Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

03 Sep 2010

Best Single-Game QB Performances, 1970-2009

Neil Paine at the Pro-Football-Reference.com blog has put together a formula estimating passing and rushing YAR for every quarterback in every game dating back to 1970, and has posted the top 100 here. Results are adjusted for era, but not opponent, although that likely wouldn't change anything at the top of the list -- the best game is so ridiculously off the charts that the No. 2 game is closer to No. 100 than it is to No. 1.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 03 Sep 2010

41 comments, Last at 07 Sep 2010, 11:05am by Eddo


by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 3:35pm

didnt lok at list yet but #1 game must be J. Namath 15-28 496 6touchdown sv Clots 1972 sepptember

by Dean :: Sat, 09/04/2010 - 10:08am

Baltimore just couldn't stop the bleeding.

by Michael K (not verified) :: Sat, 09/04/2010 - 4:55pm

/slow clap

by ChrisH :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 3:38pm

Given the encyclopedic memory there by Raiderjoe, and his typing style, I'd swear he's my Dad, except my Dad isn't a Raiders fan.

by BadAxe (not verified) :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 3:57pm

Interesting that Tarkenton has the most appearances, with 6. I did not expect that. Peyton is predictably next with 5. I guess I'm a little surprised that Elway never had a game that would crack the top 100, but every other big name QB I can think of makes at least one appearance.

by Vincent Verhei :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 5:14pm

Most shocking to me: Joe Montana appears only once.

by chemical burn :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 6:58pm

Also, Montana didn't really put up huge numbers did he? I was always under the impression he was very, very efficient, but played on balanced teams that could win just as easily with defense and the running game, so they rarely needed Montana to put up 375 yards and 4 TD's to win...

by Shattenjager :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 7:17pm

He didn't have many huge seasons because of his injury problems (he played 16 games once in 13 years, not counting his rookie season and the two strike years), but he ranked in the top five in the league in passing yards per game six times and was top two in attempts per game three times.

by Mike Elseroad (not verified) :: Mon, 09/06/2010 - 2:16am

And New England's Steve Grogan's on there twice!!

by chemical burn :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 6:56pm

I'm surprised McNabb has 4. Or maybe not surprised, but pleasantly surprised? Plus, his best is #29, which ain't bad, all things considered. All of them are from that really deadly era in 2003-2005 where he could still kill you by taking off running, but he really preferred to throw it if at all possible. He was never really the same after the 2005 injury, he became more of a straight-up pocket passer... but that guy could be amazing.

by >implying implications (not verified) :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 9:46pm

McNabb's top game, #29, was the one where he got the record for the most consecutive complete passes (first 14 of the game, plus the last ten of the previous game, for a total of 24 completions in a row). Five touchdown passes and 464 passing yards.

by Dean :: Sat, 09/04/2010 - 10:10am

I was more surprised to see Ran-doll on there at all. Then I noticed that it happend when he was a Viking.

People forget just how good McNabb really was.

by clark :: Sat, 09/04/2010 - 12:13am

I haven't looked at the list yet, but I expect the top performances to be by the elite QBs of the mid 70s, so Tarkenton having the most games on the list sounds reasonable. Like Raiderjoe, I expect Namath's game against the Colts in '72 to be at the top, and I expect Unitas' effort in the same game to be high up there.

by SteveGarvin :: Sun, 09/05/2010 - 2:15am

Well, James Harris at #2 is certainly 70s, but not very elite. That one shocks me.

by andrew :: Mon, 09/06/2010 - 10:31pm

Tarkenton was one hell of a quarterback who was saddled with mediocre talent most of his career.

If you could adjust for the rest of the team he played with as well as opposition, he'd have a lot more up there (e.g., the '69 game he won while in New York over the Vikings comes to mind)...

by Just Another Falcons Fan (not verified) :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 4:07pm

Well, I'm bummed. Two performances out of 100 belong to Falcon QBs. Who, might you ask?

Not Matt Ryan.
Not Michael Vick.
Not Steve Bartkowski
Not Jeff George
Not Chris Miller

Would you believe Wade Wilson and Dick Shiner? Combined record as Falcon QBs -- 5-6-0. Woo-whee, that's some good quarterbacking!

by JoshG (not verified) :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 7:39pm

If it makes you feel any better, Chicago QBs are on that list exactly once. Jack Concannon back in 1970, ranked a wopping #97.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 4:41pm

Interesting! Over on CHFF they rate Drew Brees performance against New England on MNF as the best ever. Here he comes in at #47!


by prophetik (not verified) :: Sat, 09/04/2010 - 9:45am

that's pretty lol-worthy, but don't forget that this list didn't take into effect stuff like opposing defenses and all that.

of course, the folks at CHFF likely weren't alive when namath was playing.

by Dean :: Sat, 09/04/2010 - 10:12am

I've tried to like that site a couple times. But they're just too obnoxious for my taste.

I suppose if you compare both sites to Sanders, than CHFF is Deion and FO is Barry. While I don't have sons, I've always told my nephews, "you want to be like Barry Sanders, not Deion."

by Spielman :: Sat, 09/04/2010 - 10:16am

Agreed. They are capable of starting with a premise that interests me, coming to a conclusion I agree with, and pissing me off so badly in the middle that I wind up wanting to change my mind just so I'm not on their side anymore.

by Dean :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 9:53am

Wow. You managed to phrase that much better than I could. Well said.

by Eddo :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 11:05am

CHFF always reminds me of talk radio; yeah, I might agree with them, but it feels dirty to do so.

by Bobman :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 4:44pm

A little surprised by what did not make it. Not much from Manning's 2004 campaign--pretty sure he had a few games in there with high comp % and many TD passes in about three quarters (Det and Chi come to mind). And less Kurt Warner than I'd expect too. I would have assumed more Marino and less Holcomb/Brister/Volek, as well....

is oti oilers/titans? Took me a while. That's just weird looking.

I'd love to see D adjustments in general, and also the W/L records. Curious how many of these games were losses... and why.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 5:21pm

I'm not entirely surprised not to see any of Manning's 2004 games there. It was a good year for passing, bad for pass defense. As I recall Daunte Culpepper would have had one of the best season's ever if Manning hadn't shattered the passer rating record.

by JIPanick :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 5:37pm

Culpepper *did* have one of the best seasons ever. He just happened to do it the year Manning had (arguably) *the* best season ever, and is almost forgotten because of it.

by commissionerleaf :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 4:54pm

CHFF predictably overrates recent players.

I'm shocked, even given the emphasis on cross-generational differences, that Kurt Warner only appears thrice. Given how terrifyingly good he is (IS dammit, he didn't have to retire!) when he's on, I would have thought he'd dominate the list.

I'm glad Kurt quit while he was ahead, and he was worried about what football would do to the rest of his life, I know. But as a man who likes to watch football, his retirement while Brett Favre is still around is like RFK getting shot instead of Teddy.

by Spielman :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 7:11pm

It's four times, actually.

Honestly, I was kind of shocked to see that the recent Packer game was only 65th.

His top game, against the Chargers in 2000, I missed seeing at the time because I was at the St. Louis Baseball Cardinals game that day. I only saw it on tape recently, and got to enjoy what I'd missed.

by Shattenjager :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 5:02pm

The Rich Gannon game does not appear and therefore I am happy.

(For those who don't know what I'm referencing: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/200211110den.htm)

by ChicagoRaider :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 5:41pm

Ken Stabler appears three times. Two of them back-to-back games at 10/22/73 and 10/28/73. The very next game on the list, sorted chronologically, is Jim Plunkett playing for New England. Destiny in action.

by Joseph :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 5:46pm

Copy of my comment on PFR (#9)

One thing era-adjusting does wrongfully--back in the 60's & 70's, teams threw less frequently, leading to smaller sample sizes for passing--which hyper-inflates some games (Namath's was ridiculous in whatever era you put it in). They also threw higher risk and longer passes, which means you have a great chance for a GREAT day--or a HORRIBLE one. Teams/QB's today use short passes like the 60's/70's teams used the run--with much better results.
Once FO gets more game logs into their system (they go backward about 1 year per calendar year), it will be interesting if these numbers hold up. Not doubting your regression, Neil, but FO gives bonus YAR for FIRST DOWNS--meaning more completions, probably more first downs--and more "bonus" YAR. They also give "bonus" YAR for TD's--which are more prevalent now. BTW, I expect some of those games in your top group to go down because of this--as well as the penalty for incompletes/interceptions

by John (not verified) :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 7:55pm

Everyone who's surprised that Peyton's top two performance came against the Broncos, please raise your hands.



Thought so.

by Drew Dederer (not verified) :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 8:16pm

I remember watching the #8 game on TV at college in Missouri (with several Chief fans). The Chiefs were considered a strong pass defense, but they had no answer for the run and shoot. I remember thinking around the third quarter that we might see Van Brocklin's record fall (and the Chiefs were several steps up on the Yanks), but Houston and Moon shut down late in the third quarter. Even the local Chief fans were disapointed, if you're going to get pantsed like that, it could at least be a record.

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 8:26pm

if KC Cbeifs offense not soo crpappy that day then maybe Oils still throw it aorund in 4th quarter and Moon get record. don'tt hink saw that game becuause was not on NBC by me that day but rmeember in game updattes and highlights later thstt night. was gerat to see chiefs get spanking

by Tom Gower :: Fri, 09/03/2010 - 9:33pm

One of the rare non-national games I got to see as an Oilers fan living in North Dakota, and one I remember reasonably well. The Chiefs were indeed one of the top pass defenses in the league, featuring my favorite underrated defensive back of the past quarter-century in Albert Lewis. I've been meaning to try to track down a tape of the game, because I think it'd be fascinating to watch again, especially now that actually I know something about football. IIRC, the Chiefs spent virtually the entire game in dime and rarely blitzed, giving Moon time to find holes and pick them apart again and again. Teams would, alas, learn better how to defend the run-and-shoot.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sat, 09/04/2010 - 7:38am

Is it right that Namath's performance is #1? 496 yards off 15 completions ... mostly long completions to open receivers ...
- 65 yards to Eddie Bell
- 79 yards to Rich Caster
- 80 yards to Rich Caster
- 67 yards to John Riggins
- 28 yards to Don Maynard
- 10 yards to Rich Caster

Does that really qualify as a signficantly better QBing performance than say Tom Brady against the Jags in the 2007 playoffs where he completed 26 of 28 for 262yds and 3TDs?

In both case the QBs are making good decisions in seeing open receivers, executing great passes to players in stride and taking what the defense gives them.

Nothing against Namath or pro-Brady; just using them as examples.

by Dean :: Sat, 09/04/2010 - 10:19am

496 yards passing in an era when DEs were allowed to use the head-slap, CBs were allowed to basically mug WRs. There was no 5-yard bump zone - rather a 120 yard bump zone. OL were not allowed to extend their arms when pass blocking.

I'm no Namath guy, but yeah, this qualifies as significantly better than any modern game, and likely always will.

This would be comparable to Marino (a guy who's always compared to Namath because of their releases and their lack of mobility - and fortunately doesn't need an "irrational" thread) throwing for 700 yards in a game. It's that good. It's that much of an outlier. This is like Wilt scoring 100 points. This is Ron Hextall scoring a goal. It's actually sad that it happened in September, which largely relegates it to the dust-bin of history.

by zlionsfan :: Sun, 09/05/2010 - 10:01pm

I think Wilt's game is a good analogy, but Hextall's shot is probably a poor one, not only because it's a single play rather than an entire game, but also because it has plenty of company: four other goalies have scored from their own shot.

but that takes away from your original point, which is that in that environment, nearly 500 yards passing was an incredible achievement. I think we'd have to watch that game, or another full game from that era, to appreciate how much more difficult it was to generate significant passing yardage in a game back then.

by Dean :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 9:55am

It's happened since then, but only because Hextall was a trailblazer and other puckhandling goalies followed in his wake.

He wasn't always the greatest goalie, but before the injuries, he was unbeatable, and he changed the way the game was played.

by 57_Varieties (not verified) :: Sat, 09/04/2010 - 9:10pm

James Harris? Richard Todd? It's like an episode of one-hit wonders. Liked seeing Ken Anderson, though, even as a Steelers fan.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 09/06/2010 - 3:55pm

Break down by decade:
- 1970s - 46 performances (9 in 1973)
- 1980s - 11 performances (only 1 in 1987/88/89)
- 1990s - 15 performances (only 1 in 1996/97/98/99)
- 2000s - 28 performances

Now a great QBing performance is a great performance regardless of the era ... but I feel like there ought to be better representation for 1987-99 when there were only 17 great performances in 13 years ... was it that bad an era?