Special to Page 2
New England fans maintain that Tom Brady doesn't need impressive statistics to prove his greatness. But let's be honest -- they can't hurt. And a statistical look at all 38 Super Bowls shows that Brady's MVP performance in Super Bowl XXXVIII was the greatest single game by any quarterback in Super Bowl history.
To rank the quarterbacks, I started with conventional statistics and turned them into an estimate of the Points Above Replacement measure used all season long in Page 2's Snap Judgment QB rankings. The method was a bit different from the one used in my ranking of the top passing seasons in history, since I was dealing only with single games. This time I also could take into account quarterback sacks, and rushing totals as well as passing.
Before running the numbers, though, I made a few adjustments. Numbers were adjusted for era, so that quarterbacks would not be penalized because they threw less often and for fewer yards prior to the 1978 liberalization of passing rules. Quarterbacks also tended to throw for fewer yards per attempt after 1991, though completion rates stayed the same.
Because my rating is based on total value, quarterbacks also were adjusted for how much of the team's offense they represented compared to the average for their time. That way a quarterback like Terry Bradshaw, who threw well but did not throw a lot, wouldn't be penalized because the Steelers preferred to use their strong running game. Neither would a quarterback who was stuck throwing a zillion passes because his team was so far behind, like Jim Kelly.
I also made an adjustment for the strength of the pass defense each quarterback faced, based on how many yards per attempt that defense gave up compared to the league average in that particular season. A big game against the 1996 Packers was certainly more difficult than a big game against the 2002 Raiders.
Finally, while everyone appreciates a big game in a big blowout, the greatest Super Bowl legends come from the players who take control when the game is on the line. Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Brady each built their legends by leading two different Super Bowl victories by a touchdown or less. So this system gives extra credit to quarterbacks for points scored by the offense in the second half when the score of the game was within 10 points either way, with extra credit if those points came on a passing touchdown.
With all this statistical noodling out of the way, we put the quarterbacks on a scale where 50 represented the average Super Bowl performance (before adjusting for the opposing defense) and 100 represented the best. Since the worst games were really, really bad, that meant some games actually scored a negative rating.
Our list includes all 76 starting Super Bowl quarterbacks, plus four more quarterbacks who entered the game in relief and threw at least 15 passes. Two quarterbacks stand head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to combining a great overall Super Bowl performance and second-half clutch play: Brady and Phil Simms. But because he faced a slightly tougher defense, Brady gets the nod as the No. 1 Super Bowl quarterback of all time.
Here are some comment, followed by a chart listing all 80 quarterbacks.
1. Tom Brady, Super Bowl XXXVIII
Brady's total of 354 yards is the fourth highest of all time, his completion percentage of 66.7 percent was the highest in 10 years, and his 19 passing first downs and 32 completions are Super Bowl records. He is one of only four quarterbacks to throw two TD passes in the second half of a close game (the others were Terry Bradshaw in Super Bowl XIV, Joe Montana in Super Bowl XXIII and Jake Delhomme).
2. Phil Simms, Super Bowl XXI
Denver led Super Bowl XXI at halftime by the score of 10-9. But in the second half, Simms led the Giants to 24 straight points without throwing a single incomplete pass.
3. Steve Young, Super Bowl XXIX
Young's six touchdown passes are a Super Bowl record, and he was even the game's leading rusher with 49 yards. By the second half, the 49ers were just piling it on; two of Young's touchdowns came with leads of 25 and 24 points.
4. Jake Delhomme, Super Bowl XXXVIII
By far the greatest performance in a losing effort, even more astonishing because with three minutes left in the first half, the Patriots had outgained the Panthers 125 yards to -7 and Delhomme had completed one pass for one yard. His clutch second half was good enough to win the game, but Carolina's special teams and defense could not hold at the end.
5. Joe Montana, Super Bowl XIX
Would you believe Joe Montana, scrambling quarterback? Only Steve McNair in Super Bowl XXXIV had more rushing yards than Montana's 59, six of which came on a second-quarter touchdown. He threw for 331 yards.
6. Joe Montana, Super Bowl XXIV
Montana's five passing touchdowns, along with three San Francisco rushing touchdowns, meant 55 total points -- most in Super Bowl history. His completion percentage of 75.9 percent is second-highest by any quarterback with at least 10 attempts. But Montana's great performance came in part thanks to amazing field position; three of his TD passes came on drives that started at the San Francisco 46, Denver 37, and Denver 28 after Bronco turnovers.
7. Troy Aikman, Super Bowl XXVII
A very similar game to Montana's in Super Bowl XXIV: a high completion percentage and four touchdowns, but only 11 passing first downs thanks to a strong game from Emmitt Smith and great field position thanks to Buffalo's record nine turnovers.
8. Ken Stabler, Super Bowl XI
His numbers don't seem impressive, but remember that he played in an era of power rushing: Oakland had 266 yards on the ground. When Stabler had to pass, he was magnificent, completing five of six third-down passes for 108 yards. Three passes to receiver Fred Biletnikoff (who actually won the MVP instead of Stabler) set up Oakland touchdowns from the one- or two-yard line.
9. Joe Montana, Super Bowl XXIII
Montana's 357 passing yards stood as the Super Bowl record until Kurt Warner showed up, but the number of yards is not as important as the drives they came on. First, Montana led an 85-yard touchdown drive consisting of three long passes that tied the game at 13-13 at the start of the fourth quarter. Then a 44-yard strike to Jerry Rice set up a long field goal try, which missed. Finally, Montana had 97 yards in the air on the game-winning drive that ended with the legendary touchdown pass to John Taylor in the final minute.
10. Kurt Warner, Super Bowl XXXIV
Warner threw for a record 414 yards, but this game drops down the list due to a poor 53.3 percent completion percentage and a horrible red-zone performance. The Rams drove inside the Tennessee 20-yard line on their first six possessions, but came away with just a single touchdown. Warner's rating also gets penalized because, in terms of yards per pass attempt relative to the league, the 1999 Titans had the third-worst pass defense in Super Bowl history (only the 1976 Raiders and 1983 Redskins were worse).
76. John Elway, Super Bowl XXIV
Since 1978, only Kerry Collins has averaged fewer yards per attempt with at least 10 Super Bowl passes. Two interceptions and a lost fumble were each turned into seven San Francisco points. Elway is the only quarterback with games in the top 20 and bottom 20 of Super Bowl performances.
77. Earl Morrall, Super Bowl III
The question, "So, do you think Shula should have brought in Johnny U. in Super Bowl III?" has been used to teach CPR to Baltimore-area medical technicians for over 30 years. Morrall had half as many interceptions (three) as completions (six) while Unitas sat on the bench until mid-third quarter and the underdog Jets built a 13-0 lead.
78. Rich Gannon, Super Bowl XXXVII
Gannon threw a record five interceptions, including three returned for Tampa Bay touchdowns. His two touchdowns didn't come until Tampa Bay had built a 34-3 lead. A total absence of a running game (9 carries, 16 yards) meant Gannon represented more of his team's offense than any quarterback in Super Bowl history.
79. Craig Morton, Super Bowl XII
Morton threw as many interceptions as complete passes (four). The only reason Morton does not hit bottom is that he was mercifully pulled for Norris Weese in the third quarter.
80. Kerry Collins, Super Bowl XXXV
Everything terrible about Morton's game, but more of it. Less than three yards per attempt, only six first downs despite 39 passes, plus four interceptions and four sacks without a single touchdown. Even after adjusting for the quality of the 2000 Baltimore defense, nothing comes close to this as the worst game for any quarterback in Super Bowl history.
58. Tony Eason, Super Bowl XX
The only reason this game isn't in the bottom five is that Eason (a.k.a. "The Anti-Brady") didn't stick around to build up enough negative value. Incomplete, incomplete, incomplete, incomplete, incomplete, sacked for ten-yard loss, sacked for a seven-yard loss and lost fumble, sacked for an 11-yard loss, and then yanked for backup Steve Grogan with five minutes left in the first half.
|RANKING THE SUPER BOWL QUARTERBACKS|
|1. Tom Brady||NE||CAR||2003||W||32-48, 354, 3 TD, 1 INT||76.1||19||101|
|2. Phil Simms||NYG||DEN||1986||W||22-25, 268, 3 TD, 0 INT||72.5||17||99|
|3. Steve Young||SF||SD||1994||W||24-36, 325, 6 TD, 0 INT||80.6||0||98|
|4. Jake Delhomme||CAR||NE||2003||L||16-33, 323, 3 TD, 0 INT||77.8||18||97|
|5. Joe Montana||SF||MIA||1984||W||24-35, 331, 3 TD, 0 INT||72.0||0||95|
|6. Joe Montana||SF||DEN||1989||W||22-29, 297, 5 TD, 0 INT||70.7||0||90|
|7. Troy Aikman||DAL||BUF||1992||W||22-30, 273, 4 TD, 0 INT||73.4||0||90|
|8. Ken Stabler||OAK||MIN||1976||W||12-19, 180, 1 TD, 0 INT||40.4||0||86|
|9. Joe Montana||SF||CIN||1988||W||23-36, 357, 2 TD, 0 INT||78.9||17||84|
|10. Kurt Warner||STL||TEN||1999||W||24-45, 414, 2 TD, 0 INT||93.7||7||84|
|11. John Elway||DEN||ATL||1998||W||18-29, 336, 1 TD, 1 INT||74.0||0||83|
|12. Terry Bradshaw||PIT||MIN||1974||W||9-14, 96, 1 TD, 0 INT||37.4||14||81|
|13. Jim McMahon||CHI||NE||1985||W||12-20, 256, 0 TD, 0 INT||63.8||0||80|
|14. R. Staubach||DAL||MIA||1971||W||12-19, 119, 2 TD, 0 INT||36.9||7||79|
|15. Steve McNair||TEN||STL||1999||L||22-36, 214, 0 TD, 0 INT||74.5||10||79|
|16. Troy Aikman||DAL||PIT||1995||W||15-23, 209, 1 TD, 0 INT||77.7||14||78|
|17. Jim Plunkett||OAK||PHI||1980||W||13-21, 261, 3 TD, 0 INT||71.4||0||78|
|18. Terry Bradshaw||PIT||DAL||1975||W||9-19, 209, 2 TD, 0 INT||62.8||12||76|
|19. Bart Starr||GB||KC||1966||W||16-23, 250, 2 TD, 1 INT||65.3||7||75|
|20. Troy Aikman||DAL||BUF||1993||W||19-27, 207, 0 TD, 1 INT||61.0||14||74|
|21. R. Staubach||DAL||DEN||1977||W||17-25, 183, 1 TD, 0 INT||58.0||14||70|
|22. Joe Namath||NYJ||BAL||1968||W||17-28, 206, 0 TD, 0 INT||59.2||6||70|
|23. Brett Favre||GB||DEN||1997||L||25-42, 256, 3 TD, 1 INT||72.9||10||69|
|24. Mark Rypien||WAS||BUF||1991||W||18-33, 292, 2 TD, 1 INT||69.1||0||69|
|25. Bob Griese||MIA||MIN||1973||W||6-7, 73, 0 TD, 0 INT||29.7||0||68|
|26. Joe Montana||SF||CIN||1981||W||14-22, 157, 1 TD, 0 INT||61.6||6||68|
|27. Doug Williams||WAS||DEN||1987||W||18-29, 340, 4 TD, 1 INT||54.5||0||68|
|28. Jeff Hostetler||NYG||BUF||1990||W||20-32, 222, 1 TD, 0 INT||58.9||10||68|
|29. Terry Bradshaw||PIT||DAL||1978||W||17-30, 318, 4 TD, 1 INT||81.5||7||68|
|30. Bart Starr||GB||OAK||1967||W||13-24, 202, 1 TD, 0 INT||59.7||7||67|
|31. Brad Johnson||TB||OAK||2002||W||18-34, 215, 2 TD, 1 INT||61.6||0||67|
|32. Jim Kelly||BUF||NYG||1990||L||18-30, 212, 0 TD, 0 INT||62.2||7||65|
|33. Len Dawson||KC||MIN||1969||W||12-17, 142, 1 TD, 1 INT||52.2||7||62|
|34. Kurt Warner||STL||NE||2001||L||28-44, 365, 1 TD, 2 INT||81.5||7||57|
|35. Jim Plunkett||RAI||WAS||1983||W||16-25, 172, 1 TD, 0 INT||42.2||0||56|
|36. John Elway||DEN||GB||1997||W||12-22, 123, 0 TD, 1 INT||46.4||14||55|
|37. Tom Brady||NE||STL||2001||W||16-27, 145, 1 TD, 0 INT||53.2||3||55|
|38. Len Dawson||KC||GB||1966||L||16-27, 211, 1 TD, 1 INT||87.4||0||55|
|39. Terry Bradshaw||PIT||RAM||1979||W||14-21, 309, 2 TD, 3 INT||80.9||21||55|
|40. Brett Favre||GB||NE||1996||W||14-27, 246, 2 TD, 0 INT||71.5||0||54|
|41. R. Staubach||DAL||PIT||1978||L||17-30, 228, 3 TD, 1 INT||69.4||3||53|
|42. John Elway||DEN||NYG||1986||L||22-37, 304, 1 TD, 1 INT||93.0||0||52|
|43. Fran Tarkenton||MIN||MIA||1973||L||18-28, 182, 0 TD, 1 INT||78.3||0||51|
|44. Earl Morrall||BAL||DAL||1970||W||7-15, 147, 0 TD, 1 INT||75.1||0||51|
|45. Bob Griese||MIA||WAS||1972||W||8-11, 88, 1 TD, 1 INT||32.4||0||50|
|46. D. Lamonica||OAK||GB||1967||L||15-34, 208, 2 TD, 1 INT||66.0||0||48|
|47. Joe Kapp||MIN||KC||1969||L||16-25, 183, 0 TD, 2 INT||76.8||0||45|
|48. Bob Griese||MIA||DAL||1971||L||12-23, 134, 0 TD, 1 INT||62.6||0||44|
|49. V. Ferragamo||RAM||PIT||1979||L||15-25, 212, 0 TD, 1 INT||68.7||6||43|
|50. Fran Tarkenton||MIN||OAK||1976||L||17-35, 205, 1 TD, 2 INT||78.2||0||43|
|51. Johnny Unitas||BAL||DAL||1970||W||3-9, 88, 1 TD, 2 INT||86.0||10||42|
|52. Jim Kelly||BUF||DAL||1993||L||31-50, 260, 0 TD, 1 INT||78.4||0||42|
|53. R. Staubach||DAL||PIT||1975||L||15-24, 205, 2 TD, 3 INT||72.4||0||40|
|54. Johnny Unitas||BAL||NYJ||1968||L||11-24, 110, 0 TD, 1 INT||71.0||0||40|
|55. Ken Anderson||CIN||SF||1981||L||25-34, 300, 2 TD, 2 INT||84.7||0||40|
|56. Joe Theismann||WAS||MIA||1982||W||15-23, 143, 2 TD, 2 INT||38.9||17||36|
|57. Trent Dilfer||BAL||NYG||2000||W||12-25, 123, 1 TD, 0 INT||52.6||0||35|
|58. Tony Eason||NE||CHI||1985||L||0-6, 0, 0 TD, 0 INT||0.0||0||32|
|59. Dan Marino||MIA||SF||1984||L||29-50, 318, 1 TD, 2 INT||83.2||0||29|
|60. S. Humphries||SD||SF||1994||L||24-49, 275, 0 TD, 3 INT||85.7||0||27|
|61. Fran Tarkenton||MIN||PIT||1974||L||11-26, 102, 0 TD, 3 INT||85.7||0||26|
|62. Frank Reich||BUF||DAL||1992||L||18-31, 194, 1 TD, 2 INT||72.4||0||25|
|63. Steve Grogan||NE||CHI||1985||L||17-30, 177, 1 TD, 2 INT||93.8||0||24|
|64. Jim Kelly||BUF||DAL||1992||L||4-7, 82, 0 TD, 2 INT||70.7||0||24|
|65. Craig Morton||DAL||BAL||1970||L||12-26, 127, 1 TD, 3 INT||56.3||0||24|
|66. David Woodley||MIA||WAS||1982||L||4-14, 97, 1 TD, 1 INT||58.5||0||23|
|67. Chris Chandler||ATL||DEN||1998||L||19-35, 219, 1 TD, 3 INT||71.1||0||21|
|68. Ron Jaworski||PHI||OAK||1980||L||18-38, 291, 1 TD, 3 INT||80.8||0||20|
|69. B. Esiason||CIN||SF||1988||L||11-25, 144, 0 TD, 1 INT||57.6||6||20|
|70. Drew Bledsoe||NE||GB||1996||L||25-48, 253, 2 TD, 4 INT||85.8||0||14|
|71. Joe Theismann||WAS||RAI||1983||L||16-35, 243, 0 TD, 2 INT||78.4||0||12|
|72. Billy Kilmer||WAS||MIA||1972||L||14-28, 104, 0 TD, 3 INT||49.8||0||12|
|73. Neil O'Donnell||PIT||DAL||1995||L||28-49, 239, 1 TD, 3 INT||69.9||7||10|
|74. Jim Kelly||BUF||WAS||1991||L||28-58, 275, 2 TD, 4 INT||91.6||0||7|
|75. John Elway||DEN||WAS||1987||L||14-38, 257, 1 TD, 3 INT||81.6||0||4|
|76. John Elway||DEN||SF||1989||L||10-26, 108, 0 TD, 2 INT||67.4||0||-2|
|77. Earl Morrall||BAL||NYJ||1968||L||6-17, 71, 0 TD, 3 INT||40.8||0||-3|
|78. Rich Gannon||OAK||TB||2002||L||24-44, 272, 2 TD, 5 INT||94.5||0||-4|
|79. Craig Morton||DEN||DAL||1977||L||4-15, 39, 0 TD, 4 INT||37.1||0||-23|
|80. Kerry Collins||NYG||BAL||2000||L||15-39, 112, 0 TD, 4 INT||62.9||0||-47|
Aaron Schatz is editor-in-chief of FootballOutsiders.com. Thanks to Ned Macey of manofleisuresports.com for help with compiling these statistics.