Clutch Performers

Top clutch quarterbacks in playoff history

Being a Clutch Performer means coming through for your team in key moments and throughout your career. That can mean you either come up with a big play when the game is on the line, or you're the foundation on which your team builds success.

In honor of the Castrol EDGE Clutch Performers of the Year, we take a weekly look at some players that have been instrumental to their team's success in the Super Bowl era, through the postseason and beyond. Here, we focus on quarterbacks.

5. Eli Manning

There are some NFL legends being left out of these spots, so it could be a surprise to some to see Eli Manning break into the top five. The Giants' receivers costly drops led to a Wild Card exit this year, but Eli has pulled off some playoff magic in his career.

If a single play can define Eli's career, it's this one. Manning avoided sacks to keep the play alive and connected with David Tyree's helmet. It's one of the most clutch plays in Super Bowl history. It also led to one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history as the Giants beat a New England Patriots team that was 18-0 heading into this game.

But where Manning really flashed some postseason magic a few seasons later, where he would upset the Patriots again in Super Bowl XLVI. That postseason, Eli threw 1,219 yards with nine touchdowns and just one interception. That yardage total is a single-postseason record.

He's a two-time Super Bowl champ and MVP and a four-time Pro Bowler. Eli is also the only quarterback to defeat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. He's also just nine starts away from breaking his brother's record of 208 starts to start a career.


4. Terry Bradshaw

Recent ... interactions, between Terry Bradshaw and Mike Tomlin have resurfaced old comments from Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson. Henderson once said that Bradshaw "couldn't spell 'cat' if you spotted him the 'c' and the 'a.'" Rough words. Regardless of what's thought of Bradshaw, there was a word that he could always spell in the big game. Win.

The "Blonde Bomber" had a cannon for an arm. Yes, having guys like John Stallworth and Lynn Swann helps. The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s were loaded with talent. But Bradshaw came up with big plays in every Super Bowl he played, and that's why he's on this list.

The Hall of Famer is a four-time Super Bowl champion. He was the first QB to win four. He was also the first QB to throw for 3,000 yards and 30 TDs in the postseason. Those numbers might not mean much in today's passing league, but they were impressive in an era where the ground game ruled all. Bradshaw was also named Super Bowl MVP in XIII and XIV.


3. John Elway

As an athlete, there wasn't much John Elway couldn't do. He could throw, he could scramble. In 1982, Elway even led the Class A Oneonta Yankees in RBIs. Random baseball stat, I know. But it shows just the type of athlete Elway was. He's one of the most versatile QBs the game has seen. He's the only player to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 200 yards in seven straight seasons. Cam Newton can tie that record next season.

Elway was the artist behind "The Drive," two words that sting Cleveland Browns fans to this day. Comebacks became a bit of a trademark for Elway. He's currently fourth all-time in game-winning drives and comeback wins.

His ability to score on the ground had to be respected. Elway is one of just two players to rush for a touchdown in four different Super Bowls. He shares that achievement with Buffalo Bills great Thurman Thomas.

Elway is behind only one other QB in Super Bowl appearances (more on that guy later). While his first three trips to the big game didn't turn out the way he wanted, Elway went out on top, winning back-to-back Super Bowls. He was named Super Bowl XXXIII MVP.


2. Tom Brady

The 199th overall pick in any draft usually meets little, if any, fanfare. They might not have known it at the time, but in the 2000 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots came away with the biggest draft steal in NFL history.

Brady, a 12-time Pro Bowler, is already one of the greatest QBs to ever play the game. He has led his team to greatness over his entire career. He's a two-time NFL MVP, a four-time Super Bowl champion and a three-time Super Bowl MVP.

Even before Super Bowl LI, Brady already holds many postseason records. Brady has 33 starts, 24 wins, 8,628 yards and 61 TDs in the postseason. Those are all NFL records. Of those totals, he has 1,605 yards 13 TDs through the air in Super Bowls alone. Also NFL records. Come Sunday, he will also play in his seventh Super Bowl. That'll be a new record among any players, regardless of position. With a win in Super Bowl LI, Brady could also have the most rings of any QB.

An argument can certainly be made that he should be higher. Out of these five QBs, Brady probably had the fewest tools around him. When he did have the tools, the Pats went 18-0 and he threw 50 touchdowns. Why isn't he the top spot? It came down to one thing. If I was building a team from scratch, and could pick anyone at the start of their career, I'd pick Tom Brady. If I had to pick a QB to win me one drive, that's Joe Montana.


1. Joe Montana

Depending what happens this weekend in Super Bowl LI, this could very well change. Certainly, Brady has a strong enough resume to be the top QB on this list. But last-second game heroics got Eli Manning on this list, so the top spot went to QB who made a career being the best player in the clutch. That man is Joe Montana.

Montana made a name for himself for being cool under pressure. A perfect example of what he could do late in the game was in Super Bowl XXIII. Montana led a 92-yard drive in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals. He would win Super Bowl MVP honors. Montana remains the Niners' all-time leader in wins, passing yards and passing touchdowns. And of course there's "The Catch," one of the most iconic plays in NFL history.

Montana continued his playoff prowess after beating the Bengals. The following postseason run included another Super Bowl win. In those three games, Montana led a stampede over their opponents. In three postseason games of the 1989 season, Montana threw for 11 TDs, a single-postseason record he now shares with Joe Flacco and Kurt Warner. He also had a passer rating in that stretch of 146.4, another postseason record.

Bradshaw, Brady and Montana are the only QBs with four Super Bowl rings. Brady could very well break that tie on Sunday. If he does, Brady is easily in the argument for best of all-time. But in the clutch, with the game on the line, I take Montana.


Honorable Mentions

Late-game magic played a big role in this list. It's what kept Montana above Brady, it's also what put Eli Manning on this list. Eli barely edged out Troy Aikman and his three Super Bowl wins. The Cowboys of the 90s were a dominate force though, and few late-game pushes were required. Aikman himself barely edged out Roger Staubach, who was more clutch, but Aikman has more hardware.

Another QB that needs to be mentioned is Steve Young. He led the 49ers to their fifth Super Bowl championship. In the postseason, Young not only has 3,326 passing yards, but he also has 594 yards and eight TDs on the ground. Those are postseason rushing records among quarterbacks.

Peyton Manning has some strong stats to consider too, but his best work was always in the regular season, and the focus here is playoffs. I'd put Brett Favre's playoff magic above Peyton's.

Follow Daniel Williams on Twitter @_danielwilliams.

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