Warner, Fitzgerald in rarefied air

1/19/2009 - NFL

The historic win for the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC title game was driven by the performance of superstars Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald. That's not news to anyone who watched Sunday's game, but what is news is exactly how good those performances were.

Warner may have taken the third quarter off, but his brilliant work in the first half and the fourth quarter were enough to make his 242 DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) performance the fifth-best playoff game of any quarterback since 1995, the year our advanced stats (and play-by-play database) began.

Which four quarterback games were better? The top two will break the hearts of Broncos fans: Peyton Manning's 329 DYAR against the Broncos in 2004 and 284 DYAR against the Broncos in 2003. Number three is Jeff George for the Vikings against the Rams in 1999, a game Minnesota lost 49-37 despite George throwing for 423 yards and four scores (249 DYAR). Fourth is Tom Brady's near-flawless day against the Jaguars a year ago (244 DYAR).

As for Warner's top target? Fitzgerald's 103 DYAR performance was the third-best among wide receivers since 1995, and nearly double the 59 DYAR he earned as the league's top receiver a week ago. The two players ahead of him are players who still compete with Fitzgerald for the title of the league's best receiver right now: The Colts' Reggie Wayne earned 137 DYAR by catching 10 passes for 221 yards and two scores against the Broncos in the 2004 playoffs, and Carolina's Steve Smith mustered 116 DYAR in his 218-yard day against the Bears a year later.

What's interesting is that not one of those four quarterbacks won the Super Bowl in that season. Neither did Wayne nor Smith. If you're a Cardinals fan, having Warner and Fitzgerald is a huge boost to your hopes and dreams, but not a guaranteed ticket to titletown.

Here are the rest of the best and worst players from Championship Sunday, according to the Football Outsiders DYAR statistics.

Bill Barnwell is an analyst for FootballOutsiders.com.