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 or Pro Bowl pivots who, come post-season time, mostly poop the bed.
Here are 20 with very dubious playoff records, in no particular order.
20. Andrew Luck
It’s tough to single a guy out who hasn’t actually played in some time, Luck’s playoff record speaks for itself. In the case of most of these quarterbacks, their playoff records and key stats (completion rate, TD vs. INT, passer rating) pale in comparison to their regular season numbers. Luck hasn’t thrown a pass in anger since 2016, when he was 8-7 and threw for 31 TDs against 13 interceptions. In five seasons, he is 43-27 overall, with 132 touchdown passes, 68 interceptions and a passer rating of 87.3. However, his post-season exploits have been way less than stellar. In six games, he is 3-3, with nine TDs, 12 interceptions and a passer rating of 70.8. A great indication of his inability to get it done in the playoffs can be seen in losses to Tom Brady and New England in 2013 divisional playoffs and the 2014 AFC championship. In the first one, he completed 20 of 41 passes for two TDs and four interceptions, two of which were in his own zone, allowing the Pats to score twice in a 43-22 loss. His performance in the AFC championship game was even worse, as he completed just 12 of 33 passes for 126 yards and two interceptions for a lousy 23.0 rating.
19. Mark Rypien
We’ll give Canadian QB Mark Rypien his due and say that he was great for Washington in Super Bowl XXVI against Buffalo, winning MVP honors along the way. Technically, he has two Super Bowl rings, the other coming from being Doug Williams back-up in Washington’s 42-10 victory over Denver in XXII. Otherwise, Rypien was a strictly below average post-season performer. Take away his 3-0 record in the 1991 playoffs and his 4 TD vs. 2 INTs and the remainder of his resume reads 2-2, with four TDs and eight interceptions. In fact, just one year after helping steamroll Buffalo in the Super Bowl, Rypien stunk the joint out against Steve Young and the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round. He completed only 19 of 40 pass attempts, with zero TDs, two interceptions and five sacks for a 49.0 rating. Rypien’s overall regular season numbers were good enough to get him two Pro Bowl nods. His career line reads 47-31 record in 104 games (78 starts), 115 TDs, 88 INTs and a 78.9 passer rating.
18. Jim Kelly
Former Buffalo Bills great and Hall of Famer Jim Kelly was the epitome of grit and determination, starting each and every contest of his 160-game career with the Buffalo Bills. He missed but 16 of 176 possible games and logged a completion rate of 60.1, with 35,647 passing yards, 237 touchdowns, 175 interceptions and a passer rating of 84.4. He went to the Pro Bowl five times and was an All-Pro once. However, all he will ever be remembered for is the 0-4 record he had in four straight Super Bowls. Before we get to the worst of his performances there, his overall playoff record as a starter was 9-8 (he was 101-59 in the regular season). His line reads: 59.1 completion rate, 21 TD, 28 INT and a 72.3 rating. He wasn’t bad in the 20-19 loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XXV, but came apart in XXVI against Washington. He heaved a massive 58 passes that game, but completed just 28, throwing two TD passes but got intercepted four times and sacked on five occasions as Buffalo lost 37-24. In another Super Bowl loss to Dallas in XXVII, Kelly was awful (two interceptions, no TD on seven pass attempts) got hurt and was replaced. With a last shot at redemption, again versus the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVIII, Kelly came up small, throwing for 260 yards and no TDs, with another interception.
17. Neil O’Donnell
For much of his journeyman career with four different teams, Neil O’Donnell was a good quarterback who showed flashes of brilliance and fairly remarkable consistency. He started 100 of a possible 125 games with Pittsburgh, the Jets, Cincinnati and Tennessee and finished with a 57.8 completion rate, 21,690 yards, 120 touchdowns, 68 interceptions and a 81.8 passer rating. While he never led in any major category, he twice had the lowest interception rate in the NFL. But, he wasn’t quite as effecient in the post-season. In seven starts he was 3-4 and completed 57.8 percent of his passes, with nine TDs and eight interceptions and a passer rating of 74.9. In 1995, his last with the Steelers, O’Donnell went 9-3 in the regular season and Pittsburgh finished atop the old AFC Central at 11-5. He was OK as the Steelers got past Buffalo and Indianapolis in the AFC championship, setting up their first Super Bowl appearance in 16 years. Facing Troy Aikman and the rival Cowboys would be no easy task, however, O’Donnell made it even more difficult. Early in the third and his team trailing just 13-7, O’Donnell threw his first interception to kill a drive. Then, with just over four minutes to go and his team down by only three (20-17), O’Donnel again tossed a pick in his own zone and two plays later it was all over, as Emmitt Smith scored on a short run. Not a great debut, with three interceptions total.
16. Jim McMahon
Nothing personified flash and dash — with a bit of smash — 80s football like the Chicago Bears of that decade. With his mullet and his attitude, QB Jim McMahon was the Pied Piper of Mayhem in the Windy City and in his first foray into the playoffs he took the Bears all the way to a win in Super Bowl XX against New England. Mad Mac, though not a particularly prolific passer that post-season, nonetheless passed for 636 yards and three TDs in three games, with a great rating of 106.6. The music video and all the notoriety must have went to his head, though. In the remaining three playoff starts of his 15-year career, all losses, he was awful. He passed for 476 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions, with ratings between 45.4 to 79.6. Just two seasons removed from that big championship, McMahon had his worst playoff performance in the divisional round against Washington. The Bears managed to keep it close, but their celebrated pivot undid all the good work by throwing three interceptions and getting sacked five times as Chicago lost a winnable game, 21-17.
15. Matt Stafford
He may well some day be a Hall of Famer, and who knows, perhaps a Super Bowl winning quarterback. But there is no denying that Pro Bowler and prolific passer Matt Stafford is a mediocre post-season pivot. In nine NFL seasons, all with the Detroit Lions, Stafford has started all 125 of 125 games played and hasn’t missed a start in the last seven. He’s passed for over 4,000 yards every year of those seven campaigns and career-wise he has completed 62 percent of his passes, thrown 216 TDs, 118 INTs and has a passer rating of 88.3. Come playoff time, he’s fallen short of expectations. In his first ever post-season game, a 45-28 loss to New Orleans in the 2011 season wild card game, Stafford wasn’t bad, completing 28 of 43 pass attempts for three touchdowns against two interceptions. Those picks, however, came late to snuff Lions’ rallies. Three years later, he failed to capitalize on a 20-7 lead against Dallas in the wild card, with his team losing 24-20 on a late TD. His last outing, versus Seattle in the 2016 season wild card, Stafford didn’t distinguish himself, throwing for just 205 yards an no touchdowns as Detroit bowed 26-6.
14. Dave Krieg
He may be long forgotten now, but during the 1980s, quarterback Dave Krieg, undrafted out of tiny Milton College, was an important cog in the Seattle Seahawks offence. He played the bulk of his 213 game career with the Seahawks and with them he sported a 70-49 record in 129 games, with 26,132 passing yards, a 58.6 completion rate, 195 TDs, 148 INTs and a passer rating of 82.3. He also went to three Pro Bowls as a Seahawk and led the league in TD percentage three times. The post-season, however, was not his playground. In nine starts, seven with Seattle and one each with Kansas City and Detroit, Krieg’s record was 3-6. His completion rate sunk to 51.1, his TD:Interception ratio was 11:9 and his passer rating 10 points below his regular season rating at 72.3. We have judged his relative ineptitude come crunch time by his Quixotic first entree into the playoffs in 1983. In a 31-7 triumph over Denver in the wild card, Krieg completed a ridiculous 12 of 13 passes for 200 yards and three TDs. He then helped rally his team from a late three-point deficit to beat Miami in the divisional round, tossing the pigskin for 192 yards and another score and one interception. With a Super Bowl berth on the line against the Raiders in the AFC championship game, he came completely unglued, going 3-for-9 for 12 yards and tossing three interceptions for a 2.8 rating. He was yanked in favor of veteran Jim Zorn in the 30-14 loss.
13. Steve McNair
A stud a second tier Alcorn State, Steve McNair was a golden boy of the 1995 NFL draft, going third overall to the Houston Oilers. By 1997, he was the team’s no. 1 passer and for 11 years with Houston/Tennessee and the remaining two seasons with Baltimore, McNair was a consistent pivot and great enough one year (2003) to be named NFL MVP. Overall, McNair was 91-62 in 153 starts, completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 31,304 yards and 174 touchdowns (against 119 interceptions) and had a 82.8 passer rating. Like a couple of other QBs here, his first post-season in 1999 was electric. But, it should be noted that the then Tennessee Titans won despite his so-so contributions. They went all the way to the Super Bowl, losing to St. Louis 23-16. McNair passed for just 514 yards in those four games, with one TD and two interceptions. He would never get that far again and in his last six playoff starts his record was 2-4, with five touchdown passes and nine interceptions. In his 2003 MVP year, McNair was completely ineffective in the playoffs, going 1-1 with 369 passing yards in two games, with two TD strikes and four picks.
12. Chad Pennington
Chad Pennington was a fairly tough cookie in his 11-year career with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins, twice coming back from significant injuries to be named NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2006 (Jets) and 2008 (Dolphins). When he was healthy and playing, Pennington was effective, finishing with a career mark of 44-37, with a completion rate of 66 percent and a rating of 90.1. He threw for 17,823 yards in 89 games, including 102 touchdowns and 64 interceptions. Post-season success, though, was elusive. For one, his completion rate of 61.1 and rating of 77.3 in six total playoff games were far below his regular season numbers. His record in those six contests was 2-4 and he registered 1,418 yards, eight TDs and eight INTs. We selected him here because he failed to capitalize on all the good will generated by those Comeback Player seasons, completely missing the mark in the subsequent playoffs. In 2006, he was 23 out of 40 for 300 yards, one TD, one interception and three sacks as the Jets got scorched 37-16 by the New England Patriots. After his remarkable 2008 campaign with Miami (the Dolphins were 11-5), Pennington was even worse in the wild card against Baltimore, throwing for 252 yards and a touchdown, but getting picked off four times in a 27-9 defeat.
11. Jeff Garcia
It really is too bad that the playoff success Jeff Garcia enjoyed as a star in the CFL (Grey Cup championship and MVP) didn’t translate into success at the NFL level. Now, he was a very good NFL starter at a point when most players start to wind down, enjoying 10 decent seasons after starting with San Francisco in 1999 at the age of 29. In 116 starts with five different teams, Garcia was 58-58, with a 61.6 percent completion rate, 161 touchdown passes and 83 interceptions. He passed for 25,537 total yards and had a passer rating of 87.5 percent. The playoffs, however, were his Kryptonite. Garcia was 2-4 in six starts, completing 58.1 percent of his passes for 1,357 yards, seven TDs, seven INTs and a rating of just 73.8. As evidence of his post-season mere mortal status, we offer his stats from the 2002 campaign. In the wild card game, he led the Niners to a great 39-38 comeback win against the New York Giants, with 342 yards passing and four touchdowns (one INT). All that greatness, however, would be flushed down the bowl in the divisional game against Tampa Bay. Garcia mustered just 193 yards passing, got sacked four times and had no TD passes. He was, however, picked off four times in a soul-crushing 31-6 defeat.
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.