|Who is best in the big games?|
By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff
Watching Tom Brady Sunday afternoon in the snow in New England, we couldn't help but wonder, even as the D dominated -- are we watching the early days of one of the greatest postseason quarterbacks ever?
It's too early to tell -- after all, Brady has played in only five playoff games. But then again, he's shown great leadership under tough conditions, and he owns a 5-0 postseason record, including that Super Bowl MVP trophy. As a passer, he's done a great job, completing 103 of 175 passes (59 percent) for 1,010 yards, three TDs, and only two INTs.
We'll see. But let's take a look at who he's stacked up against -- the greatest playoff quarterbacks of the Super Bowl era.
10. Roger Staubach, Cowboys (18 games, 12-6 record)
Captain Comeback could also be spectacular. With the Cowboys trailing the 49ers in a 1972 division playoff game, he came off the bench to lead the Boys to 17 points in the fourth quarter and a 30-28 win. In a 1973 divisional win over the Rams, Staubach hit Drew Pearson for an 83-yard TD that sealed the victory. And finally, the unforgettable "Hail Mary," when he threw a 50-yard bomb which Pearson snagged with 24 seconds left to give the Cowboys a 17-14 win over Minnesota in the 1975 divisional round.
9. Joe Theismann, Redskins (8 games, 6-2 record)
That game was typical Theismann: he spent much of his afternoon handing off to John Riggins, who rushed 38 times and was the game's MVP. But when Theismann did pass, he was good -- completing 15 of 23 passes for 143 yards and 2 TDs.
In short, Theismann played the field general and made few mistakes. He 'Skins averaged 8.45 yards on his pass attempts, a playoff record, and his QB rating of 91.4 is one of the highest in postseason history.
8. Brett Favre, Packers (19 games, 11-8 record)
He also led the Pack to a win over the Pats in Super Bowl XXXI, completing 14 of 27 passes for 246 yards and two TDs with no INTs. He also ran for a TD.
7. Steve Young, 49ers (14 starts, 8-6 record)
Vintage Young playoff moment: With three seconds left in the 1998 NFC wild-card game against Green Bay, he finds Terrell Owens amidst a pack of Packers on the game's final play for a 25-yard TD and a 30-27 Niners win.
Overall, he completed 292 of 471 passes for 3,326 yards and 20 TDs and 13 INTs. He was also great on the ground, running 96 times for 585 yards and eight TDs.
6. Jim Plunkett, Raiders (10 games, 8-2 record)
Plunkett threw 272 times, completing 162 for 2,293 yards and 10 TDs. His average of 8.43 yards per passing attempt is second best of all time in the playoffs.
In 1980, old man Plunkett had an incredible run, taking over the Raiders' offense in the sixth game of the regular season, then leading the wild-card team to the Super Bowl XV title. Plunkett, the Super Bowl MVP, completed 13 of 21 passes for 261 yards and 3 TDs, including an 80-yard completion to Kenny King, then the longest scoring play in SB history.
5. John Elway, Broncos (22 games, 14-8 record)
But Elway was nonetheless one of the greatest playoff QBs. He played in 22 postseason games, and ended his career with a 14-8 record -- and a nifty seven-game winning streak, including those two Super Bowl titles. Overall, he's near the top of the playoff record book in a bunch of categories: 651 pass attempts (third); 355 passes completed (third); 4,964 yards passing (second). In the end, Elway had too many clutch wins (ask Browns fans) and the Super Bowl titles earn him acclaim as a great playoff performer.
4. Troy Aikman, Cowboys (16 games, 11-5 record)
With Aikman at the helm, the Cowboys went 11-5 in the playoffs between 1991 and 1999, including 11-1 over a four-year stretch. Four times he passed for 300+ yards. Aikman was named MVP of Super Bowl XXVII, as he led a 52-17 drubbing of the Bills by completing 22 of 30 passes for 273 yards and 4 TDs.
When Aikman retired, ESPN.com's Mark Malone offered up high praise: "To a certain extent," wrote Malone, "quarterbacks are subjected to the offensive systems they run. And even though the Cowboys focused more on running the ball and playing good defense during their championship years, I doubt they would have won any Super Bowls without Aikman."
3. Terry Bradshaw, Steelers (19 games, 14-5 record)
In his 19 playoff games, Bradshaw completed 261 passes for 3,833 yards, averaging 8.41 yards per attempt, the third-highest average in playoff history. He threw 30 TD passes. In short, he was remarkably efficient, making the most of his passing attempts -- for example, completing 14 of 18 for 264 yards and 3 TDs in a 40-14 first-round win over the Colts in 1976.
Even at his worst in the postseason, Bradshaw came through. He was picked off by the Rams three times in Super Bowl XIV, but produced with big plays to Lynn Swann and John Stallworth when it counted, rallying the Steelers from behind twice.
2. Bart Starr, Packers (10 games, 9-1 record)
Starr was 5-0 in the Super Bowl era, winnings Super Bowls I and II. He has, by far, the best playoff postseason QB rating in history -- 104.8 -- and had only three passes intercepted in his 213 attempts. He completed 61 percent of his postseason passes and threw for 15 TDs.
Starr threw the first TD pass in Super Bowl history, connecting with Max McGee for a 37-yard score midway through the first period of the Packers-Chiefs matchup. The Packers won, and Starr, who completed 16 of 23 passes for 250 yards and two TDs, got the MVP award. In SB II, Starr was less spectacular -- 13 of 24 for 202 yards and 1 TD -- but he didn't throw an interception and again was named MVP.
After the Packers had defeated the Cowboys, 34-27, for the 1966 NFL Championship, his backup, Zeke Bratkowski, said, "Wasn't Starr fantastic?" New York Times columnist Arthur Daley answered, rhetorically, "Fantastic seems to be a mild and restrained adjective in the light of the evidence."
1. Joe Montana, 49ers and Chiefs (23 games, 16-7 record)
Montana has Super Bowl and playoff highlights galore -- think "The Catch" and the kind of cool that says, "Isn't that John Candy over there" in the huddle at the start of the game-winning drive against the Bengals. He simply didn't make many mistakes. Come playoff time, Montana was the essence of clutch -- his skills and leadership came to the fore.
"Joe has Unitas' ability to keep control of both himself and the huddle," said Bill Walsh prior to the 1989 Super Bowl. "When most quarterbacks are hurried and try to think of everything, they can't think. Joe can. He can think along with you and he can think for himself."
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