No one wants to be “Mr. September” in football.
Particularly not an elite level quarterback making the big bucks to lead his team to post-season glory. You can win all the games you want early in the season, but when the chips are down when the snow is flying, best to bring the “A” game.
A great example of a great regular season quarterback, but hard luck or just plain bad playoff performer, was Hall of Famer Y.A. Tittle. The four-time NFL Most Valuable Player has the indistinction of being one of two quarterbacks to have never won a playoff game and to have lost four (spoiler, there’s another on this list).
While dropping the ball in the playoffs, so to speak, didn’t preclude Tittle from being inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton, that 0-4 record will also forever follow him.
Over the years, there have been plenty of Hall-worthy pivots who, come post-season time, mostly poop the bed.
Here are 10 with very dubious playoff records, in no particular order.
10. Peyton Manning
A cinch to have his named called to the Hall of Fame, Manning’s numbers speak for themselves. The two-time Super Bowl champion and five-time NFL MVP set many individual records, including career passing yards (71,940), career touchdowns (539), touchdowns in a season (55) and career wins (186). What Manning wasn’t, though, was a consistent performer come late December, early January. His overall record of 14-13 wasn’t too shabby, it was just that his losses in big games were particularly craptacular. For instance, in 2002 Manning and the Indianapolis Colts went 10-6 and drew the New York Jets in the wild card. After throwing for over 4,000 yards for his fourth straight season, he promptly went out and threw for all of 137 yards (two interceptions) in a 41-0 blowout. Need another example? After his record setting 5,477 yard season in 2013, he led the Broncos to the Super Bowl, only to throw for a ho-hum 280 yards, one touchdown (two picks). Denver was crushed 43-8 by Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. Ouch. Manning would collect a winner’s ring from Super Bowl 50, but only because of the Broncos otherworldly defense.
9. Andy Dalton
Remember that “other guy” we mentioned lost four playoff games without winning any, well that guy is Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. He, along with Y.A. Tittle, is an 0-fer in the post-season. A good, but not great QB in his first six years in the league, he just can’t seem to put it together when the games mean their most. In fact, every one of his first five seasons, the Bengals have made it to the wild card game (he didn’t start this past season’s contest due to injury). And each of those years they have lost, despite being favored in several. The worst of his performances was in the 2012 wild card game, when he and the Bengals faced the Houston Texans for the second year in a row. Dalton completed just 14 of 30 for 127 yards and no touchdowns for his worst playoff passer rating of 44.7. Worse yet, he was picked off on a key play late in the third quarter that led to a Houston field goal.
8. Carson Palmer
What is it about Cincinnati QBs and their inability to get it done in the playoffs? Andy Dalton’s predecessor in Cincy, Carson Palmer, has been only a smidge better, going 1-3 (Dalton is 0-4). And, Palmer also failed to win a playoff game in the southern Ohio city, with two losses. However his worst performance at the helm came during the 2015 playoffs. After throwing for three TDs to beat Green Bay 26-20, earning his first ever playoff victory in the NFC divisional playoffs, Palmer promptly went out and laid an egg against Carolina in the NFC championship tilt. The Panthers’ defense made a mockery of Palmer, picking him off four times, and sacking him three times en route to a humiliating 49-15 loss. His slash line was 23-for-40 passing, 235 yards, one TD, four INT and a horrible rating of 43.2.
7. Warren Moon
One of few quarterbacks to star in both the CFL, and later in the NFL, Warren Moon had one heck of a career. He achieved much in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos, winning five Grey Cups, two Grey Cup MVPs and a Most Outstanding Player award before making the jump. However, with four different teams in 17 seasons, Moon would not find playoff success, despite establishing many since surpassed passing records. He started 10 playoff games, nine with the Houston Oilers between 1987 and 1993, but would win just three. He beat Seattle in his first playoff start in 1987, only to play rather ordinary against Denver in the divisional playoff, getting picked off in the end zone in the first quarter, leading to all the points the Broncs would need in a 34-10 thrashing. He would go 1-1 again in 1988, only to win just one of last six post-season starts. His TD-INT mark of 17-14 in the playoffs paled in comparison to his regular season totals of 291-233.
6. Tony Romo
It’s hard to feel sorry for Tony Romo, considering the money he made playing for the Dallas Cowboys. In the storied history of the franchise, he has been one of their best quarterbacks, a list that includes Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. But, unlike his stellar predecessors, Romo has yet to win the big one. A starter since 2006, Romo has been mediocre in post-season play, winning just two of six starts. In 2007, the Cowboys finished 13-3 and won the right to host the New York Giants in the NFC divisional playoff. Romo, who threw for 4,211 yards and a career high 36 TDs, was expected to punish the 10-6 Giants, who he beat twice in the regular season. But, he would throw for just 201 yards (64.7 rating) and toss an interception in a disheartening 21-17 defeat. In 2009, after helping the Cowboys win the wild card, he tossed up another stinker in the divisional playoff against Minnesota, completing 22 of 35 for 198 yards and no TDs (one INT) in a 34-3 mauling. With young phenom Dak Prescott taking over for the injured Romo in 2016, we’ll have to see if Romo can shed his reputation of playoff failure with another team before he hangs ’em up for good.
5. Randall Cunningham
If ever there was a “gunslinger” in the NFL, Randall Cunningham was it. Do or die, Cunningham flung the ball downfield with abandon, still managing to throw many more career touchdowns in 16 seasons (207) than interceptions (134). In his arsenal, too, were a great pair of legs, which he used to scamper for 4,928 yards in 161 games (7.5 yard per attempt). The four-time Pro Bowler and two-time First Team All-Pro did it all in the regular season, for sure. Come playoff time, however, he was more dud than stud. In nine starts, he was 3-6, never making it past the divisional round. Four times his passer rating was under 70 percent (twice under 60) and he finished with 12 TDs and nine INTs. In 1997, a 34-year-old Cunningham would have one of his worst playoffs. After his Minnesota Vikings narrowly escaped with a victory over the New York Giants in the wild card, Cunningham would have a mediocre start in the divisional playoff against San Francisco, completing 18 passes for 331 yards and a score. But, one of his passes would get picked off for a touchdown, leading to a 38-22 loss.
4. Philip Rivers
Ever since he picked up the ball and ran with it as a starter for the San Diego Chargers in 2006, Philip Rivers has been the heart and soul of the team. Eight times in 11 seasons he has passed for more than 4,000 yards, leading the league with 4,710 in 2010 and in touchdowns with 34 in 2008. His numbers have been staggering, including his 314 TDs against just 156 interceptions and 94.7 overall passer rating. The post-season, though, has not been so kind to the big man out of Decatur, Alabama. He has taken the Chargers to the AFC Championship just once and has a career 4-5 mark, despite being 97-79 regular season. Rivers was in his second season in 2007, when the Chargers went 11-5 and then beat Tennessee in the wild card, followed by a victory over Peyton Manning and the Colts in the AFC divisional game. But, in the AFC conference final against Tom Brady and the Patriots, Rivers didn’t click at all. He completed 19-of-37 for just 211 yards and threw two interceptions for a terrible rating of 46.1.
3. Matt Ryan
Before the magical 2016 season that saw Matt Ryan win the regular season MVP and take his Atlanta Falcons all the way to the Super Bowl, he was a perennial playoff failure. With a postseason record of just 1-4 before their memorable run, Matty Ice has, however, been a terrific regular season player, throwing for over 4,000 yards in six of his nine seasons, as well as 240 touchdowns (114 INTs). Ryan would lose his first three playoff starts, before beating Russell Wilson and Seattle Seahawks 30-28 in the NFC divisional game in 2012. In the NFC final against San Francisco, he got off to a terrific start, throwing two strikes to Julio Jones to stake his team to a an early 17-0 lead. The 49ers, however, would rally while Ryan fizzled, reeling off 28 points to the Falcons seven to win 28-24. And of course, who can forget the instant classic of Super Bowl 51, where Ryan and the Falcons had a 28-3 lead in the third quarter only to allow New England to score 31 straight points to win in overtime.
2. Dan Fouts
Before there was Philip Rivers, the Chargers employed one of the greatest quarterbacks of the 70s and 80s, Dan Fouts. The San Francisco native and Oregon grad got off to a slow start, but lit up the AFC starting in 1978 with his all-or-nothing game (he threw 254 career touchdowns and 242 interceptions). He led the NFL in passing yards for four straight years starting in 1979. The six-time Pro Bowl selection and 1982 NFL MVP could not bring that success to the playoffs, sporting a 3-4 record and no trips to the Super Bowl. In his first appearance in 1979, Fouts was awful, despite completing 25 of 47 passes for 333 yards in a 17-14 loss to Houston in the AFC divisional playoff. He was intercepted five times, including four by Oilers’ defensive back Vernon Perry. In his last trip to the playoffs in 1982, Fouts was great against Pittsburgh, throwing for 333 yards and two strikes in a 31-28 wild card win. He followed it up, though, with an absolute clunker against Miami in the conference final, throwing for just 191 yards, a touchdown while getting picked off five times in a 34-13 loss.
1. Dan Marino
Even though he lampooned himself in the Jim Carrey hit Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dan Marino could never poke fun at himself for his lacklustre playoff history. One of the greatest quarterbacks on this list — he was a first ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame in 2005 — never won the Super Bowl despite making 10 trips to the playoffs in 17 seasons. His final record of 8-10 doesn’t tell the whole story of his career, but certainly puts a stain on it. During his 17-year tenure, the 1984 NFL MVP would lead the NFL in passing yards five times, touchdowns three times, and completions six times. Marino’s inability to get it done could be summed up in his performance in the 1984 season, when the Dolphins went 14-2 (the best record of Marino’s career). The Fish rolled over Seattle in the division playoffs 31-10 and then wiped out Pittsburgh in the AFC championship 45-28, on the strength of 421 passing yards and four TDs by Marino. Joe Montana and the 49ers would be too much for Marino and the Dolphins in the Super Bowl, winning 38-16. After his heroics in the lead up, Marino succumbed to the pressure, throwing two interceptions and getting sacked four times.