It is hard not to appreciate Joe Webb, both for what he does and for what he tries to do.
How many third-string quarterbacks can play wide receiver? How many play special teams? How many ran down Devin Hester after a 66-yard kickoff return and made a touchdown-saving tackle last December?
Webb does all of those things. And Friday night, in a rare opportunity to play quarterback at the most critical moment of a game, Webb led a 91-yard touchdown drive for the Panthers. He then threw a strike on a successful two-point conversion as Carolina edged Buffalo in the final minute, 25-24.
Granted, it was an exhibition. Granted, the yardage came in a backups vs. backups scenario. But it was an important fourth quarter for Webb, who wants to make sure the Panthers keep three quarterbacks again this season.
“It means a lot to me,” Webb said during a recent interview, “to go out and prove to the coaches that I can play at the NFL QB level. It’s a big stage for me to continue to prove to different cultures – not only Carolina, but 31 other teams, too – that I can do this. Preseason is basically like a resume. You handle your job on the field and let the chips fall where they may.”
Coach Ron Rivera said he believes the team will keep Webb as a third quarterback again. (Some NFL teams enter the season with only two on the roster.) That is good news for Webb.
“I do foresee keeping three quarterbacks, and part of the reason is what he’s done for us in the past,” Rivera said of Webb. “He’s been an emergency wide receiver for us. He’s been a backup quarterback, and he’s been a special teams guy for us. … These very versatile players are starting to be in vogue again. You are seeing guys who can do more than one thing starting to emerge.”
Friday’s final drive
On Friday night at Buffalo, Webb didn’t do much right and couldn’t get the ball moving on his first five series spanning most of the third and fourth quarters.
The Panthers had only four first downs in those five possessions. They punted four times and lost it on downs once.
But everything worked on the last series. Webb ran for 8 yards on one scramble and threw completions of 29, 7, 5 and then 42 yards – the last a dump-off to running back Brandon Wegher after Webb did some nifty maneuvering in the pocket.
Wegher ended up taking that short pass all the way. Webb’s best throw was the ensuing two-point conversion, in which he hit Paul Browning with a dart of a slant pass to beat tight coverage, frustrate new Buffalo coach Rex Ryan and win the game by a single point.
Cam Newton and teammates bolted off the sideline to congratulate Webb after the comeback. Webb is a popular figure among the Panthers, who appreciate the difficulty of his multi-layered job.
“At a regular practice, I would say I’m with the quarterbacks about 70 percent of the time,” Webb said. “But then when the special-teams drills are going on, I’m doing special teams all the way.”
‘The more you do, the better’
Although Webb, 28, has started NFL games before at wide receiver with Minnesota and caught one pass for Carolina last season, the Panthers have plenty of depth at that position now. So he’s not catching passes anymore.
He will be throwing a lot of them in the next three weeks, though, as the Panthers limit the snaps of Newton and second-stringer Derek Anderson.
In the Buffalo game, Webb took 30 snaps, Anderson 20 and Newton 16. Webb’s snaps likely will go down the next two games before he plays the majority of the final exhibition Sept. 3 at Pittsburgh.
Webb freely admits he doesn’t have Newton’s arm strength, but he can move well in the pocket and his size (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) is not far off from Newton, either. In his sixth season, Webb once started a playoff game for Minnesota and has rushed for four NFL TDs.
“If that opportunity to be a starting quarterback ever came, I would take responsibility for that,” Webb said. “But for right now, we’ve got Cam and we’ve got (Anderson). So for me, it’s the more you can do, the better. Any chance I can get to get on the field, I’m all for it.”
Webb will get that chance for the rest of this month. Beyond that, who knows?
In the meantime, I watched Webb run stride for stride with Ted Ginn Jr. trying to chase Ginn down on a kickoff during training camp. With athleticism like that, the Panthers simply have to keep three quarterbacks – and Webb – this season.