TACKLING THE SUPER BOWL QUARTERBACK RANKINGS

Here’s a glance at the best and worst performances of all time.

Super
JOHN SLEEZER/KANSAS CITY STAR/TNS
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates after the game-winning touchdown in overtime for a 37-31 win against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Championship game on January 20 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

BY THOMAS BASSINGER
TAMPA BAY TIMES/TNS

“We’re still here!” Tom Brady chanted at a pep rally last weekend before the Patriots’ flight to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII.

Well, yeah. They’re always here.

Sunday will mark the Patriots’ ninth Super Bowl appearance in 18 seasons. They’ve won five times and are favorites to win again.

No matter the outcome, Brady’s GOAT status is secure. He is a four-time MVP and has led three fourth-quarter comebacks. As outstanding as he has been, there have been, believe it or not, better single-game performances. You might be wondering, “If not Brady, then who?”

The formula

To find out, I consulted a statistic called adjusted net yards per pass attempt, or ANY/A, which isn’t as convoluted as it sounds. In short, it’s a measure of a quarterback’s efficiency and is strongly correlated to wins.

It’s basically a souped-up version of yards per attempt that rewards quarterbacks for touchdown passes and penalizes them for interceptions and sacks.

Here’s the formula: (passing yards + 20(passing touchdowns) – 45(interceptions thrown) – sack yards) / (pass attempts + sacks). For reference, Patrick Mahomes’ 8.89 ANY/A led the NFL this season.

In the rankings below, I considered only Super Bowl performances. Regular-season statistics were not a factor. For a quarterback to qualify as one of the best, he had to throw multiple touchdown passes.

As it turns out, Joe Montana was pretty decent. So, too, was Terry Bradshaw.

The 10 best

1. Jim Plunkett, Raiders, XV (ANY/A: 14.54)

Before there was Nick Foles, before there was Jeff Hostetler, before there was Doug Williams, there was Jim Plunkett. From 1971 to 1979, he had thrown 85 touchdowns to 118 interceptions and had never had a winning season, but when he took over for Dan Pastorini in 1980, he won 13 of 15 starts.

In Super Bowl XV, he dominated the favored Eagles, who boasted one of the league’s best pass defenses, and completed passes of 80, 32, 29 and 23 yards. “I know of no athlete in the history of sport who has made a greater comeback than Jim Plunkett,” commissioner Pete Rozelle said.

2. Joe Montana, 49ers, XXIV (13.23)

Five minutes into the game, Montana completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice, who bounced off Broncos safety Steve Atwater’s hit at the 8-yard line to score standing up. And the rout was on. Montana was surgical, completing 22 of 29 passes for 297 yards and five touchdowns, a Super Bowl record that would be broken by his backup five years later.

3. Phil Simms, Giants, XXI (12.42)

The Giants trailed the Broncos 10-9 at halftime but woke in the third quarter. Phil Simms completed 10 straight passes, three for touchdowns, and New York scored 24 unanswered points. His completion percentage of 88 and passer rating of 150.9 (a perfect rating is 158.3) remain the best in Super Bowl history.

4. Doug Williams, Washington, XXII (12.16)

The Broncos had MVP John Elway; Washington had backup-turned-starter Williams, who had undergone a three-hour root canal the day before the game. Williams started slowly and even temporarily left the game in the first quarter after twisting his left knee.

His first pass upon returning? A record-tying 80-yard touchdown to Ricky Sanders. In a 35-point second-quarter ambush, Williams completed 9 of 11 passes for 228 yards and four touchdowns.

5. Tom Brady, Patriots, LII (11.43)

Playing in his eighth Super Bowl, Brady threw for a record 505 yards but in a losing effort. The most notable play of the game for Brady wasn’t a pass from him; it was a pass to him.

On a third and 5 in the second quarter, running back James White pitched the ball to receiver Danny Amendola who targeted a wide-open Brady down the right sideline. The pass, which would have resulted in an easy first down, bounced off his fingertips.

6. Troy Aikman, Cowboys, XXVII (11.32)

Early on, the Bills committed to containing running back Emmitt Smith, but doing so allowed Troy Aikman to exploit their overmatched secondary. He completed 6 of 9 passes to Michael Irvin for 114 yards and two touchdowns, a 19-yarder and an 18-yarder.

7. Steve Young, 49ers, XXIX (11.02)

Never before in Super Bowl history has an outcome felt so certain. The 49ers had beaten the Chargers 38-15 earlier in the season and were expected to crush them again. And crush them they did. With Ease. It took San Francisco three plays to score its first touchdown, a 44-yard pass from Steve Young to Jerry Rice.

The 49ers weren’t quite as efficient on their next drive; it took them four plays to score their second touchdown, a 51-yard pass from Young to running back Ricky Watters. In completing a Super Bowl-record six touchdown passes and winning MVP honors, Young finally shook Montana’s shadow.

8. Terry Bradshaw, Steelers, X (10.95)

Bradshaw’s 64-yard touchdown strike to Lynn Swann with about three minutes left proved to be the difference.

“The thing that made Bradshaw and Swann different from other quarterbacks and receivers was Bradshaw’s willingness to capitalize on Swann’s leaping ability,” Cowboys safety Cliff Harris said. “Bradshaw would throw the ball high and let Swann go get it.”

9. Joe Montana, 49ers, XIX (10.72)

All anyone wanted to talk about before the game was 23-year-old Dan Marino and his record 5,084 passing yards and 48 touchdowns. Experience prevailed, however, as Montana gained nearly 400 yards (331 passing, 59 rushing) and scored four touchdowns to claim the second of his three Super Bowl MVP awards.

10. Terry Bradshaw, Steelers, XIV (10.19)

Though Bradshaw threw three interceptions, he completed passes of 47, 73 and 45 in the second half to lead the Steelers’ comeback against Vince Ferragamo and the Rams, who had held a 19-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The rest of the best

11. Matt Ryan, Falcons, LI (10.00)
12. Russell Wilson, Seahawks, XLVIII (9.84)
13. Jake Delhomme, Panthers, XXXVIII (9.59)
14. Terry Bradshaw, Steelers, XXIII (9.59)
15. Joe Flacco, Ravens, XLVII (9.54)
16. Russell Wilson, Seahawks, XLIX (9.54)
17. Joe Montana, 49ers, XXIII (9.53)
18. Kurt Warner, Rams, XXXIV (9.51)
19. Nick Foles, Eagles, LII (9.02)
20. Mark Rypien, Washington, XXVI (8.70)

Special mention

Brad Johnson, Buccaneers, XXXVII (6.18)

Brad Johnson wasn’t flashy, but he was good enough. His 5-yard touchdown pass to Keenan McCardell against Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson at the end of the second quarter put the Bucs up 20-3 and all but sealed Tampa Bay’s first Super Bowl win.

The worst

1. Craig Morton, Broncos, XII (-9.47)

It’s not much of a stretch to suggest that a fan in attendance at the Louisiana Superdome could have played better than Craig Morton in Super Bowl XII.

Morton, who spent his first 10 seasons with the Cowboys, completed as many passes to his team as he did to the opponent (four). He also was sacked four times. When he was benched during the third quarter, he had a passer rating of 0.

2. Earl Morrall, Colts, III (-3.76)

The one image you remember from Super Bowl III is Joe Namath raising a finger as he jogged off the field. He was reminding everyone how many touchdowns the Jets scored that day.

New York remains the only team to win a Super Bowl despite scoring only one touchdown. All Namath had to do that day was not be Earl Morrall, who threw three interceptions before Johnny Unitas replaced him late in the third quarter.

3. Kerry Collins, Giants, XXXV (-2.19)

In the span of two weeks in 2001, Kerry Collins managed to played the very best playoff game (five touchdowns in a 41-0 win over the Vikings in the NFC championship game) of his career and the very worst (five turnovers in a 34-7 loss to the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV.

4. Jim Kelly, Bills, XXVII (-2.00)

In the first 18 minutes, Jim Kelly turned the ball over three times (interception, fumble, interception). The Cowboys capitalized, scoring 14 points off the giveaways. Kelly’s night came to an abrupt end halfway through the second quarter when linebacker Ken Norton crashed into his right knee.

5. Billy Kilmer, Washington, VII (-1.60)

Kilmer, who was replaced by 38-yearold Sonny Jurgensen in Week 4, regained the job when Jurgensen tore his Achilles in Week 7. He went on to finish among the league leaders in touchdown passes (19, tied for first) and passer rating (84.8, second). Against the Dolphins in Super Bowl VII, however, he threw three interceptions and never completed a pass longer than 15 yards.

6. Fran Tarkenton, Vikings, IX (-1.27)

In a game dominated by defense, the Steel Curtain overwhelmed Fran Tarkenton and the Vikings offense, holding it to 119 total net yards and forcing three interceptions and two fumbles.

7. John Elway, Broncos, XXIV (-0.40)

The Broncos appear often on these lists but for all the wrong reasons. Against San Francisco, Elway was even more abysmal than he was against Washington two years earlier. He completed only 10 of his 26 passes — most of which were screens — threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and took four sacks. Gary Kubiak replaced him with nine minutes left.

8. Craig Morton, Cowboys, V (-0.07)

How bad was Morton? So bad that the 1970 Colts are the only team to win a Super Bowl despite committing three more turnovers than their opponent.

9. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers, XL (1.13)

In Ben Roethlisberger’s previous three playoff games — all on the road — he completed 68 percent of his passes, averaged 9.4 yards per attempt and threw seven touchdowns to one interception. Against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, however, he completed less than half of his passes, averaged 5.9 yards per attempt and threw two interceptions.

The Seahawks had more total yards and fewer turnovers. The difference? Penalties. Roethlisberger’s parents could have officiated the game more fairly.

10. Rich Gannon, Raiders, XXXVII (1.33)

The Bucs’ biggest claim on these lists is that they’re responsible for one of the alltime worst performances by a quarterback in Super Bowl history. They picked off Rich Gannon a record five times and returned three of the interceptions for touchdowns. Afterward, several Raiders players echoed, “They knew what was coming.”

The rest of the worst

11. Norris Weese, Broncos, XXII (1.33)
12. Drew Bledsoe, Patriots, XXXI (1.40)
13. Jim Kelly, Bills, XXVI (1.41)
14. Neil O’Donnell, Steelers, XXX (1.74)
15. Johnny Unitas, Colts, V (2.00)
16. Peyton Manning, Broncos, 50 (2.11)
17. John Elway, Broncos, XXII (2.14)
18. Roger Staubach, Cowboys, X (2.16)
19. Steve Grogan, Patriots, XX (2.18)
20. Joe Kapp, Vikings, IV (2.36)

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