. His 45-yard completion to wide receiver Wesley Walls put the Jets on the Los Angeles 1-yard line and set up Scott Dierking’s game-deciding 1-yard touchdown plunge with 3:45 left to play.

Eight days later, the Miami Dolphins smothered New York 14-0 in the AFC Championship Game, sacking Todd four times and intercepting five passes to advance to Super Bowl XVII.

Thirty-three years later, McCarron made the next NFL postseason start for a former Alabama quarterback. McCarron had taken over for Andy Dalton with three games left in the regular season when the Cincinnati Bengals QB broke his thumb.

McCarron rallied Cincinnati from a 15-0 deficit to a 16-15 lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers with three straight scoring drives in the fourth quarter. McCarron’s 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver A.J. Green gave Cincinnati its one-point lead with 1:50 left to play in pursuit of its first postseason victory in 25 years.

After an interception, Cincinnati had a chance to run out the clock, but running back Jeremy Hill lost a fumble at the Pittsburgh 9-yard line. The Steelers moved 74 yards — 30 from unnecessary-roughness and unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties against the Bengals — in 65 seconds for a field goal that gave them an 18-16 victory.

In the era of the modern quarterback (with the position as the primary passer rather than a blocking back), former Alabama QBs have a 20-11 record as postseason starters, with four Super Bowl victories and seven NFL championships.

From the 1960 through the 1967 seasons, Bart Starr made 10 postseason starts for the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay won nine of those games, including five NFL championship contests and the first two Super Bowls, with Starr earning the MVP Award in both of those NFL-AFL showdowns.

The MVP of the third Super Bowl was a former Alabama quarterback, too, with Joe Namath leading the Jets to a 16-7 upset of the Baltimore Colts on Jan. 12, 1969.

In 1972, Scott Hunter made a postseason start for the Packers in a 16-3 loss to the Washington Redskins on Christmas Eve. A day earlier, Ken Stabler had made his postseason debut when he relieved Oakland Raiders starter Daryle Lamonica. Stabler ran 30 yards for a touchdown to put Oakland in front, but the Pittsburgh Steelers won 13-7 thanks to Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception.

Over the next five postseasons, Stabler would start 11 games for the Raiders, with Oakland winning seven, including Super Bowl XI, and reaching at least the AFC Championship Game annually.

Stabler made his final playoff start on Dec. 28, 1980, for the Houston Oilers – against the Raiders.

The next year, Todd had the Jets in the playoffs for the first time since Namath and New York lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 13-6 on Dec. 20, 1969.

The Jets lost to the Buffalo Bills 31-27 in Todd’s postseason debut on Dec. 27, 1981, even though the former Davidson High School star passed for 377 yards. At the time, that was the second-most for a player in a postseason game and remains the high mark for a player from an Alabama high school or college.

The next year, Todd made three postseason starts, and that was it for former Alabama quarterbacks until McCarron’s start for Cincinnati 33 years later.

The former Alabama quarterback who has played in the most postseason games is Jeff Rutledge. From the 1984 season through the 1991 season, Rutledge appeared in 15 playoff games, including two Super Bowl victories, although he didn’t start any. Most of Rutledge’s work came as a holder on kicks.

FOR MORE OF AL.COM’S COVERAGE OF THE NFL, GO TO OUR NFL PAGE

Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.

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