Quarterbacks don’t play one-on-one. While there have been seven QBs to “beat” Tom Brady in the postseason over his 21 NFL seasons, none of them were on the field at the same time as Brady.
Still, looking at the quarterbacks who were on the other side of Brady’s playoff losses is shocking. It also should drive home the point that assigning quarterbacks wins is a flawed premise.
The list is one all-time great, another quarterback some will argue is a Hall of Famer and then ... well, a strange group. Patrick Mahomes will try to join it in Super Bowl LV.
Let’s rank the seven quarterbacks who have been on the winning end of playoff games against Brady’s teams.
7. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets
Looking back, the Jets’ 28-21 win over the Patriots at the end of the 2010 season is one of the craziest upsets in NFL playoff history. It was a great Patriots team that went 14-2 in the regular season. They beat the Jets 45-3 a little more than a month before a divisional-round matchup. And behind two Sanchez touchdown passes in the first half, the Jets jumped out 14-3 and hung on for the upset. Sanchez was very good that day, with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 127.3 passer rating.
Sanchez was at the end of his second season, a former top-five draft pick, and he looked like he might be on a good career path. That win over the Patriots was probably the high point, as turnovers plagued him the rest of his time with the Jets. He eventually retired after eight seasons. At least Sanchez is one of the few who can claim to have led a playoff win over Brady’s Patriots.
6. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
Wild highs and some dreadful lows defined Foles’ career. It peaked when he won Super Bowl LII’s MVP and led the Eagles to their first title against Brady and the Patriots. Brady threw for a record 505 yards in that game.
Foles has had other hot stretches. He had a strong 2013 season with Chip Kelly, tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in a game and replaced Carson Wentz (again) to lead the Eagles back to the playoffs the year after the Super Bowl. He has also had long stretches of mediocrity in an odd career. His legacy will be centered on one great day in a Super Bowl, with Brady on the losing end.
5. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
Tannehill could move up the list before he’s done. His years as a first-round draft disappointment with the Miami Dolphins are fading away as he puts together a very good stretch with the Titans. Tannehill did not have a big day when the Titans beat the Patriots last season in a wild-card game, which was Brady’s last game in New England. Tannehill threw for just 72 yards, with eight completions. Maybe Derrick Henry should instead be on this list.
4. Jake Plummer, Denver Broncos
Plummer’s Broncos were the first team to hand Brady a playoff loss. It was a game at the end of the 2005 season that is remembered best for Champ Bailey’s long interception return and Ben Watson’s hustle play to chase him down. Plummer had a career with exciting plays, good and bad. He had memorable years with the Arizona Cardinals, then a few solid seasons with the Broncos before Mike Shanahan drafted Jay Cutler to replace him a few months after Denver’s playoff win over New England. Plummer made too many mistakes to be a great quarterback but still had a memorable 11-year run.
3. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco won a playoff game against Brady’s Patriots when he was 4-of-10 for 34 yards and had a passer rating of 10. The Ravens took a big lead early in that game at the end of the 2009 season and didn’t need Flacco to do much. Flacco did more in the 2012 AFC championship game, throwing three touchdowns in a win. That led to a Super Bowl title that changed Flacco’s NFL legacy and his bank account.
Flacco has never been one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, and would be fairly forgettable if not for the one Super Bowl run that included the big win over Brady and the Pats.
2. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Imagine Manning’s career without his two Super Bowl wins over Brady. He’d be a quarterback who never was an MVP contender, with four Pro Bowls but three seasons leading the NFL in interceptions, and never leading the NFL in any other major passing statistic. In 14 of Manning’s 16 seasons, the Giants didn’t win a playoff game.
But because he had the two wins over Brady, he’ll probably make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brady has wrecked more than a few quarterback legacies in the playoffs, but Manning’s two wins over Brady completely changed how his career will be viewed. And it still bothers Brady.
1. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts/Denver Broncos
The only no-doubt legend on this list, Manning led three playoff wins over Brady’s Patriots. The 2006 season’s AFC championship game comeback is one of the most underrated games in NFL history. Manning also helped the Broncos beat the Patriots twice in AFC title games, throwing for four touchdowns with no interceptions in those contests.
Manning’s teams were 3-2 against Brady in the playoffs, and he is one of the few quarterbacks who has a reasonable argument against Brady as the greatest of all time. You’d expect a list of quarterbacks who have playoff wins over Brady to be a who’s-who of the greatest of the past 20 years. As you can see, it’s not.
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