Below is a look at the 10 worst performances from quarterbacks in the playoffs since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Two things to note: 1) Super Bowls were not included, as we wanted to focus on the games you have to win to get there, and 2) the stakes are as relevant as the stats. Quarterbacks on top-seeded teams, or whose mistakes led to a lesser team pulling off the upset, dominate the list. Sad note: Most of the QBs on our list were dominant at one time or another, just not in these games.
Talk to any longtime 49er fan, and they'll tell you that the Niners' best team (outside of maybe the '84 squad) was Bill Walsh's 1987 club. After going 13-2 during the strike-abbreviated regular season, that team had been penciled in by fans for a Super Bowl appearance. Even the math worked out: Joe Montana and Walsh had won it all after the 1981 and 1984 seasons, and now, after another three-year interval, they were due again. Didn't happen. In the only game in which he was ever benched, Montana went 12 of 26 for 109 yards, including a huge pick-six to Reggie Rutland in the second quarter. The wild-card Vikings squad upset what was arguably the best NFL team to not make the Super Bowl.
Truthfully, this one could be higher. Donovan McNabb was absolutely awful in the 2003 NFC Championship Game, throwing three picks in a stunning defeat to the Panthers. McNabb's three interceptions, all to Ricky Manning, and 19.3 passer rating were bad enough. But the fact that the Eagles had already lost two straight championship games coming in, and were the top seed in the NFC (again), made this performance particularly frustrating for Eagles fans. Maybe frustrating isn't the word for it.
Only one guy has thrown six interceptions in a postseason game since the merger. That would be Brett Favre, who was trying to help the Packers keep up with "The Greatest Show on Turf" Rams in the 2001 Divisional Playoffs. Favre tried a little too hard, forcing balls in coverage in what might have been the worst game of his career, and Green Bay was blown out in a contest many thought would be the most fun of that postseason.
The Raiders thought they had a team that could compete with anybody in 1990. After going 12-4 and winning the AFC West crown, the then-Los Angeles Raiders bested the Bengals in the Divisional Round. Unfortunately, they lost Bo Jackson -- the NFL's best home-run hitter at tailback -- in that game. Jay Schroeder could not make up the difference against the Bills, tossing five interceptions, including one that Darryl Talley took to the house in the first quarter to make the score 21-3. Needless to say, the Raiders never recovered.
Brian Sipe has become a forgotten name outside of Cleveland, which is too bad, considering what a good player old No. 17 was. Sipe won the starting gig in 1976, slowly climbing the ranks of the top signal callers in the league. He hit his zenith in 1980, winning the league MVP award while throwing 30 touchdown passes and becoming just the third quarterback to eclipse 4,000 passing yards in a season. Sipe fell apart in the ensuing Divisional Round, however, going 13 for 40 with three interceptions ... the third coming in the end zone, with Cleveland needing just a field goal to take a lead in the closing moments of a 14-12 game. "Red Right 88" was the play call. Don't ever mention it to a Browns fan. Please.
You might recall that the Cardinals made it to Super Bowl XLIII with Kurt Warner leading the way in 2008. Warner was fantastic that season, but let's be real, here: His 9-7 Arizona squad had no business being there. Jake Delhomme did his part to make it happen, though, spoiling the Panthers' homefield advantage by throwing five interceptions against the Cards. He managed to lose a fumble along the way, as well, personally accounting for six turnovers by himself, five of which came in his own territory. Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin were too dynamic to be gifted all those short fields.
We all saw it Sunday: an MVP candidate pressing in a game that mandated he perform like, well, an NFL MVP. Carson Palmer needed to lead six scoring drives to stay with Carolina in the NFC Championship -- instead, he committed six turnovers. Palmer's two fumbles hurt, while his pick-six to Luke Kuechly late sealed his team's fate. Most disappointing was the fact that the second-seeded Cardinals were expected to give the Panthers all they could handle. Instead, Arizona got handled.
In 1979, "Air Coryell" took over the NFL. Dan Fouts became the first quarterback to throw for over 4,000 yards since Joe Namath in 1967. The San Diego "Super" Chargers were disco dancing their way to a 12-4 mark, including a resounding 35-7 win over the defending-champion Steelers. The defense made plays that day, but this was a team that followed its high-powered offense to the promised land of the playoffs, where the Chargers were the top seed in the AFC. Unfortunately, Fouts picked the worst day to have his worst day as a pro, throwing five interceptions (including four to Vernon Perry) against an Oilers team playing without its starting quarterback (Dan Pastorini) and running back (league MVP Earl Campbell). It's not even like San Diego needed Fouts, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, to have a prolific day to win what became a defensive struggle.
OK, so we're cheating a bit by listing two games here, but we couldn't separate them. In 1997, the second-seeded Steelers lost at home to the Broncos when Kordell Stewart turned the ball over four times. The 2001 Pittsburgh team had new digs, the best defense in the league and the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Unfortunately, Stewart could not overcome himself. New England didn't have anywhere near as good a defense as Pittsburgh's, and the Patriots were forced to play Drew Bledsoe when Tom Brady went down. Yet, Stewart missed open receivers, lost a fumble in his own territory (the Steelers' defense bailed him out) and threw two picks on the final two drives in a one-score game. This was one of the most devastating losses of the Bill Cowher era.
The 1982 Jets were a potential Super Bowl team. At least, everyone saw it that way after they beat the top-seeded Raiders. All that stood in the way of a second Super Bowl appearance were the Miami Dolphins, who had a fantastic defense but were weak at quarterback (hence drafting Dan Marino the following spring). If New York could get quality play from Richard Todd, their "New York Sack Exchange" pass rush would force Miami quarterback David Woodley to make mistakes, and the Jets would be in Super Bowl XVII. Instead, a sloppy Orange Bowl field helped induce sloppy play from Todd and the aerial attack. He threw five interceptions (tied for the most in a conference championship), the most important being a crushing pick-six to A.J. Duhe in the fourth quarter of a one-score game.