Given the ongoing NFL narrative that claims a QB is the most important position on the field, it would generally be assumed that Super Bowl winning teams would always feature quality play from that position. That isn't really the case however, considering that elite defenses have also played a key role on championship teams. Additionally, from the 1960s to the 1980s, any given upper-tier QB had similar production to what we would consider a "game manager" today. The game has changed, and winning formulas have as well throughout.
Indeed, there have been quite a number of Super Bowl winners that have relied on other aspects of their team, other than the QB, and in some cases, the play from the position during these seasons has been downright awful. In certain instances, injuries played a key role, as did lack of skill players, or a defensive minded head coach. Still, only a few of these qualifying QBs ended up having sub-par careers, but their struggles that occurred ironically during their title-winning seasons cannot be overlooked. It's a testament to the difficulty that succeeding in the NFL presents, that even some of the sport's best can have lackluster performances at the most high-profile times.
Ultimately, most of the QB's on this list didn't have their legacies negatively effected by their poor play in a Super Bowl winning season (though several do remain overrated), but it is certainly a talking point whenever their name is brought up in conversation or debate. They may have not pulled their weight their teams needed it most, but in the end, they still ended up with the ring. In the end, that's all that matters.
Ranked below are the top 15 worst Super Bowl winning QB seasons.
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15 Joe Montana - 1988
Obviously, Montana is in the running for the best all-time at the QB position, but in a year where the 49ers won their third Super Bowl title under Bill Walsh, he had one of the worst seasons in his storied career. He only completed 59.9% of his passes, and threw for under 3,000 total yards. His TD/INT ratio was acceptable, but hardly extraordinary, with 18 and 10 in those categories respectively. Not what one would call a "poor" season, but certainly didn't compare favorably with Montana at his best. He would have a much better year the next season, and the 49ers would repeat for the second time in the decade.
14 Terry Bradshaw - 1974
Though Bradshaw played in an era where QB stats were much reduced from their present day counterparts, his numbers during the 1974 campaign are objectively bad by any standard. With just a 45.5% completion, and under 800 yards passing, with seven TDs and eight INTs, it has to be considered one of the most unimpressive seasons by a starting QB on a winning team, much less one that won the Super Bowl. Bradshaw gets a bit of a pass, considering these stats were only accumulated over eight games, and therefor may be a bit lower than normal, but with a 55.2 QB rating, the poor play was clearly documented, no matter how many games it was. This is arguably the worst season of Bradshaw's historic career.
13 Joe Flacco - 2012
As mentioned, it's important to factor in what era a QB played in, in order to accurately assess their statistics. Flacco's 2012 season wasn't bad at all, but for a Super Bowl winning QB in the modern era, it was decidedly average. He did just enough to allow the defense to carry them on a deep playoff run; 22 TDs, 10 INTs, and a 59.7% completion. He did throw for 3,800-plus yards, but it's clear that a defense anchored by the likes of Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis were the established bread and butter for this roster. Again, it wasn't a bad year overall, but certainly not one that anyone would consider great by Super Bowl winning standards. Flacco deserved it, but he definitely had all the help he could get.
12 Len Dawson - 1969
Dawson only saw limited action, playing in nine games during the 1969 campaign, but still had poor quality production. He tossed more INTs than TDs-13 to a lowly 9-and threw for less than 1,400 yards. It may be tempting to give him a partial pass because of the era he played in, but no QB has ever been considered effective when they turn the ball over more than they produce points. Dawson had a stellar career overall, but one of, if not his worst season came in the year the Chiefs won Super Bowl IV, and as a result has played second fiddle to other QBs of the era, such as Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr.
11 Terry Bradshaw - 1979
With as much of a gunslinger and risk-taker as Bradshaw was in his prime, it's only natural that he would turn up multiple times on a list like this one. In the 1979 season, when he was fully healthy, playing in all 16 games, he posted a completion percentage of 54.9. He did throw 26 TD passes, but almost matched that total with 25 INTs. That's a testament to Bradshaw's "balls to the wall" philosophy of QB play. The only consolation was that he did throw a career-high 3,724 passing yards, but by the late 1970s that was becoming increasingly common, as opposed to the early half of the decade. However, yet again, the Steelers were victorious.
10 Bob Griese - 1973
In the early 1970s, the Dolphins were atop the NFL pecking order, winning two Super Bowls, and posting the only undefeated season from start to finish in league history. Today, it would be incomprehensible to think that a 53.2% completion would suffice on a playoff winning team, but that was the case when Griese was at the helm for the 1973 campaign. He averaged just 6.5 yards per completion, and threw for less than 1,500 yards. Griese was definitely a product of his time, when many offenses were run-first, and the QB was essentially asked to be nothing more than a game manager most of the time. Fortunately, for Don Schula's Dolphins, this formula worked to perfection.
9 Jim McMahon - 1985
Needless to say, the 1985 Bears defense, with game-changing players like Mike Singletary and Otis Wilson, didn't require McMahon to play lights out. It's a good thing it didn't; because McMahon was nothing more than mediocre during the Super Bowl campaign for Chicago. Completing just 56.9% of his passes, for under 2,400 yards passing, McMahon was happy to let Hall Of Fame RB Walter Payton carry much of the offensive load. A 15 TD to 11 INT ratio screams "game manager" in an era where offenses were developing rapidly, and it was becoming the norm for QBs to go out on more of a limb. McMahon wasn't a failure, but a dozen other guys at the time could have been substituted into that roster, and the Bears still would have won their title.
8 Ben Roethlisberger - 2008
In 2008, high-profile passing offenses had established themselves in the NFL, and ironically Roethlisberger had a down year during the Steelers Super Bowl win that year. A stat line of 17 TDs, 15 INTs, with a 59.9% completion would have been acceptable 20 years prior, but it's clear Big Ben was struggling to find his groove with modern day expectations. He posted the worst QBR of his entire career up to the present day, with an 80.1 clip. There's no question that Roethlisberger is an extraordinary talent, but what deficiencies he does (or did) have, really showed during this season. Of course, winning a championship helps alleviate at least some of the disappointment.
7 Phil Simms - 1986
Though many people to this day consider Simms overrated, and the product of Bill Parcells' coaching genius, and a strong Giants defense anchored by Lawrence Taylor, the dislike for him is often misplaced. Still, there's no denying that Simms had a lackluster 1986 campaign, posting a dismal (for the time) 55.3% completion and throwing 22 INTs compared with 21 TDs. Particularly in his early days, it was clear that the defense and leadership from Parcells did carry the team, ultimately leading to a Super Bowl victory for the 1986 season. Simms would improve, but his 1986 season does give his detractors some leverage in their argument.
6 Bart Starr - 1967
Another all-time great who had a down season, Starr's 54.8% completion was eight notches down from the previous year. He also struggled with his accuracy, tossing 17 INTs, and 9 TDs. Though the game was obviously played somewhat differently, that's a poor stat line by any standard, and wasn't the best that Starr had to offer during his storied career. In the end, the Packers defeated Oakland in the second Super Bowl, and Starr was exempt from most criticism on his poor season. When it mattered, he got the job done, and added another high-profile win to his resume.
5 Eli Manning - 2007
Manning's 2007 campaign stands as one of the absolute worst by an established NFL QB who was in his prime. His stat line is nothing less than baffling for a QB in the modern era, on a playoff-winning team; a 56.1% completion, 23 TD passes next to 20 INTs, and 3,336 total yards passing. Manning was in his fourth year in the NFL at this juncture, and could hardly hide behind the "still learning the pro game" excuse. As is commonly accepted today, he was the product of an excellent pass rush, and defense as a whole, the same as when New York won another title four years later. Manning's probably the most overrated QB of the last 20 years, and lackluster seasons like this are one of the reasons why.
4 Johnny Unitas - 1970
Johnny-U was running on fumes by the 1970 season, but he still had enough left in the tank for one more great run at a title. At the time, he was a 14-year veteran, and just wasn't the same player he was in years prior. It showed, with Unitas throwing more INTs than TDs (18 and 14 respectively), and barely completing over 50% of his passes. The era in which he played certainly covered up for some of these deficiencies, but ultimately it was evident that Unitas was near the end of his rope. Miraculously, he would stick in Baltimore for another two seasons, before being shipped to San Diego for one final season.
3 Tom Brady - 2001
It's all but forgotten now, but during Brady's first full season with the Patriots in 2001, he was really nothing more than a game manager with some upside, and carried by a lights out New England defense. During the 2001 campaign he threw for less than 3,000 yards, tossing 18 TDs with 12 INTs. Despite the Alex Smith-like numbers, the Patriots were carried to a Super Bowl victory over the Rams, from the efforts of defensive players such as Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law and Willie McGinest. Of course, the Pats formula for title wins would alter as Brady improved his game, but as it stands, his 2001 season was not good by modern era standards.
2 Trent Dilfer - 2000
Dilfer is often considered the worst QB to be the predominant starter on a Super Bowl winning team. The 2000 Ravens had a stacked defense, which is often considered one of the ten best of all time. Factor in a quality running game that featured Jamaal Lewis, and there wasn't much being asked of Dilfer. He threw just 12 TD passes and tossed 11 INTs, throwing for 1,500 yards in 11 games started during the season. Even with those numbers, he still didn't complete 60% of his passes. It was a bad year by any metric, and most other QB's in the league could have stepped in and won a title on that Baltimore team. Probably the only Super Bowl winning QB who is a better analyst than he was a player.
1 Peyton Manning - 2015
Until last season, Dilfer would have been number one on this list, but Manning's swan song, while usually not pretty, was memorable in every regard last year. Far and away the worst season of a Hall of Fame career, the Broncos received truly awful QB play from Manning in every statistical category. A 59.8% completion combined with 2,249 yards passing. Of course the elephant in the room for Manning last season was the 9 TD passes and 17 INTs, which seems almost impossible for a player of his caliber in the modern era. Again, defense won the day for the Broncos, and they formulated an excellent game plan that limited Manning's mistakes in the Super Bowl. His regression was evident, and thankfully, one of the sport's all timers decided to call it a day after winning his last Super Bowl. Manning probably deserved to go out on a better statistical season, but a Super Bowl victory isn't a bad consolation prize.
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