One of the most interesting backup quarterbacks in the NFL is still receiving plenty of praise for being one of the top ‘up-and-coming’ prospects in the league. AJ McCarron spent all of 2016 on the Bengals’ bench, due to Andy Dalton remaining healthy all season, but his demeanor, character, and production in 2015 were enough to keep the young quarterback’s name in regular discussion.
Most recently, legendary college and NFL sportscaster Brent Musburger sat down with Andrew Astleford of SEC Country to discuss the McCarron family. The discussion included not just football talk, but also Musburger’s controversial comments about McCarron’s wife, Katherine Webb, made during the January 2013 National Championship game. It was that game in which McCarron led Alabama to his second of two BCS National Championship wins. Musburger called Webb “beautiful” and a “lovely lady” during the game, as she was shown in the stands and very quickly, it went viral. More than four years later, Musburger said "I called a beauty queen beautiful, give me a break," in recollecting on the moment.
But beyond that discussion, Musburger ended up ranting and raving about McCarron’s long-term potential in the NFL.
“AJ McCarron will be someone,” Musburger said. “If I needed a quarterback, that I’d take a long look at. He’s been around. He has handled himself really well. You hear no controversy, and he has stepped in. I hope that AJ gets a chance to play.”
Despite the lack of recent tape from McCarron, his reputation as a great young prospect primarily stems from his performance as the Bengals’ fill-in quarterback after Dalton fractured his thumb against the Steelers in Week 14 of the 2015 season. In his place, McCarron helped the Bengals finish 2-2 in the final stretch with a much better performance than is typically expected of a backup quarterback (76 completions on 115 attempts for 835 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions).
In fact, those two interceptions came against the Steelers when he was thrown into the fire mid-game. He did not throw an interception in any of the three games he started in the regular season. His next interception came against the Steelers in the playoffs, but he played well enough when it counted to make people forget.
“I thought he was very good when he filled in, when Dalton was hurt in the [2015 NFL] playoffs, that run. Of all the guys that are out there – I know there’s a heavy media following for [New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy] Garoppolo, probably because ESPN is close to Boston. But I’ve got to tell you something. AJ McCarron will be someone.”
When you analyze McCarron’s attempt to lead the Bengals to their first playoff victory in 25 years, his overall performance wasn’t particularly spectacular. 23 completions on 41 attempts for 212 yards, a touchdown, and an interception led to a Quarterback Rating of 68.3. You could make the argument McCarron’s performance was part of the reason the Bengals didn’t win that day.
Then again, that is the way most expected the inexperienced quarterback to perform. The Bengals’ defense did a solid job of keeping the Steelers’ offense from doing too much damage through most of the game, so when McCarron and the Bengals’ offense finally got going in the fourth quarter, they were able to wrestle the lead away with less than two minutes remaining.
In the fourth quarter, McCarron threw for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Had it not been for an absolute collapse by the team in the final one minute and 36 seconds, the Bengals would have won that game and McCarron would have walked away as the most popular person in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, we all remember what happened that day.
“If his middle linebacker hadn’t gone brain dead that day, they would have beaten Pittsburgh [in the playoffs],” Musburger said. “[Vontaze] Burfict went nuts. AJ would have beaten them. So I think he’s deserving of a chance.”
Perhaps we shouldn’t be putting too much value on Musburger’s analysis if he thinks of Vontaze Burfict as the Bengals ‘middle’ linebacker or thinks Burfict was the cause for that loss. Still, he is a great announcer who followed McCarron’s career both collegiately and professionally. To receive such high praise from a well person in the industry likely means nothing but good things for McCarron.