Kurt Warner's Place Among All-Time Playoff Quarterback Greats

Nick FeelyContributor IJanuary 12, 2010

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10: Quarterback Kurt Warner #13 of the Arizona Cardinals sands on the sidelines during the 2010 NFC wild-card playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Sunday's wild-card overtime thriller between the Arizona Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers had so many great plays, so many wild moments, and so much ending drama that it would be easy to let a few observations slip through the cracks. 

For instance, it would be easy to talk about the Cardinals 51-46 victory without mentioning the valiant and gutsy effort of Packers' QB Aaron Rodgers in a tough defeat. 

It would also be simple to forget about a few missed flags here and there by the officiating crew or fly right by the choke job put on by Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers at the end of regulation. 

I don't think I've even thought about the emergence of Cards receiver Early Doucet in the absence of star wideout Anquan Boldin, who missed the game due to an ankle injury.

One thing that shouldn't be forgotten from Sunday's shootout, however, is the continued playoff brilliance of the seemingly ageless Kurt Warner.

If there's one thing that you remember from Sunday's game, know that Warner threw more touchdowns (5) on the day than he did incompletions (4), all while racking up a ho-hum 397 yards through the air.

At the ripe age of 38 years, and with retirement talks swirling around him, Warner displayed Sunday why he deserves a mention in any conversation about the greatest playoff quarterbacks of all-time. And he did it against a second-ranked Packers defense led by the choice of many for NFL Defensive Player of the Year in cornerback Charles Woodson.

If the public were asked to name their choice for the greatest postseason quarterback in NFL history, I'm sure that a wide variety of names would get mentioned in the conversation, from the usual suspects (Joe Montana, Tom Brady) to maybe some off-the-radar or generationally different players (Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach).

But while I have a hard time thinking that many would come up with Warner's name on first choice, a look at the numbers reveals that he deserves a place somewhere near the top of the list, if not at the very peak of it. 

I've broken down four candidates for this statistical look into the debate: Warner, Brady, Montana, and Brett Favre.

While Favre's name may not come up on many ballots either, it's hard to say that any quarterback debate is complete without a mention of No. 4 considering his longevity and productivity in the NFL. 

In Warner's 12 career playoff starts, he has led his teams to a 9-3 record, with one Super Bowl win in 1999 and two runner-up finishes, in 2001 and last season. I've extrapolated the stats from Warner's 12 games into a 16 game season using his per game averages, and here's what they look like:

66.5 completion percentage, 4,996 yards, 41 TD, 17 INT

Obviously, in a 16-game season, this would be an MVP-worthy and near record-setting year.

Brady (18), Montana (23), and Favre (22), all have more than 16 starts under their belts in the postseason, so I've used their averages to get a 16 game stat line as well.

Brady: 62.0 completion percentage, 3,652 yards, 25 TD, 13 INT
Montana: 62.7 completion percentage, 4,015 yards, 31 TD, 15 INT
Favre: 60.7 completion percentage, 3,863 yards, 28 TD, 20 INT

Based simply on passing numbers, Warner tops the list in every category except interceptions, and then it's very, very close. His yardage totals blow the other three out of the water and would be the third most in NFL history, and his 41 touchdown passes would tie his own record for the fifth-best single season. 

Also considered in these statistics is that they were all put up against playoff teams, so there aren't any cupcake defenses to rack up huge numbers on as there would be during a regular season.

Obviously, the greatest of all-time debate isn't won or lost on passing numbers alone, and even then the statistics can be flawed in the sense that all the quarterbacks haven't played the same amount of starts. 

Using the averages, however, is the fairest way to compare the stats and giving them a 16 game base allows for comparison to an average NFL quarterback season.

If you're basing your argument on numbers, Warner's name should certainly come up, but if you're not using the numbers, I'm guessing you're going for the "wins" side of the argument, which certainly carries some merit to it. 

In this area of the debate, Warner has also been impressive.

Here are the top five winning percentages amongst quarterbacks with at least 12 postseason starts:

1. Tom Brady (14-4, .778)
2. Kurt Warner (9-3, .750)
3. Terry Bradshaw (14-5, .737)
4. Troy Aikman (11-4, .733)
5. Joe Montana (16-7, .696)

As you can see, both Brady and Montana have had greater success as far as winning goes in the postseason in terms of number of wins, but Warner holds his own winning three-quarters of his games. 

Obviously, Montana's four championships and Brady's three rings have to come into play in the debate, as they rightfully should. 

Warner, in my mind, is a bona-fide Hall of Famer, and I'm sure many others would feel the same way as well. His career numbers may not be as gaudy as some other quarterbacks due to the fact that he came in late to the NFL after a stint in the arena league, but his playoff numbers speak for themselves.

If Warner is indeed leaning towards retirement at the end of the Cardinals playoff run, it will have been a great and, in my mind, underrated career.

Imagine if all his games were playoff games.


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