"What's that, ah - playoffs? Don't talk about - playoffs. You kidding me? Playoffs?!" These famous words uttered by Jim Mora created one of the most memorable press conferences in NFL history and to his credit, Mora had a point about not worrying about the playoffs until they actually arrived. The 2016-17 NFL Playoffs are now upon us. So sorry Mr. Mora, this article is going to talk about playoffs and no I'm not kidding you.
Reaching the NFL playoffs is tough and is quite an accomplishment in its own right, but succeeding in the playoffs is even tougher. The game plans get more detailed, the intensity rises with each play, and the spotlight from the press grows brighter. Some players love the added pressure that postseason play brings and are able to channel their extra adrenaline into game-changing focus, allowing them to timely hit their ultimate peak in performance ability. But for others, the pressure of the playoffs can be too much for them to handle. Nobody knows how an individual player will react until they are put into that type of situation.
The pressure and the limelight of the playoffs is felt more by NFL quarterbacks than any other position because they are often the deciding factor of whether their team advances or whether their team squanders a season of hard work. Quarterbacks are often the captain of their teams and are looked to for guidance by the other players in times of doubt. It's vital that a quarterback step-up when needed most in the playoffs where there is no room for error. This list takes a look at 8 quarterbacks that have thrived in the playoffs and 7 others that failed miserably.
17 Thrived - Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner is such an incredible story. The guy went from bagging groceries to winning a Super Bowl and being named the NFL MVP in less than two years. Warner, who is arguably one of the nicest men the NFL has ever seen, was a guy who loved to perform on the big stage. When the stakes were at their highest, Warner was at his best. In fact, Warner holds the three highest passing yards gained by a quarterback in Super Bowl history (414 yards, 377 yards, and 365 yards respectively), and he only played in three Super Bowls total. That is getting the job done on a big time level!
In 2010, Warner's last season, he put together one of the most remarkable games ever during a shootout between the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers. Warner and Aaron Rodgers traded passing touchdowns back and forth all the way through an eventual 51-45 Cardinals victory. Just how good was Warner in that game? Well he had more touchdowns (5) than incompletions in the game (4). That effort alone is enough to consider Warner one of the greatest playoff quarterbacks ever, and when you add-in that he has the three highest yardage games in the Super Bowl, it is clear that Warner is an NFL playoff legend.
16 Failed - Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan could very well be named the 2016 NFL MVP in the coming weeks and deservedly so, but can Ryan continue at his torrid pace during the postseason? Given the lack of success Ryan has had in past playoffs, it's not wise to bet on the Falcons winning the Super Bowl. Ryan is nicknamed "Matty Ice" for his ability to make big throws in the clutch, but that moniker is ironically fitting for Ryan in the playoffs because his play tends to go ice-cold.
Ryan's playoff record is a pitiful (1-4 prior to this week's divisional game against Seattle), which is terrible given that his team was often considered the heavy favorite in those games. His playoff touchdown to interception ratio of 9:7 doesn't look too bad until you compare it to his career ratio of 240:114. If the Falcons want to make a run to the Super Bowl, they will need Matt Ryan forget his past playoff failures and instead perform up to his MVP caliber.
15 Thriving - Aaron Rodgers
After this year's wildcard weekend when Rodgers completed yet another Hail Mary touchdown on his way to torching the self-proclaimed NYPD (New York Pass Defense) and leading the Packers into the divisional round for the third season in a row, he was sure to make this list. While many fans would argue that Rodgers has underachieved in the playoffs given the fact that he has only won one Super Bowl thus far, that argument is misguided. Rodgers seems to have some type of secret potion in the playoffs that creates magic and memorable performances, like the improbable, last second Hail Mary against the Cardinals last season that forced a dramatic overtime.
While his overall playoff record (8-6 prior to this year's divisional round) is rather mundane compared to others on this list, Rodgers has an impressive touchdown to interception ratio of 31:8 and another three touchdowns rushing. In short, the guy puts up points in a hurry in the playoffs and the Packers always have a chance when A-Rod is leading their offense. If it doesn't come this year, it's safe to bet that Rodgers will get at least one more ring before his career is done.
14 Failed - Carson Palmer
Poor Carson Palmer. This former #1 draft pick out of USC was one of the most dominant quarterbacks in the NFL in 2005 when he led the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs for the first time. Palmer's first career playoff pass attempt was completed for a 66 yard bomb down the sideline, but tragically Palmer suffered a severe knee injury during the play and was carted off the field. His Super Bowl hopes and playoff aspirations were torn like the ligaments in his knee.
Palmer then muddled on below-average teams for the rest of his career until he benefited from a late-career revival with the Arizona Cardinals. Now Palmer would likely not be on this list if it wasn't for this career revival because it allowed Palmer to show the world that nearly 13 years into his career, he was still unready for the playoff pressure. This was apparent during his disastrous NFC Championship game against the Carolina Panthers in 2016. Palmer threw four interceptions and fumbled twice, all but ending any hopes the Cardinals had at advancing to the Super Bowl. Palmer is a great quarterback and may have one more year left to prove his critics wrong, but as of now, Palmer has clearly failed in the playoffs.
13 Thrived - Joe Montana
You don't get the nickname "Joe Cool" without turning in some of the most impressive playoff performances ever and that is exactly what Joe Montana did to earn it. Montana was absolutely dominant in the 1980's, a decade in which he earned his four Super Bowl rings. Montana was exceptional in the playoffs throughout his career, but he was even more impressive in the actual Super Bowls he played in. In four Super Bowl appearances, Montana threw 11 touchdowns and had zero interceptions. Zero!
Overall in the playoffs, Montana had a record of 16-7 and a total of 45 touchdowns. That is getting the job done and well worth the nickname "Joe Cool." Montana played in his last playoff game at the age of 38 and although well past his prime, was still very solid. His team at the time, the Kansas City Chiefs, lost the game but Montana still threw for over 300 yards and 2 touchdowns. With Montana, the statistics speak for themselves and make a solid argument that he is the best playoff quarterback of all time. Oh, I forgot to mention that Montana also was named Super Bowl MVP in three of his four Super Bowls.
12 Failed - Peyton Manning
It may not be fair to include Peyton Manning on this list as a failure because he does have two Super Bowl rings to his name. Alternatively, Manning may be considered to have been a playoff failure because of the fact that he won ONLY two Super Bowls despite being arguably the best quarterback in the NFL for over a decade. There were many years that Manning was dominant in the regular season, but would struggle under the bright lights of the playoffs. For as good as Peyton was in his hall-of-fame career, his record in the playoffs is a less than stellar 14-13.
Perhaps the biggest knock on Peyton towards the end of his career was that his little brother Eli had more Super Bowls (2) than Peyton. Obviously, Peyton earned his second Super Bowl ring last season with the Denver Broncos but it was clear that Peyton had little left in the tank as the Broncos defense carried the team to the championship. Despite having one of, if not the most, prestigious NFL quarterback careers, it's easy to assume that Manning still wakes up from nightmares of him throwing the game clinching pick-6 to Tracey Porter in Super Bowl XLIV.
11 Thrived - Bart Starr
With the best playoff winning percentage and QB rating in NFL history, Bart Starr was guaranteed to find himself on this list. Starr guided the Green Bay Packers through the transition to the NFL and to the first two Super Bowl's ever played, both of which were won by the Pack. Starr was also named the MVP in both of those Super Bowl victories. Starr was the trusted leader for the legendary coach Vince Lombardi and the two formed a legendary pairing.
Although the playoffs were much different back in the days that Starr was dominating, but his playoff statistics are still very compelling. As mentioned, Starr's playoff record is incredible at 9-1 all time, which is impressive no matter what era it occurs in. What makes Starr so legendary is that he was one of the first truly great quarterbacks, evidenced by his playoff touchdown to interception ratio of 15 touchdowns, to only 3 interceptions. His style of play set the standards and paved the way for the great quarterbacks we see today.
9 Failed - Dan Marino
Much like we feel bad about placing Peyton Manning on this list, we feel even worse about putting Marino here. His inclusion on the list is more of an indictment on the Miami Dolphins as a franchise, rather than on Marino. Marino's playoff record was 8-10, but the team constantly let him down, failing to establish a running game, or form a formidable defense built for playoff football.
Marino also played in a time when the NFC was far superior to the AFC. During Marino's career, the NFC won 13 straight Super Bowls. His playoff stats totaled 4,510 yards, completing 56% of his passes and he threw for 32 touchdowns to 24 interceptions.
It's hard to determine where exactly it went wrong for Marino in the playoffs, but he has to own his share of the blame.
7 Thriving - Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger got used to winning in a hurry. In his rookie season, the Steelers happened to have all their stars in their prime and Big Ben rode shotgun to a 15-1 season. He won his first playoff game that year, defeating the Jets 20-17 in overtime, only to lose in the AFC Championship to the Patriots. Since then, Roethlisberger has led the Steelers to three Super Bowl appearances, winning the big game twice.
Big Ben constantly comes up with his best play come playoff time, as he has several game winning drives in the postseason. He has a 12-6 record (heading into divisional weekend 2016-17) and there's still plenty of time for him to add to his resume. The Steelers have had heavy competition in their division, but Big Ben's knack for clutch plays when it matters most have given them an edge over their AFC competition.
6 Failed - Tony Romo
Poor Tony Romo. Despite having a solid career after going undrafted out of Northern Illinois University, Romo may always be known for two things: (1) injuries and (2) playoff failures. Romo is just 2-4 in his playoff career and will forever be remembered for his first playoff start ever. In that game, a divisional round matchup against the Seahawks, the Dallas Cowboys were trailing by one with just over a minute left in the game. Romo was the holder for the Cowboys along with being the starting quarterback. Romo fumbled the snap and attempted to run for the first down but was tackled just short of the first down marker. The Cowboys, obviously, went on to lose the game.
In 2007, Romo led the Cowboys back to the playoffs but drew the ire of many fans around the league when he and a few other Cowboy teammates took a trip to Mexico with their significant others (Romo was with the gorgeous Jessica Simpson back then so let's not feel too bad for him) during the team's first-round playoff bye week. Of course, the Cowboys wound up losing to the Giants that following week. Since then, Romo has continued to fail in the playoffs by not living up to expectations. Now that the Cowboys have Dak Prescott, Romo will have to find a new team if he wants an opportunity to redeem his past playoff follies.
5 Thrived - Troy Aikman
Speaking of the Dallas Cowboys, let's talk about Troy Aikman. Dynasties are near impossible in the modern era NFL, but the Cowboys came as close as anybody in the 1990s when they were led by the three-headed offensive monster of Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin. Aikman quarterbacked the Cowboys to three Super Bowl wins in a four year span and was nothing short of brilliant in doing so.
Aikman always seemed so calm and steady in the pocket for the Cowboys during those 1990s playoff match-ups. His size, strength, and poise was a constant beacon for "America's Team" and caused fear in opposing defensive coordinators. In perhaps his most shining moment as a professional, Aikman dismantled the Buffalo Bills 52-17 in the 1992 Super Bowl. Aikman threw four touchdowns in that game and firmly put his name on the list of all-time great playoff quarterbacks. Everything is bigger in Texas, just take a look at Aikman's Super Bowl rings.
4 Failed - Matt Hasselbeck
Most of the quarterbacks on this list that have been labeled failures because of their poor playoff records, poor statistics, or just poor play in light of high expectations. But Hasselbeck doesn't fit nicely into any of those categories. His playoff record isn't too dismal at 5-6. His statistics certainly don't scream "playoff bust," as Hasselbeck threw for 18 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions in his 11 playoff games. Lastly, Hasselbeck was never considered a superstar quarterback and thus the expectations of him in the playoffs were much lower than for a guy like Peyton Manning.
So why is Hasselbeck on this list as a playoff failure? It's for nine simple words he uttered during the 2003 playoff match-up against the Green Bay Packers. "We want the ball, and we're going to score!" said Hasselbeck, after winning the overtime coin toss. It's always good to have confidence and had Hasselbeck backed up his promise and led the Seahawks to a game winning drive, he would likely be on this list as a playoff hero. Instead, Hasselbeck threw an interception to Al Harris who returned it back for the game winning touchdown. He should have said, "We want the ball and they're going to score!"
3 Thrived - Terry Bradshaw
It's refreshing nowadays to see a player stay with the same team throughout their entire career. This loyalty is commendable and really allows a fan base to embrace a player as their own, which creates an impeccable bond between fan and franchise. Bradshaw is one player that, although well past his playing days now, continues to bleed black and gold for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bradshaw is none to the younger generation as the quirky, bald host on the pregame shows, but back in the 1970s Bradshaw was as fierce of a competitor as they come.
If a quarterback truly makes a name for themselves based off of what they do in the playoffs, Bradshaw would be on the Mount Rushmore of NFL quarterbacks. Although Bradshaw was aided by one of the most dominant defenses in NFL history, the Steel Curtain, he had a special knack for coming up huge for the team whenever they needed him most. This is evidenced by his four touchdown performance against the Dallas Cowboys in the 1978 Super Bowl. Bradshaw ultimately won four Super Bowls in his career and will always be considered one of the greatest playoff quarterbacks of all-time because of it.
2 Failed - Drew Bledsoe
The final two players on this list are both famous New England Patriots quarterbacks. One, Drew Bledsoe, is known for his playoff failures, while the other is known for being one of the greatest playoff performers of all time. Bledsoe had a magnificent career in the NFL after being drafted #1 overall by the New England Patriots in the 1993 NFL draft. Bledsoe was always considered a gun-slinger who was not afraid to make the risky throws into coverage. I mean in 1994, Bledsoe threw an incredible 27 interceptions!
This gun-slinger/risk-taker attitude is what made Bledsoe so great, but it's also exactly why he finds himself on the rough side of this list. Bledsoe led the Patriots to four playoffs, including the 1996 Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers. In that game, Bledsoe threw four untimely interceptions that really helped put the Patriots in a whole they couldn't climb out of. It's unfortunate that Bledsoe never really got another chance to redeem himself before the next guy on this list came and stole the New England spotlight from him.
1 Thrived - Tom Brady
What all can you say about Tom Brady that hasn't already been said? The former sixth round pick that nobody wanted has turned into one of, if not the greatest quarterbacks of all time. What makes Brady so legendary is his poise and unfettering presence in the playoffs. Brady showed he was capable of accomplishing greatness during his first season as a starting quarterback after filling in for an injured Drew Bledsoe.
All Brady did in his first season as starter was lead the team to the Super Bowl win, created by his game-winning drive to set up a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri. Brady was also named Super Bowl MVP. He then went on to lead the Patriots to three more Super Bowl victories over the next decade-plus. It would have been more had it not been for Eli Manning and the New York Giants. Overall, Brady had a 22-9 playoff record coming into 2017 and looks to add to that with what's left of his career.
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