The NFL was shockingly different the last time Brees, Ben or Eli weren't starting

In the wake of the news that Eli Manning has been benched, and with Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees suffering serious injuries this week, it has been a wild and massive upheaval in the NFL.

And it’s a reminder just how long-tenured and stable they’ve been in their careers to the point. Manning has never missed a start because of injury. Brees has only missed a handful of games while hurt in his career. Even Big Ben, despite myriad injuries over the years, has started 12 or more games in each of his previous 15 seasons.

This statistic is a pretty good reminder of just how reliable those three have been over the years:

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So we thought we would go back to that week in the NFL, just as a way of seeing how different things were back then — perspective: Sean McVay was a senior in high school — and how long some of the starting quarterbacks in those games have been out of the league. (Spoiler: You might feel old reading this list.)

Granted, it was Week 17 which is when some strange things can happen. But we felt it was worth a look back anyway, if for nothing else than for how bizarre the QB battles were that day.

Here is the full Week 17 slate from 2003 and the starting QBs in those games:

Patriots 31, Bills 0

Starting quarterbacks: Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe

This was the famous revenge game after the Bills blanked the Patriots by the same score in the season opener in Buffalo, right after Lawyer Milloy had joined the Bills. Brady was great in this game, giving way to Damon Huard late. Bledsoe was not great in this game, getting benched for someone named Travis Brown (in the final of his two career NFL games).

Brady is still great. Some things never change, we suppose.

Bills QB Drew Bledsoe congratulates Tom Brady following the Patriots' win in 2003. (Getty Images)
Bills QB Drew Bledsoe congratulates Tom Brady following the Patriots' win in 2003. (Getty Images)

Seahawks 24, 49ers 17

Starting quarterbacks: Matt Hasselbeck and Jeff Garcia

Hasselbeck was in his third season starting for the Seahawks, leading the team to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. It would be the final 49ers start for Garcia, who would go on to quarterback for four different teams in the following four seasons.

Hasselbeck is now on TV as an analyst. Garcia, who turns 50 in February, coaches quarterbacks.

Eagles 31, Redskins 7

Starting quarterbacks: Donovan McNabb and Tim Hasselbeck

Only our third game but our second Hasslebeck! (The nepotism was strong back then.)

This Hasselbeck only started five games in his NFL career — I lived to witness one of them — but he too has followed big bro’s path and is on TV talking about sports. Congrats to the Hasselbeck clan for their continued success.

Tim Hasselbeck started five NFL games, including this one in 2003. (Getty Images)
Tim Hasselbeck started five NFL games, including this one in 2003. (Getty Images)

McNabb would go to the NFC title game this season, and to the Super Bowl the following year. It was only his fifth season in the NFL. But it’s wild to think that he’s been out of the NFL for eight years now.

Falcons 21, Jaguars 14

Starting quarterbacks: Michael Vick and Byron Leftwich

Vick was only in his third season, and it would be more than three years after this that he was put in jail for the dogfighting stuff. He actually had missed the first 11 games of the season with a broken leg, with the Falcons keeping him on the roster before the current injured-reserve rules allowed teams to bring players back from it.

Leftwich was a rookie for the Jags, making his 13th career start, presumably the future of the franchise then. (And he somehow outrushed Vick in this game. Weird.) Now Leftwich is calling plays for the Bucs. Yep, we’re old.

Browns 22, Bengals 14

Starting quarterbacks: Tim Couch and Jon Kitna

This was the final NFL game for Couch, who went out a winner. We don’t talk about that enough.

This was three years after Kitna led the league in pass attempts (but threw only 12 TDs) and three years before he’d lead the league in sacks taken. The sweet spot of his career, if you will.

Carson Palmer would wrap up his rookie season with Cincinnati on this day with a grand total of zero snaps taken. Imagine that happening to a No. 1 overall pick now — they’d be labeled a bust before they ever buckled up a chinstrap.

Lions 30, Rams 20

Starting quarterbacks: Joey Harrington and Marc Bulger

Bulger started 15 games for the injured Kurt Warner that season and made the Pro Bowl for the 12-4 Rams. Warner got some snaps in relief in this game, which would be the final time he played in a game for the Rams.

Joey Harrington was still starting NFL games in 2003. (Getty Images)
Joey Harrington was still starting NFL games in 2003. (Getty Images)

Harrington was in only his second season with Detroit. He’d have one of the better games of his career that day (26-of-36 passing, 238 yards, three TDs, INT). Harrington now has been out of the league longer than Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco have been in the NFL.

Colts 20, Texans 17

Starting quarterbacks: Peyton Manning and David Carr

This was the 26th NFL start for Carr and — this is wild — only the 96th in Manning’s regular-season career to that point. Carr would go on to start 52 more regular-season games in the league. Manning would start 170 more.

Carr followed suit with many others on this list with a TV career. Manning has dabbled in some television himself, including his recent “Peyton’s Places” series. No word on whether he plans to visit Carr and relive this classic matchup.

Chiefs 31, Bears 3

Starting quarterbacks: Rex Grossman and Trent Green

Grossman, a rookie, would start for the Bears. But he would give way to Kordell Stewart in the second quarter ... who then gave way to Chris Chandler in the fourth. You think the Bears’ QB problems are something now? Go watch any game from 1996 through the 2005 season and give it the Pepsi Challenge.

Green was sat in the fourth quarter for Todd Collins, who was so impressive in mop-up duty — 3-for-3 passing for 41 yards — that the Bears would sign him to a contract seven years later. Collins would repay them by throwing five picks in 27 attempts in the 2010 season for Chicago.

Dolphins 23, Jets 21

Starting quarterbacks: Jay Fielder and Chad Pennington

OK, straight up without cheating ...

Would you for sure know which QB was starting for which team? Pennington started his career with the Jets and finished up with the Dolphins. Fiedler spent most of his early years with the Dolphins and ended up with the Jets.

They also were teammates at one point. Could you even tell the two apart if you’d had a few beers?

Follow-up question: Did you remember that Fielder helped lead the Dolphins to a 10-win season that year?

Saints 13, Cowboys 7

Starting quarterbacks: Aaron Brooks and Quincy Carter

Hit the wayback machine for this one. It was Bill Parcells’ first season in Dallas. Of course, it was also Jason Witten’s first there.

But get a load of this: Carter started, backed up by Chad Hutchinson. The third QB that day, Tony Romo, was inactive.

Titans 33, Buccaneers 13

Starting quarterbacks: Brad Johnson and Neil O'Donnell

Raise your hand if you remember O’Donnell starting games for the Titans. This was his final NFL game, giving the late Steve McNair some rest before the playoffs. It was Jeff Fisher vs. Jon Gruden, for which you may supply your own punch line. Both were at the relative peaks of their career back then.

Oh, and Gary Anderson kicked in this game for the Titans, making four field goals and outscoring the Bucs (15 points) by himself. Today Anderson is 60 years old.

This was the first of eight different NFL uniforms Josh McCown would go on to wear in his career. (Getty Images)
This was the first of eight different NFL uniforms Josh McCown would go on to wear in his career. (Getty Images)

Cardinals 18, Vikings 17

Starting quarterbacks: Josh McCown and Daunte Culpepper

Culpepper was just wrapping up his second Pro Bowl season and McCown was a second-year QB out of Sam Houston State. Imagine the odds you could have gotten wagering on which one would have the longer career.

This was McCown’s third NFL start, and it was a fairly incredible one as he led the Cardinals to two long TDs in the final 1:54 to pull the shocking upset.

Perhaps we should have known. He played in a game the other night! That was the eighth team he’d take real snaps for.

Panthers 37, Giants 24

Starting quarterbacks: Jake Delhomme and Jesse Palmer

This was the year the Panthers made an unexpected run to the Super Bowl. For the Giants, it was the final game of the Jim Fassel era.

Palmer — another future TV dude — would replace Kerry Collins for the final three starts with the team losing all three. It was Palmer’s final NFL game; in fact, he hadn’t even been on “The Bachelor” yet at this point.

Packers 31, Broncos 3

Starting quarterbacks: Brett Favre and Jarious Jackson

In what has to be the strangest starting QB battle in modern NFL history, this would pit the NFL’s all-time leader in games started against Jackson in his only NFL start (and his final game in the league).

Favre was so-so in this game, a warmup for the playoffs, before giving way to Doug Pederson, who is now coaching the Eagles.

Jackson was way less than so-so in this one, getting yanked by Mike Shanahan early in the second quarter after a pick and replaced by ... yep, another future football analyst, Danny Kanell.

If you still don’t believe Jackson was an NFL quarterback, take the word of Yahoo Sports’ Frank Schwab, who covered this game. And here is a photo for actual, real-life proof that it happened:

Denver Broncos QB Jarious Jackson's NFL career didn't last too long. (Getty Images)
Denver Broncos QB Jarious Jackson's NFL career didn't last too long. (Getty Images)

Chargers 21, Raiders 14

Starting quarterbacks: Brees and Rick Mirer

So much feels wrong when looking at this gamebook ...

Brees completed 15-of-28 passes for only 97 yards this game. Although the Chargers would draft Rivers the following spring, Brees would go on to start another 31 games for the franchise before injuring his shoulder and leaving for New Orleans.

Mirer — who knew? — started half the season for the Raiders in place of an injured Rich Gannon and was benched in this game for Tee Martin. Martin attempted only 16 NFL passes in his career, and 14 of them came on this day at Qualcomm Stadium.

LaDainian Tomlinson gained 260 yards from scrimmage. The Raiders totaled 141. That was about the only thing that made sense that day.

Ravens 13, Steelers 10 (overtime)

Starting quarterbacks: Anthony Wright and Tommy Maddox

The playoff-bound Ravens would win on a Matt Stover field goal in OT despite Wright struggling. He’d also start the playoff game the next week, which was a loss and the final start of Wright’s career.

Maddox was sacked five times and picked three times, completing only 14-of-27 passes for 108 yards. In fact, he was almost out-passed in this one by punter Josh Miller, who threw an 81-yard TD to Chris Hope — the only NFL reception of the defensive back’s career.

Maddox would give way to Roethlisberger as the starter early the following season and would spend a few years as Ben’s backup.

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