Sports fans love statistics. The masses of numbers and categories about our favorite players and teams paints a picture away from the field and stadium which allows us to see who has done well and who needs to work a little harder to get that ‘deserved’ contract extension. In debates with friends and family over ‘the greatest’ teams and players, we often throw out our arsenal of numbers in an attempt to convince the masses of misguided and brainwashed followers of other teams and players. The debate is never one sided as every argument always seems to produce an opposing set of supporting facts and figures in an effort to shoot down our arguments. Kobe versus Jordan, Federer versus Nadal, Schumacher versus Senna and Ronaldo versus Messi – these are all debates where opposing sides resort to stats in an attempt to prove their point about a player’s value or greatness.
The NFL is no different. For the stats lovers, each season provides us with a mountain of facts and figures. Everything from completion percentages to yards rushed to sacks to yards-per-game, there’s enough there to keep the most die-hard fans busy during the off-season. In terms of quarterbacks, there have been many greats who have played the game, and there are still many greats entertaining us every weekend. Like every other sport and every other player position, QBs are not immune to the debate concerning who the greatest is/was. The major challenge with rating a QB is the fact they rely on the rest of their team so much for their stats. A QB must not only be quick thinking, fast and strong, but also needs a good offensive line, a capable receiver or two and even a smart and strong running-back. Quarterbacks are central to leading a team, but their performances, ultimately, rely a large degree on a supporting cast of other players.
The following looks at the top 15 NFL QBs when it comes to game-winning drives (GWD). It is in no way an assessment of the greatest ever QBs but this stat is no doubt part of any formula in figuring out just who might make it on a potential ‘greatest QB’ list. For the sake of definition, a game-winning drive is an offensive scoring drive in the fourth quarter or overtime that places the winning team in the lead once and for all. Some GWDs are intense and packed with drama while others occur without you noticing how important they were at the time. Just keep in mind that the following 15 QBs, for the most part, had an excellent supporting cast of offensive and defensive players to help make it all possible.
15 T13. Jake Plummer – 30 GWD
From 1997 to 2006, Jake Plummer was active with the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos. In terms of records and accolades, there isn’t really much we can tell you. He threw for just under 30,000 yards in his career and matched his 161 touchdowns with 161 interceptions. He was named to the Pro Bowl once in 2005. Plummer’s best season for game-winning drives was, by far, the 1998 campaign where he helped the Cardinals do it seven times. During three other seasons he managed inspire four GWDs. In 2007, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As the Bucs already had four QBs on roster, Plummer opted to call it a career and retired from the NFL.
14 T13. Eli Manning – 30 GWD
Eli Manning may be behind his brother on this list but you can’t really say he’s in Peyton’s shadow completely. Yes, Peyton has multiple times more records than his little brother. Yet, Eli can, for the time being, point to the two rings on his hand which is twice as many as his big brother. Having so far played his entire career with the New York Giants, Manning has repaid the faith with two titles. In a typical season, Manning usually had two or three game winning drives. In 2007 and 2011, the two Super Bowl winning seasons, Manning was at the top of his game and the team was clearly ‘clicking’ as Eli recorded his two highest season totals for GWD. Unfortunately for Tom Brady, Manning carried the season high form into the big game and twice defeated the Patriots with fourth-quarter game-winning drives.
13 T13. Kerry Collins – 30 GWD
In 17 seasons in the NFL, Kerry Collins played for six different teams. The two-time Pro Bowl QB enjoyed his best personal and team results while playing with the New York Giants between 1999 and 2003. With the Giants, he threw for over 16,000 yards and 70 touchdowns and helped the Giants to become NFC Champions in 2000. Unfortunately, he followed this up with a poor performance in Super Bowl XXXV where he threw for no touchdowns and four interceptions in a crushing 34-7 loss. In 2011, Collins was signed as a backup for Peyton Manning at Indianapolis. In October of that year he was knocked out of the season with a concussion, bringing about the end of his NFL career.
12 Drew Bledsoe – 31 GWD
Before Tom Brady there was Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe is best known for his time with the Patriots between 1993 and 2002. With the Patriots, Bledsoe won the 2002 Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams – albeit sidelined with an injury he picked up earlier in the season. It was the turning point in his career as Brady took over the role, played in the Super Bowl and made his case for the starting role. Nonetheless, Bledsoe still enjoyed a successful career which included four Pro Bowl appearances. He finished off the final few years of his career with the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys. Even then he continued to put up impressive stats, throwing for over 4000 yards with Buffalo in 2002 and orchestrating 5 GWD with Dallas in 2005.
11 T10. Joe Montana – 33 GWD
When you have a nickname like ‘The Comeback Kid’ you’d expect to be on a list about game-winning drives. Sure enough, Joe Montana finds himself in 10th position. The four-time Super Bowl Champion and three-time Super Bowl MVP has more records and accolades than we can realistically cover here. He was familiar with coming from behind and very good at spearheading fourth-quarter drives to win a game. As far as GWDs go, 1989 and 1990 were his best seasons with five a piece. However, his most famous GWD came in the 1982 NFC Championship game against the Dallas Cowboys. Known as ‘The Catch,’ Montana threw a game tying pass to Dwight Clark in the dying seconds, opening the way for a game winning extra point kick.
10 T10. Vinny Testaverde – 33 GWD
Vinny Testaverde played for a lot of different NFL teams over his career. From 1987 to 2007, he suited up for seven different sides if you include the 1995-96 transition from the Cleveland Browns to the Baltimore Ravens. His best passing season was during the Ravens’ inaugural season where he threw for 4177 yards and 33 touchdowns. He would never top those figures again over the next 11 seasons. Testaverde holds the unenviable record for most losses as a starting QB with 123. At 44 years, he is also the oldest player to win a game and by throwing a touchdown in every one of his 21 NFL seasons he holds that record, as well.
9 T7. Fran Tarkenton – 34 GWD
At 74, Fran Tarkenton is the oldest player on this list and played his last NFL game in 1978. Over 18 seasons with Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants, Tarkenton racked up 47,003 passing yards and 342 touchdowns. He could also run with the ball, notching 32 rushing touchdowns and setting a record for scoring a rushing touchdown in 15 seasons. He never won a Super Bowl making him the Dan Marino of his era – or maybe it should be that Dan Marino was the Fran Tarkenton of his era. Nevertheless, Tarkenton knew how to orchestrate a game-winning drive. Over his career he managed at least a few GWDs every season with 1970 being the most productive year at five GWDs.
8 T7. Ben Roethlisberger – 34 GWD
Two-time Super Bowl winning QB Ben Roethlisberger was the first round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004. If anything, the organization was in desperate need of a franchise quarterback following stints with Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox. Roethlisberger made an immediate impact on the field, going 13-0 in his first season. At 6 foot 5 inches and 240 lbs, Roethlisberger developed a reputation for being hard to take down and being able to complete plays despite having two or three players tackling him. His greatest GWD occurred during Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals when he drove the length of the field in under two minutes, capping it all off with an inch perfect TD pass.
7 T7. Drew Brees – 34 GWD
Super Bowl champion and Sports Illustrated’s 2010 Sportsman of the Year, Drew Brees has played for the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints during his current NFL career. The 35 year old holds numerous NFL records including the highest single-season completion percentage and fastest QB to reach 40,000 and 50,000 yards. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that of the eight times an NFL QB has thrown for over 5000 yards in a season, half of those were set by Brees. Last season he played a role in three GWD to climb to 7th place. In all likelihood, he will add to this figure over the coming months of the new season.
6 Warren Moon – 37 GWD
Prior to 1984, Warren Moon played for the Edmonton Eskimos in Canada’s CFL. In 1984, he made the move across the border to play for the Houston Oilers. His NFL career spanned 17 seasons and four teams. A nine-time Pro Bowler, Moon threw for over 4000 yards in four seasons. The one-time highest paid player in the NFL, in 1989 Moon tied Dan Marino’s record of throwing for nine 300-yard games in one season. His first two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings (1994 and 1995) were very successful with over 8000 yards and 51 touchdowns. The tide turned in 1996 when he broke his collar-bone and slid down the pecking order. His move to Seattle didn’t reignite his career. His final GWD came in 1997 when he helped Seattle beat the San Diego Chargers 37-31.
5 Tom Brady – 42 GWD
Away from the game, there is a strong suspicion that three-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady is nothing more than a play-thing for wife Gisele Bündchen – after all, have you seen some of the things he wears to press conferences? On the field, you can’t deny Tom Brady belongs in any discussion of elite quarterbacks. Sure, his coach has faced allegations of cheating and Brady himself has often been accused by opposition fans of being a bit whiney towards officials, but the guy still has impressive stats. He’s helped lead the Pats to a record 21 game win streak and 11 divisional titles. If you’ve ever seen Brady operate under pressure while trailing in a game, you understand why he rates so highly on this list. Some of his best work has been accomplished while behind in the fourth quarter and with just minutes to play.
4 Brett Favre – 45 GWD
While the final years of his career will probably be more remembered for a sexting scandal than his average performances, Brett Favre remains one of the best QBs the NFL has seen. He’s the most sacked QB in NFL history and if you listened very carefully between 1991 and 2010, you could almost hear the collective screams of fans encouraging him to get rid of the ball before the inevitable happened. In all seriousness, the Super Bowl winning, multi-time MVP, is a Green Bay Packers legend who holds numerous QB records, including most pass touchdowns, most pass completions and most pass yards. His first GWD came against the Bengals in 1992 and his last was against the Cardinals in 2010.
3 John Elway – 46 GWD
Drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1983, the refusal of John Elway to play for the East Coast team is well known among NFL fans. In any event, as we all know, the two-time Super Bowl champion ended up in Denver where he forged a legendary career. Despite being the second most sacked QB ever, Elway also holds the impressive record of being the only player to throw for 3000 yards and rush for over 200 yards in seven straight seasons – nearly half of his entire NFL career. His most famous GWD is often referred to as ‘The Drive’ and involved a 98 yard push down the field against the Cleveland Browns in the 1987 AFC Championship game to tie the game and force overtime – which the Broncos ended up winning.
2 Dan Marino – 51 GWD
Dan Marino was QB of the Miami Dolphins from 1983 to 1999 and is considered by many to be the greatest QB to never win a Super Bowl. To many, this will always mean he can never attain the #1 spot concerning the greatest QBs. To others, despite never winning the big game, Marino accomplished much considering how little the Dolphins organization gave him to work with. To this day, he still holds or shares over 20 records. The Dolphins of the 1980s and 90s always seemed to be rebuilding and the defense was never the greatest. Nonetheless, Marino’s passing game and ability to quickly distribute the ball with a high degree of accuracy won a lot of games and contributes to his 51 career game-winning drives.
1 Peyton Manning – 52 GWD
With his neck injury in 2011 and subsequent release by the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, many people though Peyton manning’s NFL career was at an end. After signing with the Denver Broncos for the 2012 season, he proved the doubters wrong by taking the team to the playoffs. The following year he took the Broncos to the Super Bowl where they were crushed by the Seattle Seahawks. Nonetheless, the eldest Manning brother has demonstrated since 1998 that he belongs on any list of elite NFL QBs. Manning holds dozens of league and playoff records. He obviously dominated the QB records of the Colts and has even set several records during his short time with the Broncos, including most completions and highest completion percentage in a season.