Matt Moore is good enough that he can still chase the dream of becoming an NFL starting quarterback. Proof of that came the final nine games of 2011 when he was among the NFL’s best at his position and last week when he led the Dolphins to victory after coming off the bench to replace an injured Ryan Tannehill.
But if Moore stops and thinks about this and seriously weighs his options, he might just decide he’s in the perfect spot now. He might decide he has found his niche.
That’s because he is an excellent backup quarterback.
And that’s a pretty good thing to be.
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“I’m sure that point comes,” Moore said this week as talk of him again replacing the injured Tannehill swirled around the Dolphins. “I don’t see it happening for me for a while. But I know it’s a double-sided sword, I guess. Yeah, I’m comfortable being a backup but it’s hard not to say, ‘I want to play.’
“Still, this is my job. It’s my job to be the backup. I accept that. I try to do it to the best of my ability. So I’m comfortable being the backup.”
Moore should be comfortable because he has joined an elite group of Dolphins quarterbacks who, through the years, proved themselves to be great No. 2s.
Earl Morrall, of course, heads that fine group. Don Strock, Scott Mitchell and Damon Huard also belong. All of them were probably not suited to be NFL starters but all were excellent in tough times when Miami’s starters couldn’t play.
All played well.
All won games.
Just like Moore has done the past two years.
Moore was 6-6 as the starter last season after being pressed into service when Chad Henne injured his shoulder and could not continue.
The first three games Moore played were losses and he was not exactly inspiring, throwing one touchdown and three interceptions. But once he gained his footing, Moore threw 15 touchdown passes and only five interceptions the final nine games of the season.
His quarterback rating was 97.8 — the sixth-best rating of any quarterback — during that nine-game span. And, most importantly, Miami won six of those nine games.
Yes, the Dolphins knew they wanted to shop for a franchise quarterback this offseason. But they also knew they had a fine backup and good fallback player on the roster already.
That’s important in today’s NFL, because starting quarterbacks seemingly wear targets that defenders aim for every game. Rare is the starter who doesn’t have to play hurt or miss games.
And that’s exactly the situation the Dolphins find themselves in Sunday. The Dolphins expect Tannehill to be able to start against Indianapolis despite getting knocked out of last week’s game in New York with a knee injury.
But what if something unexpected happens? What if Tannehill starts but cannot finish? What then?
“There’s a possibility I could play so I prepare that way and move on like that,” Moore said. “I’m preparing to go in the game as usual. You always have to be ready to go in. The main thing is to get out there and not freak out, know that you’re capable of being out there and moving the ball.”
Moore’s confidence is higher now than it has been all season.
Remember, he was simply terrible in the preseason when he completed only 39 percent of his passes, often against second-string competition. But last week, thrust into a divisional game on the road against a bitter rival, Moore completed 57.9 percent of his throws, threw a touchdown pass and avoided any interceptions or fumbles.
“Sunday, having to go in, it took me a series,” Moore said. “That first series we had two runs and the pass on third down that wasn’t very good. And then after that, I settled down a little bit. So I guess I needed that little time to feel everything out and get in the rhythm of the game. But once that second drive hit, I felt pretty comfortable.
“The preseason did not go very well for me personally. So to go out and get the win is a big deal for my confidence and to still know I can do this, you know, let’s these guys know that if, God forbid, Ryan isn’t out there, we’re going to be all right.”
Moore’s value as a backup extends beyond the comfort coaches must feel when he has to play. Despite not starting, he is a leader on the team. Players respect him. They value him.
“He’s upbeat, he’s positive, he likes the game,” coach Joe Philbin said. “I can tell he’s a little bit of a gym rat. He’s a fun guy; he can make fun of himself and not take it too seriously. He’s a good guy, a good guy to be around. You like having him in the locker room, you like having him on the ballclub and he’s a good football player. He’s been impressive from Day One.”
Most impressive has been Moore’s relationship with Tannehill. The two were competing for the same job in training camp. But even then, Moore helped Tannehill as much as he could — at one point even advising him to slide rather than take a hit.
That selfless advice, by the way, could help keep Tannehill in games and Moore on the sideline.
“We were in a competition, but it wasn’t a hostile environment,” Tannehill said. “We were competing and, obviously, both fierce competitors, but we helped each other along the way at the same time. Once I was named the starter, he really stepped his game up and told me that he’s going to be there for me. He’s going to do anything that I need him to do.
“He helps me in the film room. We’re constantly talking through defenses, talking through plays. He’s my eyes on the sideline for me. When I come off, he’s there to tell me what he’s seeing from the sideline. He’s about as supportive as a backup quarterback could possibly be.”
That doesn’t mean Moore is happy not playing. He wants to play a lot. He apparently wants to win a lot more.
“The main objective here is to win ballgames, you know what I mean?” he said. “The only way we’re going to win ballgames is by scoring points and throwing touchdowns. And I can’t do that from the sideline so I want him to do it. I want those things to happen.
“You want to play every Sunday. … But I go back to, Ryan is the starter for this football team and I’m the backup. And that’s the way we’re going about business.”
The perfect backup.