NFL Week 11 Wrap: The curious Case of Keenum

WASHINGTON — Case Keenum is legit. There. I said it.

Last week, I made light of Keenum’s role in the Minnesota Vikings stealing a win against the Redskins at FedEx Field. After all, he’s just an undrafted career backup whose best year was in 2015 when he dinked and dunked his way to an 87.7 QB rating in six appearances for the then-St. Louis Rams … right?

Sunday, Keenum made the case that maybe he’s something more. He completed 27 of his 38 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions, good for a 100.4 QB rating and a dominant 24-7 Vikings win over an L.A. Rams squad equally capable of making some noise in the NFC playoffs.

Minnesota is now sporting an 8-2 record and only Philadelphia and New Orleans have a longer active win streak than the Vikings’ six-game run. Though the Eagles and Saints are the front-runners in the NFC (and I’m only a week removed from saying so myself), Minnesota can’t be omitted from that discussion.

But those teams have franchise quarterbacks. Carson Wentz is the favorite to win MVP. Drew Brees is one of the most prolific passers in NFL history and a proven championship QB. It’s easy to dismiss Minnesota because of Keenum.

History suggests that could be a huge oversight.

First of all, let’s just make this clear: Keenum can play. His career-high 93.7 QB rating ranks 12th among eligible starters and he’s done a good job of protecting the ball, throwing 12 TDs against just five interceptions. And oh by the way, Minnesota is 6-2 since he took over as the starter.

Though Keenum’s lone touchdown Sunday was a 65-yard catch-and-run by Adam Thielen (a fellow undrafted player making some history in his own right), his 7.3 yards per pass and 2,194 yards aren’t bad, ranking just a bit below the likes of Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, and Matt Ryan. Keenum is also doing an outstanding job of distributing the ball to Minnesota’s playmakers. Even Mike Zimmer — the NFL coach with one eye — can see that.

But isn’t that exactly what you want from your backup? Playing within himself and efficiently running the offense? Personally, I’ve underrated Keenum because he’s aided by a strong run game (eighth in the NFL) and a defense that borders on dominant (ranked in the top five in points and yards allowed) — so how good could he really be?

That same line of questioning fell on Jeff Hostetler 27 years ago when he stepped in for an injured Phil Simms and helped the New York Giants upset the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV.

Even further back, Earl Morrall established himself as the greatest backup QB of all time. He helped the 1970 Colts beat the Cowboys in Super Bowl V to become the first QB to come off the bench and lead a come-from-behind Super Bowl win. Two years later, Morrall would cement his legacy by winning 11 of the Miami Dolphins’ 17 games to complete the only perfect season in NFL history.

In 2000, Trent Dilfer steadied a previously one-dimensional Baltimore Ravens offense enough to aid one of the greatest defenses of all time win a championship. Not bad for a guy who, prior to that point, spent six seasons in Tampa Bay accumulating a lousy 69.4 QB rating.

Of course, locally we still breathlessly remember when Doug Williams came off the Redskins’ bench to lead them to a historic Super Bowl XXII victory that earned him MVP honors. Perhaps Keenum’s closest comp, Kurt Warner, famously went from bagging groceries to directing the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf.

Frank Reich, Scott Mitchell, and Trent Green didn’t enjoy fairy tales like Williams and Warner, but they all had productive turns as backups-turned-starters. And you know the funny thing about this long list of good backup QBs? Only Warner and Green had better numbers than Keenum’s. I know the era in which they played factors in, but none of the others listed are even close.

“It’s going to be hard to yank him out of there right now,” Zimmer said after the win over the Rams. “He’s playing good. I still have really high hopes. You know a lot of things happen throughout the course of this season so we’ll just see how it goes.”

Unless an injury to Keenum is one of those things, there’s no reason whatsoever to pull him out of the lineup, especially when you consider there’s presently no better alternative.

Erstwhile starter Teddy Bridgewater is back from a devastating knee injury, but he hasn’t played a down of competitive football in nearly two years. Overrated interim starter Sam Bradford is already out for the season (as usual) and the only other option is just-a-guy Kyle Sloter.

Yet, it’s oddly commendable that the Vikings aren’t messing with their winning formula. And the reason is because it currently seems like every team without an obvious franchise QB is botching their situation.

Case in point: Bills coach Sean McDermott inexplicably took his team’s 47-10 Week 10 beat down from the Saints out on Tyrod Taylor, benching him for unheralded rookie Nathan Peterman. That ended in unmitigated disaster.

Peterman became the first QB since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger to throw five interceptions in the first half alone, forcing McDermott to turn back to Taylor — a man with a 91.4 QB rating that should never have been benched in the first place. Buffalo’s regression from 5-2 playoff contender to 5-5 trainwreck has way more to do with their sagging defense, which has allowed a staggering 135 points over the last three games.

Minnesota can all but clinch the NFC North with a Thanksgiving Day win in Detroit. In the process, the Vikings can make a clear statement that their bid to become the first team to advance to a Super Bowl on their home field is a viable one. Assuming Keenum continues to play a big role in the Vikings’ success, he should continue to sit at the head of the table in the quarterback room, without question.

Now sit down and feast your eyes on the updated NFL Week 11 Recap.

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on

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