The 25 Most Clutch Quarterbacks in NFL History

Jon DoveContributor INovember 10, 2011

The 25 Most Clutch Quarterbacks in NFL History

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    Often times, a quarterback's career is defined by his ability to perform in pressure situations. These situations could range from picking up a key first down to winning a Super Bowl title. The best quarterbacks in the game are capable of winning a game on their own.

    Ranking the most clutch quarterbacks in NFL history is a tough task. All the top-level quarterbacks have shown the ability to make plays in the clutch. The key is determining what performances are more impressive than others.

    For example, a key drive in a Super Bowl will out weigh most other situations. However, leading your team to the Super Bowl several times, but not winning, could also be impressive. I did my best to use key situations and entire body of work. Also, keep in mind that I didn't have the pleasure of watching all of these quarterbacks play.

    Nothing can replace the feeling of watching a great quarterback work his magic, as it happens. So of course, a lot of you will disagree with my list. Feel free to talk about some players I might have missed in the comments section.

No. 25 Peyton Manning

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    Peyton Manning's career has been a highlight reel of success and big plays. He operates the Colts offense with precision. Manning has helped build this Colts franchise into a perennial Super Bowl contender.

    Manning's clutch play cannot really be pin pointed to one specific moment, but more of his entire body of work. Until this season, Manning was one of the most durable players in the league. He was always ready to play, and play at a high level. He is a clutch performer because he continuously puts the Colts in contention.

    Hopefully, we get another opportunity to witness Manning make a strong Super Bowl run.

No. 24 Ben Roethlisberger

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    Ben Roethlisberger is still in the prime of his career and already has two Super Bowl rings. He wouldn't have earned those rings if it wasn't for some clutch performances. However, his career performance came on a late drive in Super Bowl XLIII, where he orchestrated the game winning drive.

    That drive and catch by Santonio Holmes will be something Steeler fans will remember for a long time. It was a clutch performance on the biggest stage. Roethlisberger was able to overcome the stigma of being a game manager. That tag was stuck to him because of the little impact he had in his first Super Bowl appearance.

No. 23 Phil Simms

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    Phil Simms will always be remember for his performance in Super Bowl XXI, where he set the record for the best completion percentage in a Super Bowl. Simms finished the game 22-of-25, showing that he knew how to handle the pressure of playing in a Super Bowl.

    That efficient performance may never be matched again, as quarterbacks usually have a little early game jitters in a Super Bowl. It is just hard to imagine how well Simms was seeing the field that day. He was finding the open targets and throwing pin point passes.

No. 22 Dan Fouts

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    Dan Fouts was a great NFL quarterback able to compile a ton of yardage through the air. His career is void of one major accomplishment: a Super Bowl title. He twice lead the San Diego Chargers to the AFC Championship game, but was unable to get the victory.

    Fouts was a clutch performer because of his ability to play at a high level week in and week out. He would have been much higher on this list if he was able to pull out a Super Bowl victory, or even a Super Bowl appearance.

No. 21 Warren Moon

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    Warren Moon had a highly productive pro football career. His is arguably one of the best players ever to play in the Canadian Football League. During his CFL career, Moon led his team to five consecutive Gray Cup titles ( CFL's Super Bowl).

    Moon was not only successful in the CFL, as he had a great NFL career. He was never able to win a Super Bowl title, but helped turn around a terrible Houston Oilers football team. Unfortunately for Moon, he was on the losing end of one of the biggest comebacks in history, when the Frank Reich-led Buffalo Bills overcame a 32-point deficient.

No. 20 Eli Manning

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    Eli Manning still has a long career ahead of him, but his performance during and leading up to Super Bowl XLII puts him on this list. That end of the season run was one of the better stretches in the history of the NFL. Manning was the key to the success of that New York Giants football team.

    With plenty of years left, Manning has an excellent opportunity to move up this list. However, that last minute drive in Super Bowl XLII was very impressive. Eli had a clutch performance against the heavily favored Patriots, and did so on the biggest stage.

No. 19 Tom Brady

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    Many will argue that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of our generation. He continually plays football at a very high level while keeping the Patriots in contention. Brady has shown that he can play under a ton of pressure and do so at a high level.

    Nobody wins three Super Bowl titles without being an extremely clutch performer. Those Super Bowl runs featured great play all season long, and also in the playoffs. Brady probably should be higher on this list, but I feel his best performances are still to come.

No. 18 Sid Luckman

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    Sid Luckman is not a name you hear very often, but he was an innovative player. He played in the 1940's and was one of the first quarterbacks to heavily utilize the forward pass. During his career, Luckman led the Chicago Bears to four NFL championships.

    Luckman was a great player, who played a lot of clutch football. Leading his team to four championships was not an easy task.

No. 17 Kurt Warner

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    Kurt Warner's life and career is a great story. He came from nothing to become one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. His rise to Super Bowl winning quarterback and NFL MVP was only possible because of his ability to perform under pressure.

    Warner's clutch play started when he first took over for the injured Trent Green. Green and the Rams were not expected to be a great team, but still figured to contend for a playoff spot. However, Warner stepped in and took this team to a new level.

No. 16 Otto Graham

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    Otto Graham is another one of those quarterbacks who helped revolutionize football. During his playing days, Graham did things that other players were not capable of pulling off. He led his teams to a combined seven championships, three NFL champion ships and four All-American Football Conference championships.

    Graham's game winning drive in the 1950 NFL championship game showed his ability to play clutch football. He led his team down the field with less than two minutes on the clock.

No. 15 Len Dawson

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    Len Dawson played in an era where there was more than one professional football league. Dawson found a lot of his success in the American Football League, where he won an MVP and three championships. He was just a great all around player who did whatever he could to win games.

    Again, Dawson's clutch play was more about his ability to find long term success. He had the ability to put a team on his back and carry them to a victory.

No. 14 Ken Stabler

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    Ken Stabler might be the first "comeback kid," as he had an unbelievable ability to lead last minute drives and comeback victories. It seems that no matter the score, Stabler felt that he could still win the football game.

    Stabler's play was one of the main reasons the Raiders were able to find some consistent success. Watching Stabler play, you never knew what to expect and always got a show. His most famous play was the "ghost to the post," which was an important play to help the Raiders win a playoff game against the Baltimore Colts.

No. 13 Fran Tarkenton

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    Fran Tarkenton is one of the best known Minnesota Vikings, and arguably their best player. Tarkenton never won a Super Bowl, but did lead the Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances. He was known for his ability to scramble and make unorthodox plays.

    Tarkenton never quit on a play or game, making an always dangerous threat. I feel this most clutch performance was in his first ever pro football game. He led the Minnesota Vikings to an upset victory over the Chicago Bears. Tarkenton threw for four touchdown passes, the only quarterback in NFL history to do so in their first game.

No. 12 Jim Kelly

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    It is very difficult to call a player who lost four consecutive Super Bowls a clutch player. However, Jim Kelly's career was filled with last minute drives and big game performances. However, he was unable to put it together on the biggest stage.

    Kelly will be more known for losing four Super Bowls, but should be known for his great play. He may have lost those Super Bowls, but he still was able to make four Super Bowls in a four-year span.

No. 11 Terry Bradshaw

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    Terry Bradshaw may not have the eye-popping stats, but he won plenty of football games. Bradshaw played in 19 postseason games while winning four Super Bowls. He seemed to always play his best in the most pressure filled situations.

    Bradshaw never really put up a lot of passing yards, but someone found a way to do so in the playoffs. He was a great leader, player and was just a winner.

No. 10 Bart Starr

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    Some people will argue that Bart Starr was the great quarterback to ever play professional football. He was the quarterback for the very successful Green Bay Packers during the Vince Lombardi era. Star is a five-time NFL Champion and the winning quarterback on the first two Super Bowl winning teams.

    Starr knew how to win football games, especially when they counted the most. He was 9-1 during his career in the postseason.

No. 9 Dan Marino

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    Dan Marino is yet another great quarterback who has never won a Super Bowl. I had a really hard time putting Marino lower on this list, because his entire body of work is impressive. However, a clutch performer needs to play his best in the biggest situations.

    Marino gets a pass because he made 10 postseason appearances during his career. Many feel that Marino was routinely surrounded with a weak supporting cast. However, the fact remains he was unable to pull off a Super Bowl victory.

No. 8 Steve Young

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    Steve Young had an exceptional NFL career filled with more than a handful of thrilling last-minute victories. Young was one of the more exciting players in the NFL. He made a ton of plays with both his arm and legs.

    Young's Super Bowl run in 1995 was so impressive that it almost can't be counted as clutch. He and the 49ers easily worked their way through the playoffs and to a Super Bowl victory. However, Young has made more than enough clutch plays to earn his spot on this list.

No. 7 Troy Aikman

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    Troy Aikman was the quarterback that helped keep the Dallas Cowboys America's team. He was also the next great quarterback after Roger Staubach. Aikman's career was filled with a ton of success, including three Super Bowl titles.

    Aikman's success is sometimes diminished because of the talent on the Cowboys roster. He had the opportunity to play with the likes of Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. However, Aikman was the man who orchestrated that high powered offense.

No. 6 Brett Favre

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    Brett Favre's career was as exciting and unpredictable as his several retirement attempts. He played the game with a reckless abandon, doing whatever it takes to win the game. Favre had a very successful career and was responsible for a lot of the Packers' success.

    As far as clutch play is concerned, Favre had a knack for making a big play in pressure situations. He has orchestrated countless last-minute drives and comeback victories.

No. 5 Joe Namath

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    Joe Namath earns a spot on this list based on his performance in Super Bowl III. This is one of the most famous games in football history, mainly because of Namath's bold prediction. Namath stated that he guaranteed the New York Jets would be the Baltimore Colts.

    This guarantee was very controversial because the Colts were the heavy favorite. However, Namath held up his end of the bargain and pulled off the upset. He performed on the biggest stage against a superior opponent and with the pressure of his guarantee.

No. 4 Roger Staubach

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    Roger Staubach is known for his long and successful career, but also for his ability to lead last-minute comebacks. Staubach is regarded as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play due to his combination of quickness and throwing ability.

    Staubach's play is one of the main reasons the Cowboys became America's team. He led the Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories and nine consecutive winning seasons.

No. 3 John Elway

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    During his career, John Elway led the Denver Broncos on 34 fourth-quarter or overtime comeback victories. He is one of those players who plays his best in the most intense situations. Elway finished his career with two Super Bowl titles and countless Denver Bronco records.

    There are a lot of football fans who vividly remember "the drive." This is where Elway orchestrated a five minute, 15 play and 98-yard drive. Elway's heroics helped the Broncos defeat the Cleveland Browns in the 1987 AFC Championship game.

No. 2 Johnny Unitas

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    All football fans have heard of Johnny Unitas, who is often regarded as one of the best football players to play the game. He was the starting quarterback for the Baltimore Colts, when they were in the peak of their success.

    Unitas might be best known for his heroics in the "greatest game ever played." This was the NFL's first overtime game and helped surge the TV ratings for the NFL. Unitas was always a great competitor, which helped him find success.

No. 1 Joe Montana

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    Joe Montana had an exceptional career, leading the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl victories. So many of Montana's victories were decided at the end of the game. Montana seemed to always find a way to pull out those close games, and many of those of those wins came in postseason games.

    Montana holds a place in history as the quarterback who threw the pass that became known as "The Catch." This refers to the winning play of the 1981-82 NFC championship game, an unbelievable catch by Dwight Clark with 51 seconds remaining to cap an 89-yard drive.

    "The Catch" is just one of the examples of how well Montana performed under pressure.