During Sunday’s loss to Detroit at U.S. Bank Stadium, he regressed a bit — save a handful of pinpoint throws to Adam Thielen and Stephon Diggs — and seemed more like the quarterback that struggled in a backup role in Houston and St. Louis/Los Angeles.
His 16 of 30 passing for 219 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions and a 76.9 passer rating in his third start since taking over for injured Sam Bradford, was yards away from the man that shredded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for nearly 400 yards seven days earlier.
It was leaps and bounds away from the boy that passed for 6,783 yards and 48 touchdowns and rushed for 41 touchdowns and 2,000 yards at Abilene Wylie. Or the underrated 2-star recruit that led the Bulldogs on a game-winning drive for a 17–14 victory over Cuero High School in the 2004 Texas Class 3A Division I championship game — the high school’s only state title.
It was shades away from the man that is the only quarterback in Division I Football Bowl Subdivision history to pass for more than 5,000 yards in three consecutive years or that became the FBS’ all-time leader in total offense and touchdown passes.
The question is, however, what is to be made of Keenum given his resume at the University of Houston, the Houston Texans, and the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, as well as three games with the Minnesota Vikings.
The game may have been an overview of his career, a mixture of throws that seem like they floated from the hands of Tom Brady himself and others that seem more questionable and Brock Osweiler-esque (substitute any below average NFL quarterback’s name here).
A Keenum mistake in the fourth quarter — changing the play and protection and in doing so creating an easy sack for the Lions that put the Vikings in a fourth-and-goal situation from the Detroit 14-yard line — perhaps more than the 11 points scored off Minnesota turnovers, was a reminder of why he’s been a backup for much of his career.
His 369 yards and three touchdowns on 25-for-33 through the air against the Buccaneers, however, could make the non-analyst ponder if he’s just been besieged by bad luck and worse omens.
Sam Bradford, for all intensive purposes, is a stopgap. There are others in Keenum’s age range, too, that have come to franchises, stabilized teams and staged late-career revivals.
Randall Cunningham was found by Dennis Green on a construction site and helped guide veterans Cris Carter and Jake Reed, rookie Randy Moss, and Minnesota to a 15-1 record and the NFC Championship Game in 1998.
Carson Palmer found steady ground in Arizona after announcing retirement, being traded to Oakland, falling out of the Raiders favor, and facing his third team move in four years. As a 35-year-old signal caller, he engineered arguably the best season of his career. He recorded 35 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, finished the 2015-16 season 13–3 as a starter, and helped the Cardinals win the NFC West and secure a first first-round bye in the playoffs.
And then there is the former Arizona Cardinal, Green Bay Packer, and St. Louis Ram Kurt Warner — an undrafted free agent turned 23-year-old grocery store bagger turned now-defunct Arena Football League Iowa Barnstormer star turned NFL Europe Amsterdam Admiral signal caller turned leader of the “Greatest Show on Turf.”
Like Warner, the Abilene Wylie product bounced from team to team, scrambling to find his niche after being undrafted out of Houston. Minnesota though, more than the Bayou City’s collegiate or professional teams, may have the stable makings Keenum needs to thrive as an NFL starter.
Minnesota has one of the best defenses — if not the best — in the NFL, one capable of giving Keenum and Diggs, a deep-threat receiving option, short fields to score touchdowns on shorter drives.
National pundits often use the rhetoric that “the only team he can beat is Tampa Bay.” Many have relegated his talent to the football purgatory that is the second-string quarterback.
For Keenum, Tampa Bay was two steps forward. Detroit was two steps back. The 7:30 p.m. Monday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, could triple his progress.
It offers Keenum an opportunity to outduel untested but highly-touted second overall 2017 NFL Draft pick Mitch Trubisky. It allows him to beat one of the better defenses in the NFL on the road in one of the most difficult venues to play.
Most importantly, it allows Case Austin Keenum a chance to do what he’s done since he stepped on the collegiate football scene in 2008 and overlooked Hall of Famers did before him — defy odds.