Minnesota Vikings' Top 12 Quarterback Seasons
Minnesota Vikings fans seem to be split on the future of the team's first-round draft choice, quarterback Christian Ponder. Is Ponder the franchise quarterback that can lead the Purple and Gold back to being a perennial playoff team?
Looking back over the Vikings' history, there are two distinct eras where Minnesota dominated. The Bud Grant era started in 1967. In only his second season as head coach, he would lead the Vikings to their first playoff appearance in 1968.
Over 11 seasons until 1978, the Vikings would make the playoffs 10 times, failing only in 1972 to make the playoffs.
Grant's dominance would end at the NFC Championship game. In four trips to the Super Bowl, the Vikings would go 0-4.
The other era of playoff appearances belongs to Dennis Green. From his first year as head coach in 1992, Green would take the Vikings to the playoffs eight times in nine seasons. He would coach the Vikings to their best regular-season record ever in 1998 when the team would finish 15-1.
Unlike Grant, Green and the Vikings would falter in the NFC Championship games, losing both appearances.
These two eras had great quarterback performances that propelled the Vikings to the postseason.
I took a look back over the 26 seasons the Vikings made the playoffs and ranked the season performance of the quarterbacks.
Expanding beyond their quarterback rating for the regular season, I included the team's performance in the playoffs, giving a slight boost to those quarterbacks that lead the team to the ultimate objective—the Super Bowl.
Here are the top 12 quarterback seasons for the Minnesota Vikings.
No. 12: Brad Johnson, 1997
Brad Johnson kicks off the ranking.
Probably the most amazing thing about Johnson was that during his college career at Florida State, he was never the primary starter.
A ninth-round draft choice of the Vikings in 1992, Johnson would spend the early part of his career on the bench.
After a stint playing in the NFL Europe, Johnson would make 13 starts in 1997 with an 8-5 record. The Vikings would make the playoffs as a Wild Card team with a 9-7 record.
Johnson's passer rating for the season was 84.5 throwing for 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Due to injuries, Johnson would not play in the Vikings' two playoff games that season.
No. 11: Wade Wilson 1988
Wade Wilson, an eighth-round draft choice of the Vikings in 1981, would spend most of his Vikings career backing up Tommy Kramer, starting only 48 games over 10 seasons.
Wilson's best season came in 1988 when he would start 10 games for the Vikings.
During the regular season Wilson would go 7-3 with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and finished with a 91.5 passer rating.
In the playoffs, Wilson led the Vikings in a 28-17 victory over the Los Angeles Rams before losing 34-9 to the San Francisco 49ers. In the two games, Wilson would throw two touchdowns and two interceptions.
No. 10: Jeff George, 1999
Jeff George only played one season in Minnesota. Signed to back up Randall Cunningham, he would take over the starting role after Cunningham struggled, throwing nine interceptions in six games.
George would go 8-2 in 10 games and lead the Vikings to the playoffs. He would finish with a 94.2 passer rating with 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
In the playoffs, George would throw three touchdowns in a win over the Dallas Cowboys.
The next week, he would throw four touchdowns against the St. Louis Rams. However, Kurt Warner would lead the "Greatest Show on Turf" with five touchdowns as the Rams would defeat the Vikings 49-37.
No. 9: Fran Tarkenton, 1975
Fran Tarkenton makes the first of several appearances in this ranking.
In 1975 Tarkenton would lead the Vikings to a conference-best 12-2 record. He would finish with 25 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions resulting in a 91.8 passer rating.
They would face the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.
This is the infamous (at least for Vikings fans) Hail Mary game when Roger Staubach would connect on a 50-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to Drew Pearson as the Cowboys defeated the Vikings 17-10.
In the game Tarkenton would only complete 12 of 26 passes for 135 yards and an interception.
No. 8: Joe Kapp, 1969
Joe Kapp led the Minnesota Vikings to their first Super Bowl appearance in 1969. He guided the Vikings to a 12-1 record as they finished 12-2 on the season with the best record in the NFL.
Kapp would throw for 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions on the season with a modest 78.5 passer rating—the lowest of any quarterback in the ranking.
Kapp would lead the Vikings to two playoff victories over the Los Angeles Rams and the Cleveland Browns.
They would lose to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV 23-7.
No. 7: Daunte Culpepper, 2000
The Minnesota Vikings drafted Daunte Culpepper with their first-round pick in 1999. He would not throw a single pass that season. In 2000, he would start every game and lead the Vikings to an 11-5 record and another NFC Central Division title.
With wide receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss, Culpepper would lead the NFL with 33 touchdowns. He would finish the season with a 98.0 quarterback rating.
The Vikings would earn a first-round bye in the playoffs and face the Saints at the Metrodome. Culpepper would lead the Vikings to a 34-16 victory, throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns.
The following week the Vikings would fall flat against the top-seeded Giants, suffering their worst playoff defeat in Minnesota team history, 41-0.
No. 6: Daunte Culpepper, 2004
In 2004, Daunte Culpepper had the greatest season individually of any Vikings quarterback. He set franchise records with 39 touchdowns and 4,717 yards.
Along with only 11 interceptions, he finished the season with an incredible 110.9 quarterback rating, also the best among Vikings quarterbacks.
What holds him back in the ranking is the fact the Vikings only finished 8-8 that season and barely made the playoffs.
They would upset the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs with Culpepper throwing four touchdowns in a 31-17 win.
The following week, they would lose to the eventual NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles 27-14.
Along with Fran Tarkenton, Culpepper is the only quarterback to appear more than once in the ranking.
No. 5: Fran Tarkenton, 1974
Fran Tarkenton makes his second appearance in the ranking, starting out the top five.
In 1974, Tarkenton started 13 games leading the Vikings to a 9-4 record, another Central Division title and their third Super Bowl appearance.
He would throw 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for an 82.1 passer rating.
Tarkenton would lead the Vikings in the postseason with victories over the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams.
The Vikings would lose 16-6 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl IX.
No. 4: Brett Favre, 2009
It's somehow fitting that the fourth-best season by a Vikings quarterback belongs to Brett Favre.
Farve's first season with the Vikings in 2009 was the best statistically in his career. He led the Vikings to a 12-4 record and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
In the regular season, he threw for 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions for a 107.2 passer rating—the second-highest among quarterbacks in this ranking.
In the playoffs, he would lead the Vikings to a 34-3 rout of the Dallas Cowboys, tossing four touchdowns. In the NFC Championship game against the Saints in New Orleans, it would be an ill-timed interception deep in Saints territory as time was running out that would send the game into overtime.
The Saints would win the coin toss and the game, 31-28 in overtime.
No. 3: Randall Cunningham, 1998
In 1998, Randall Cunningham would take over at quarterback for an injured Brad Johnson and the 2-0 Minnesota Vikings.
He would finish the season going 13-1, leading the Vikings to their franchise-best 15-1 season.
In 14 games, Cunningham threw for 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, finishing with a 106 passer rating—the third-highest in the ranking.
In the divisional round of the playoffs, Cunningham would throw three touchdowns leading the Vikings to a 41-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
In the NFC Championship game, the heavily favored Vikings would face the Atlanta Falcons, poised to make their fifth trip to the Super Bowl.
The game would become infamous for "taking a knee." Instead of using the NFL's highest-rated offense, head coach Dennis Green decided to have Cunningham take a knee allowing the clock to run out.
The Falcons would win the game 30-27 in overtime.
No. 2: Fran Tarkenton, 1976
Fran Tarkenton makes his third appearance mainly on the strength of the Vikings making their fourth Super Bowl appearance.
Tarkenton would start 13 of 14 games, leading the Vikings to a 11-2-1 record. He would throw for 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions and finish the season with a 89.3 passer rating.
In the playoffs, Tarkenton would lead the Vikings to a 35-20 victory over the Washington Redskins and a 24-13 win over the Los Angeles Rams.
The Vikings would lose to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl IX, 32-14.
No 1: Fran Tarkenton, 1973
It should be no surprise that Fran Tarkenton, the all-time franchise passing leader and three-time Super Bowl quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings has the best single season of any quarterback that led the Vikings to the playoffs and accounts for one-third of this ranking.
In 1973, Tarkenton threw for 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions resulting in a 93.2 passer rating.
In the playoffs, Tarkenton led the Vikings to a 27-20 home victory over the Washington Redskins. In a quirk of the NFL playoff format at the time the Vikings, with the best record in the NFC, had to travel to Dallas for the NFC Championship game.
Tarkenton would lead the Vikings to a 27-10 victory and their second Super Bowl appearance.
They would face the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VIII, losing 24-7.
An argument could be made that Tarkenton's success with the Vikings had as much to do with the vaunted Vikings defense that backed him up as his own production at quarterback.
Tarkenton played in an era where the quarterback managed the game, and the running game was much more prevalent. As the Minnesota franchise leader with 91 victories at quarterback, he exerted his will to lead the Vikings to victory in ways that didn't always show up in the box score.
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