Patrick Brady
Ranking the QB matchup of every Super Bowl
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Fair or not, quarterbacks get a healthy amount of praise and/or criticism for their teams' success. Having the ball in your hands tends to have certain responsibilities, after all. Whether it's playing mistake-free or carrying their teammates on their backs, quarterbacks play a huge part in the outcome of a game, especially the Super Bowl.The championship game brings together the last passers standing from each conference. Both bring a different flair to the position, but the goal remains the same: Win the game. This has produced some epic quarterback duels, from both players trading scores or young upstarts making names for themselves by knocking off the top dogs. The Super Bowl brings out the best in quarterbacks or crushes them under immense pressure. Either way, it's highly entertaining. With that in mind, here is a ranking of every Super Bowl quarterback matchup.   Focus on Sport/Getty Images Fans and experts called this the “Blunder Bowl” for a reason. Despite having great quarterbacks in Johnny Unitas and Craig Morton, neither showed up for the biggest game of the year. Unitas didn’t even finish the game, getting knocked out in the second quarter but not before he threw two interceptions compared to just three completions. Morton survived the game but didn’t fare any better, throwing three interceptions and completing less than 50 percent of his passes. Many people want to forget this one.   Brian Bahr/Getty Images Some of the greatest quarterbacks in the game have played in the Super Bowl. Trent Dilfer and Kerry Collins are not among them. Both teams rode running games and strong defenses. It seems that any quarterback who played it safe could’ve been behind center and would have made it to the game. The Super Bowl only confirmed those suspicions. Collins got roughed up by one of the best defenses of all time, getting picked off and sacked four times each. Dilfer technically won the duel by getting the win but didn’t do much, completing less than 50 percent of his passes but throwing for a touchdown. Most Super Bowls have at least one quarterback who performs well. This one had none.   Ezra Shaw/Getty Images Yes, it’s Peyton Manning, but he was a shell of his former self, relying on the excellence of his defense to win. Cam Newton established himself as one of the faces of the NFL with 3,837 passing yards, 636 rushing yards and 45 total touchdowns. Newton was expected to excel, but not even he could solve the Denver D. Newton was sacked six times and threw one interception. He also lost two fumbles in a messy game. Manning held on for dear life, throwing for only 141 yards and taking five sacks. Manning-Newton is a great generational debate. Unfortunately, the reality in 2016 was so much worse.   4 of 54 50. Super Bowl VII: Bob Griese, Miami Dolphins, and Billy Kilmer, Washington Redskins Focus on Sport/Getty Images Both Super Bowl quarterbacks had less than ideal starts to the season. Bob Griese fractured his leg early in the year, while Billy Kilmer was replaced three games into the season by a 38-year-old Sonny Jurgensen before gaining the starting job again after the veteran went down with an Achilles injury. Both weren't much of a factor in this Super Bowl. Griese leaned heavily on Larry Csonka and the stable of running backs behind him, completing only eight passes on 11 attempts. Kilmer did the same but ended up contributing to the Redskins' woes with three interceptions. This was not a quarterback duel fans would remember.   5 of 54 49. Super Bowl II: Bart Starr, Green Bay Packers, and Daryle Lamonica, Oakland Raiders Focus On Sport/Getty Images The wily veteran vs. the young gunslinger: Starr was playing in what was the last season of his Hall of Fame career, while Lamonica was setting the AFL on fire with his powerful arm. The “Mad Bomber” found out it takes a lot more than a big arm to win the Super Bowl, though, as Starr managed the game to perfection to win his second straight championship. For all his production in the regular season, Lamonica couldn’t move the ball against a stingy Green Bay defense. It didn’t help that the Packers were eating the clock with long possessions, keeping the explosive Oakland offense on the bench. Lamonica got some garbage-time yards and finished with 208 yards and two touchdowns, but Starr expertly led the Packers behind an efficient 202 yards on 13 completions with one touchdown.   6 of 54 48. Super Bowl VIII: Bob Griese, Miami Dolphins, and Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings Focus on Sport/Getty Images Much like in the previous year’s Super Bowl, Bob Griese didn’t have to do much to help the Dolphins win their second straight championship. He had to complete six passes this time while leaning on Larry Csonka again. Minnesota’s Fran Tarkenton did his best to dance and scramble the Vikings back in the game but found it hard to do anything against Miami. He finished with 182 passing yards and one interception. It was another snoozer of a quarterback matchup.   Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Image After the previous few Super Bowl quarterback matchups, this one was a dud. It wasn’t the talent level that was the problem. Ben Roethlisberger got hurt during the season and still put up 2,385 passing yards and 17 touchdowns in 12 games. Matt Hasselbeck rode Shaun Alexander's 28-touchdown MVP campaign and threw for 24 touchdowns against nine interceptions. The Super Bowl was another story. The game was plagued by questionable officiating, and the players didn’t do much to make it any better. Roethlisberger went 9-of-21 in his pass attempts and was intercepted twice. Hasselbeck did better, with 273 pass yards, but was sacked three times. It was an ugly game in terms of quarterback play.   Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images With one of the greatest quarterbacks ever on one side and an emerging star in Los Angeles on the other, you would have thought Super Bowl LIII's quarterback matchup would have produced better results. Unfortunately fans were subjected to one of the most boring offensive displays in this pass-heavy era of football. Jared Goff, who passed for 4,688 passing yards and 32 touchdowns in the 2018 season, was stoned by Bill Belichick, looking lost while only completing 50 percent of his passes and guiding the Rams to three points. Brady, who was no slouch with over 4,300 passing yards, threw his signature dump-offs and slants for a yawn-inducing 262 yards and wasn't directly responsible for any points scored by New England. Many were expecting fireworks for this matchup but instead got one of the most infuriating Super Bowl games ever.   9 of 54 45. Super Bowl XX: Jim McMahon, Chicago Bears, and Tony Eason, New England Patriots Focus on Sport/Getty Images You could’ve literally put any quarterback against the Chicago Bears defense in 1985, and it wouldn’t have mattered. The Bears were going to win no matter what. Jim McMahon was a solid quarterback, completing 12 passes for 256 passing yards, but Tony Eason couldn’t do anything, missing all six of his pass attempts before getting knocked out of the game. This couldn’t be a more forgettable matchup.   10 of 54 44. Super Bowl I: Bart Starr, Green Bay Packers, and Len Dawson, Kansas City Chiefs James Flores/Getty Images The first Super Bowl featured two of the era’s most accurate passers. Len Dawson led the AFL with a 56 percent completion percentage, while Starr completed 62.2 percent of his passes to lead the NFL. Even though Dawson crushed Starr in the touchdown department (26-14), it was Starr who prevailed in the championship game. After star receiver Boyd Dowler went down, Starr rode veteran tight end Max McGee the entire game, completing seven passes to him for 138 yards. Dawson couldn’t keep up with Starr, finishing with 39 fewer pass yards and throwing a critical third quarter interception that gave Green Bay the momentum the rest of the game. The Packers won, 35-10.   Focus on Sport/Getty Images The Colts were 18-point favorites to destroy the less-productive Jets. A big reason for that huge spread was Morrall, who led the NFL with 26 touchdowns in 1968. Joe Namath, who was looked like a woefully inferior quarterback in comparison, boldly claimed the Jets would win the Super Bowl three days before the game was played. The rest was history. Morrall couldn’t solve the Jets defense, throwing three interceptions before being replaced by veteran Johnny Unitas. Namath, on the other hand, dinked and dunked his way past the Colts’ blitzing defense, finishing with 206 yards on 17 completions. He may not have torched the AFL during the season, but he did what he needed to do to win the league’s first Super Bowl.   12 of 54 42. Super Bowl IX: Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings Focus on Sport/Getty Images With two historic defenses in this Super Bowl, there was little hope that either quarterback was going to flex his muscles much. Terry Bradshaw found some success getting on Franco Harris’ back and riding his 158 rushing yards. He finished the game with nine completions and a touchdown. Fran Tarkenton once again was foiled by a great defense, throwing three interceptions, and the “Steel Curtain” stuffed Chuck Foreman time and time again.   13 of 54 41. Super Bowl IV: Len Dawson, Kansas City Chiefs, and Joe Kapp, Minnesota Vikings Focus on Sport/Getty Images Joe Kapp wasn’t a passer like Len Dawson, but he was so tough on runs from the quarterback position that he earned the nickname “indestructible.” Dawson had a rough season, missing six games with a knee injury, and he barely qualified for the playoffs. The fortunes flipped in the Super Bowl. Kapp never had to play against a defense as big as the Chiefs'. He struggled to find receivers, throwing two interceptions, and ran for only 9 yards. On the other side of the field, Dawson had an easier time taking advantage of open receivers on the short routes, throwing for 142 yards on 12 completions with one touchdown. Neither quarterback lit the world on fire, as the defenses dominated this game.   Focus on Sport/Getty Images The 33-year-old Jim Plunkett revived his career with the Raiders after stinking it up in New England and San Francisco. With Ron Jaworski leading the Eagles with 3,529 yards and 27 touchdowns in the regular season, this was set to be a great matchup. Well, at least Plunkett came to play. Plunkett put on a deep-ball clinic, throwing for three touchdowns and 261 yards on 13 completions. Jaworski, on the other hand, went the opposite direction, getting picked off three times. The Eagles scored only 10 points, and the Raiders won easily.   15 of 54 39. Super Bowl XVII: Joe Theismann, Washington Redskins, and David Woodley, Miami Dolphins Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images The quarterback position and the Miami Dolphins have a curious relationship. The team reached four Super Bowls to this point without a quarterback who put up huge numbers. Even though this matchup featured the top-rated passer in the NFC in Joe Theismann, not even he was enough to make this duel intriguing with David Woodley behind center for Miami. Woodley completed four of his 14 pass attempts for 96 yards, with a majority of them coming from a 76-yard scoring connection with Jimmy Cefalo in the first quarter. Theismann did his best to make the quarterback battle semi-exciting, completing 15-of-23 passes for 143 yards with two touchdowns. His two interceptions were an eyesore though, making this matchup a bore.   16 of 54 38. Super Bowl XI: Ken Stabler, Oakland Raiders, and Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings Focus on Sport/Getty Images The third time was not the charm for Fran Tarkenton. Even after establishing himself as the league’s all-time leader in pass completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns, he couldn’t get over the hump to win a Super Bowl. Tarkenton had trouble with the Raiders' 3-4 defense filled with aggressive, hard-hitting players. Ken Stabler, on the other hand, had no problem solving the Purple People Eaters defense, handing the ball off to Clarence Davis and Mark van Eeghen and managing the game perfectly by completing 12-of-19 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown.   17 of 54 37. Super Bowl VI: Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys, and Bob Griese, Miami Dolphins Kidwiler Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images Two young, hotshot quarterbacks met in Super Bowl VI, with Roger Staubach earning the starting job in his third year, while Bob Griese threw for nearly 2,100 yards and 19 touchdowns. The former Navy Vietnam veteran rode a productive run game and chipped in with 119 yards on 12 completions, including two passing touchdowns. Griese couldn’t carry the load after his running game failed him, throwing for 134 yards, getting picked off once and fumbling the ball. He would have a chance to redeem himself soon enough.   18 of 54 36. Super Bowl XII: Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys, and Craig Morton, Denver Broncos Bettmann Collection/Getty Images Roger Staubach replaced Craig Morton as the Dallas Cowboys quarterback in 1971, and Dallas never looked back. Morton got a chance for revenge against his former team in Super Bowl XII. He did not capitalize. Morton fell victim to Dallas’ Doomsday Defense, throwing four interceptions and completing only four passes for 39 yards. Staubach had more success against the vaunted Orange Crush Denver defense, throwing for 183 yards and one touchdown. This was hyped a revenge game but ended up being a dud.   19 of 54 35. Super Bowl XIV: Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Vince Ferragamo, Los Angeles Rams Focus On Sport/Getty Images It was already a miracle that the Rams made it into the playoffs, and they got to the Super Bowl, which was even more unbelievable. But it was no thanks to quarterback Vince Ferragamo. The fourth-round draft pick was expected to get outdueled by Terry Bradshaw, and he didn’t do much to fight that. Ferragamo finished the game with 212 passing yards but never hit pay dirt for a score and had one pass intercepted. Bradshaw may have had three passes picked off, but he added two touchdowns and threw for 309 yards. There wasn’t much back and forth like there was with him and Staubach the previous year. It was all Bradshaw this time.   20 of 54 34. Super Bowl XVIII: Jim Plunkett, Los Angeles Raiders, and Joe Theismann, Washington Redskins Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images Two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks usually provide a matchup full of potential. With MVP-winning Joe Theismann and Jim Plunkett still showing off his big arm, everyone was expecting an explosive Super Bowl. Neither delivered. Plunkett took a backseat to running back Marcus Allen, who rushed for 191 yards. The Raiders quarterback at least notched one touchdown. Theismann couldn’t even manage that, throwing two interceptions. The Raiders made the Super Bowl a laugher, winning 38-9.   Rob Brown/Getty Images Before Phil Simms was doing Super Bowl broadcasts, he was on the field winning one. The “Big Blue Wrecking Crew” Giants defense may have gotten the headlines, but Simms led the offense with 3,487 passing yards. John Elway was already entertaining crowds with his ability to scramble. In the Super Bowl, Simms outdueled Elway with three touchdowns, while Elway had a tough time moving the ball against Lawrence Taylor and Co. He still finished with over 300 yards passing, but he was unable to make the Super Bowl intriguing.   22 of 54 32. Super Bowl XLVIII: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks, and Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images You would think in a matchup featuring a record-setting Peyton Manning, who threw for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns, would be exciting no matter what. It was quite the contrary when he ran into the Legion of Boom. Manning was throttled by Seattle, throwing two interceptions, getting sacked once and losing a fumble. Russell Wilson gobbled up the extra possessions his defense gave him, managing the game perfectly with 206 yards and two touchdowns. What was supposed to be a competitive matchup ended up being a laugher.   23 of 54 31. Super Bowl XXII: Doug Williams, Washington Redskins, and John Elway, Denver Broncos Mike Powell/Getty Images Redskins quarterback Doug Williams started the season on the bench but took over the starting job at the end of the season. In five games, he piled up 1,156 yards and 11 touchdowns, but he was running into a buzz saw in John Elway, who just completed another excellent season in which he threw for nearly 3,200 yards. Instead, Williams stole the show. The first African-American quarterback to start a Super Bowl threw four touchdowns. Unable to shake his Super Bowl woes, Elway threw three interceptions and was sacked five times. Williams wowed the crowd, but Elway couldn’t join him in making this a more entertaining game.   24 of 54 30. Super Bowl XIX: Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers, and Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins Sylvia Allen/Getty Images Montana vs. Mr. 5,000 — this was going to be the quarterback matchup to end all quarterback matchups. Dan Marino became the first quarterback to eclipse 5,000 yards in a season, and Joe Montana threw for 28 touchdowns. Well, at least one of them showed up. Montana destroyed Marino in a head-to-head battle, throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for another. Marino did the best he could, throwing for 318 yards, but he was picked off twice. Many people argued that Marino was well on his way to supplanting Montana at the top of the quarterback mountain, but the 49ers legend put those statements to bed.   25 of 54 29. Super Bowl XXIV: Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers, and John Elway, Denver Broncos Icon Sportswire/Getty Images Two legendary quarterbacks faced off in Super Bowl XXIV, and both confirmed their respective reputations through their performances, for better or for worse. John Elway came into the game losing his last two Super Bowls, and he didn’t do much to quell criticism that he couldn't win the big game. He didn’t have his best season, and that inconsistency showed in the championship game, where he threw two interceptions and was sacked four times. Montana cemented his penchant for big performances, pummeling the Broncos into submission through the air with 297 passing yards and five touchdowns to set a Super Bowl record. He didn’t need Elway to give the fans a show.   Rick Stewart/Getty Images In 1991, Mark Rypien and Jim Kelly were lighting up the NFL. Rypien threw for 3,564 yards and 28 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Kelly continued to masterfully orchestrate the K-Gun offense, throwing for 3,844 yards with a league-high 33 touchdowns. Unfortunately, this was another matchup he did not capitalize on. Kelly got thrown around by the Washington defense, getting sacked five times and throwing four interceptions. Rypien took advantage of Kelly’s miscues, throwing for 292 yards and two touchdowns. This wasn’t the first or last time Kelly was bested on the biggest stage.   27 of 54 27. Super Bowl XXVIII: Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys, and Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills Focus on Sport/Getty Images For the first time in NFL history, the same two teams made it to the Super Bowl in back-to-back years. Aikman-Kelly was set up to be a barnburner, with Aikman still commanding an efficient offense, while Kelly led the Bills to the best record in the AFC. Unfortunately for the Bills, history would repeat itself. Kelly attempted 50 passes but had a hard time moving the ball, with one interception and three sacks. Aikman didn’t have to dominate the game like he did the year before, with Emmitt Smith rushing for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Aikman and the Cowboys coasted to another easy win, and the Jim Kelly Bills earned the dubious honor of being known as the greatest team to never win a Super Bowl.   28 of 54 26. Super Bowl XLI: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts, and Rex Grossman, Chicago Bears Matt Kryger/Getty Images Peyton Manning’s first Super Bowl was a momentous occasion with one of the greatest quarterbacks finally making it to the championship game. Too bad there wasn’t a similar quarterback on the other side of the field to make the game interesting. Rex Grossman was a fine quarterback, but he didn’t have the clout that would’ve made this a heavyweight battle. He finished the game with 20 completions for only 165 yards and was picked off twice. Not even Manning lit up the Miami sky. He finished with 247 yards, a touchdown and an interception. It wasn’t his best game, but he got the job done.   29 of 54 25. Super Bowl XXVII: Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys, and Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images It was another year in which Jim Kelly dominated the AFC in the no-huddle offense, but a new challenger rose from the NFC. Troy Aikman led a Cowboys team that finished second in the league in scoring, throwing for 3,445 yards and 23 touchdowns. Aikman lit up the Bills, throwing four touchdowns and going 22-of-30 on his pass attempts. After throwing two interceptions, Kelly reinjured his knee that kept him out of the first two playoff games, knocking him out of the game. The Bills lost for the third straight year in the Super Bowl.   30 of 54 24. Super Bowl XXIX: Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers, and Stan Humphries, San Diego Chargers Focus on Sport/Getty Images Stan Humphries was thrust into the national spotlight by making the Super Bowl with the surprise Chargers. He threw for 3,209 yards, but on the other side of the field he ran into Steve Young, the 49ers quarterback who had Joe Montana’s big shoes to fill and a lot of questions as to if he could win a big game. He made sure people knew he was ready against San Diego. Young torched the Chargers for 325 yards and six touchdowns, breaking Montana's previous record of five touchdown passes set in Super Bowl XXIV. Humphries' luck ran out against the 49ers, throwing two interceptions and getting sacked twice before being replaced in the fourth quarter. The one-sided affair made this a mediocre matchup.   31 of 54 23. Super Bowl XXV: Jeff Hostetler, New York Giants, and Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills Rob Brown/Getty Images Jim Kelly and Buffalo’s no-huddle K-Gun offense was supposed to be the main draw in the matchup with Jeff Hostetler playing game manager filling in for an injured Phil Simms. The game was a lot more entertaining than that. Hostetler and Kelly battled to a near draw, with Hostetler throwing for 222 yards and a touchdown, while Kelly put up 212 yards, including 28 yards late in the fourth quarter to set up the potential game-winning field goal. However, as many Buffalo fans know, Scott Norwood missed the kick, giving the Giants the win.   32 of 54 22. Super Bowl XVI: Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers, and Ken Anderson, Cincinnati Bengals Focus on Sport/Getty Images In terms of quarterback matchups, this was marquee-worthy. A young Joe Montana emerged for the 49ers, leading the league with a 63.7 completion percentage. On the other side, Ken Anderson won the NFL MVP and Comeback Player of the Year, throwing for 3,754 yards and 29 touchdowns. Their duel in Super Bowl was impressive. Montana started the scoring with a rushing touchdown in the first quarter and followed that up with a passing score in the second. After the 49ers jumped to a 20-0 lead at halftime, it was all Anderson from there. His third-quarter rushing touchdown was the only score that quarter, and he notched two fourth-quarter throwing scores, one of them with 22 seconds left to pull the Bengals within five. The only thing Anderson needed was time, something he was not afforded after a failed onside kick gave Montana his first Super Bowl win, starting a legendary career.   33 of 54 21. Super Bowl XXX: Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys, and Neil O'Donnell, Pittsburgh Steelers Focus on Sport/Getty Images Troy Aikman returned…