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Monday, January 31, 2005
Updated: August 12, 11:38 AM ET
Ranking Super Bowl QBs

By Aaron Schatz
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.

Tom Brady
Will Brady top the performance of his first two Super Bowls?

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.

Top 10

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).

Phil Simms
Simms was nearly flawless when the Giants beat the Broncos.

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).

Bottom 5

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.

Rich Gannon
Gannon drops back to throw another of his five picks.

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.

Special mention:

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
Player Team Opp Year W/L Stats % Off Clutch
pts
Score
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

  • Year: represents year of regular season, not year Super Bowl was played.

  • % Off represents the percent of the team's offensive yardage gained by the quarterback, either rushing or passing, while he was in the game.

  • Clutch points is the points scored by the offense in the second half whenever the score was within 10 points either way.

  • The final score represents a DEFENSE ADJUSTED RATING for the quality of the pass defense faced compared to the average defense that season.

    Aaron Schatz is editor-in-chief of FootballOutsiders.com. Thanks to Ned Macey of manofleisuresports.com for help with compiling these statistics.