The Great Game Ever QB’ed?

Today, Kerry J. Byrne of Cold, Hard Football Facts posted an article about Drew Brees’ performance last Sunday against the Patriots. Byrne described it as the “best game ever by an NFL quarterback.” Is he right? Let’s examine some criteria and some other performances in order to arrive at a guess.

Quarterbacking is different than pitching. The question of who pitched the greatest game ever has a genuine right answer: Don Larsen. He did it on October 8, 1956, beating the Dodgers, who fielded four future Hall of Famers, 2-0 in the postseason’s only perfect game. The NFL is not so easy. What would constitute the greatest game ever quarterbacked? First, postseason should count for more than the regular season. What happens if the Saints lose on Sunday? They might lose home-field advantage in the playoffs to the Vikings. What happens if you lose in the playoffs? You go home. Second, the game will be pass-heavy. While you could make the argument that Troy Aikman turning around and handing the ball to Emmitt Smith 30 times is pure genius, it is not going to be considered the greatest game ever quarterbacked. Instead, it would be an example of a good gameplan that understands its teams strengths and weaknesses. So who are the contenders?

Steve Young – Super Bowl XXIX – Young threw 6 touchdowns, by far the most in a single Super Bowl. For the game, he went 24 for 36 for 325 yards. His passer rating was 134.8. Faults? He beat an unspectacular Chargers team. The Chargers for the season had the NFL’s 5th ranked offense and 9th ranked defense. Those rankings are good, but not great.

Phil Simms – Super Bowl XXI – Simms went 22 for 25, a completion percentage of 80 percent that is unmatched in the postseason. His passer rating was 150.9. He threw 3 touchdowns against a Broncos team that had the 15th ranked defense in the league. They were even worse against the pass, ranking 16th.

Peyton Manning – Wild Card, 2003 – The only perfect passer rating in the postseason. Manning went 22 for 26 for 377 yards and 5 touchdowns. He did it against the Broncos 9th ranked defense.

Drew Brees – Novemer 29, 2009 – Brees threw for 5 touchdowns, going 18 of 23 for 371 yards. However, he did it in the regular season against the league’s 7th ranked defense. Ranked by yardage, the Patriots have the 12th ranked defense, while the Broncos team beat by Manning had the 4th ranked defense and the one beat by Simms had the 9th ranked defense. The Chargers ranked 14th in yards allowed.

Other contenders – Joe Namath did the most important QB’ing in NFL history in Super Bowl III, but his actual play was unspectacular. He did not even throw a touchdown pass.
Sid Luckman – 1940 Championship Game. He helmed the most dominating performance in history, as the Bears beat the Redskins 73-0, but he was only 3-4 for 88 yards and a touchdown.

Who played the best game as a quarterback? I would pick Phil Simms. I think his game in the Super Bowl was slightly better than Young’s, given the freakish completion percentage and the higher passer rating. I could easily be talked into Young, though, as he faced tougher opposition.  Manning drops slightly behind, because his game was only in the Wild Card round. Brees comes in a distant fourth. His game was in the midst of the regular against nothing more than a good defense. The perfect passer rating is nice, but it is not in the same stratosphere as Manning’s perfect game. Neither match up to the pressure of the Super Bowl.

What do you think? What great passing performances have I left out? Who played the greatest game ever for a quarterback?

Update: At the bottom of the article, Byrne does include this caveat that I missed on the first read:

“But it all came together for Drew Brees Monday night, in the single-greatest regular-season passing performance in modern NFL history.” (Emphasis Added)

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