And now, the five greatest QB shootouts:
5. Eli Manning vs. Tom Brady (Super Bowl XLII -- February 2008)
Yeah, it's hard to call a 17-14 final a shootout by traditional standards. But in a 43-year history of Super Bowls that's given us surprisingly little drama until recently, and few games in which both quarterbacks cranked out critical scores in big moments, this one makes the cut. That it was also one of the most exciting Super Bowls and one of the greatest upsets elevates this shootout beyond its humble score.
The Patriots entered the fourth quarter with a 7-3 lead, only to watch Manning provide a portent of things to come: a long pass to tight end Kevin Boss quickly moved the Giants from their own 20 to the New England 35 on their first play of the fourth quarter. Five plays later Manning hit David Tyree -- more foreshadowing -- for a 5-yard score and a shocking 10-7 lead over the most dominant team the NFL had produced since World War II.
Brady, no stranger to Super Bowl heroics, engineered an 80-yard drive under constant pressure, culminating in a 6-yard touchdown to Randy Moss with 2:45 to play. It looked like Brady had pulled out his fourth Super Bowl-winning fourth-quarter scoring drive in four opportunities and that he was destined to go down as the architect of the first 19-0 season in history and, perhaps, claim to the title of greatest quarterback ever. But you know how it ended.
Manning drove his Giants 83 yards in just over two and a half minutes, highlighted by arguably the most memorable play in NFL history: Manning somehow escaped what seemed like a certain sack as New England's entire defensive line collapsed around and he heaved up a prayer to Tyree. The little-known receiver caught the ball against his helmet with one hand and somehow managed to hold on as Rodney Harrison tried to rip the ball free. If you listened very carefully, you could hear 10 million New Englanders say "uh-oh!" -- or something a little more colorful -- all at once.
A few plays later Manning hit Plaxico Burress for a 13-yard TD with 35 seconds on the clock. In the space of one dramatic quarter and two long, improbable scoring drives, Manning and the Giants toppled the New England dynasty and gutted Bill Belichick's reputation as a defensive genius.
4. Kurt Warner vs. Steve McNair (Super Bowl XXXIV -- January 2000)
The Rams' 23-16 win over the Titans will always be remembered for the touchdown that wasn't scored: Kevin Dyson's outstretched effort to reach the end zone with the game-tying touchdown at the end of a frantic, last-second drive that fell inches short of the goal line on the final play of the game.
But there were still enough fireworks to put this contest on the all-time shootout list. The Rams raced out to a 16-0 lead, only to let the Titans storm back to tie the game with just over two minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Warner responded with a gorgeous, 73-yard bomb to Isaac Bruce for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
Warner connected on four passes that day of longer than 30 yards, including a 52-yarder to Marshall Faulk. He ended the day with a Super Bowl-record 414 passing yards. McNair was terrific on the final drive. He responded to the Bruce touchdown by driving the Titans all the way from their own 10 in less than two minutes. He ended the game with 214 passing yards ... on a day when he needed 215.
3. Ben Roethlisberger vs. Kurt Warner (Super Bowl XLIII -- February 2009)
The just-retired Warner's greatest career accomplishment might be the fact that he passed for more yards in Super Bowl play than any other quarterback (1,156) and boasts the three most prolific individual games all by himself. His 377 yards against Pittsburgh's top-rated defense a year ago is second only to his 414 yards nine years earlier in that shootout with McNair.
The Steelers appeared to be on their way to a workmanlike victory when they entered the fourth quarter with a 20-7 lead. It quickly turned into one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever thanks to Warner, who suddenly zipped the Cardinals downfield for an 87-yard touchdown drive on just eight plays, capped by a 1-yard throw to Larry Fitzgerald.
Arizona recorded a safety on Pittsburgh's next drive and then, after receiving the free kick, Warner immediately hit a streaking Fitzgerald for a 64-yard touchdown through the heart of the Pittsburgh defense.
Bing, bang, boom! The Cardinals suddenly held a 23-20 lead and the shootout was on.
Roethlisberger, quiet all day, responded with a legend-making drive. He marched the Steelers 88 yards in eight plays in the final two minutes, completing six of eight attempts -- the final one an absolutely brilliant pass hauled in by Santonio Holmes for the final touchdown with 35 seconds to play.
The game wasn't quite over: Warner moved his team from its own 23 to the Pittsburgh 44 in just 15 seconds, only to fumble after being sacked on his last desperate snap.
Nearly 152 million Americans watched the drama unfold, making last year's Super Bowl the most watched program in the nation's history.
2. Terry Bradshaw vs. Roger Staubach (Super Bowl XIII -- January 1979)
Super Bowl XIII was a rare game indeed: a heavily hyped battle of productive gunslingers that lived up to expectations. It was also a game of grand significance in the history and evolution of football: each team had won two Super Bowls in the 1970s, so this was billed as a battle for team-of-the-decade honors, which it was. Super Bowl XIII also symbolized the new brand of high-scoring football the NFL had hoped for when it instituted widespread rule changes before the 1978 season. The intent was to open up offense in a league that had been dominated by defenses for most of the decade.
Bradshaw (four) and Staubach (three) combined for seven TD passes in Pittsburgh's 35-31 victory. The performances were highlighted by Bradshaw's 75-yard touchdown toss to John Stallworth. Staubach threw a 39-yard scoring strike to Tony Hill and also produced two late touchdowns in a frantic fourth-quarter comeback effort.
The game falls just shy of the No. 1 spot on the list of greatest Super Bowl shootouts because the Steelers held such a commanding fourth-quarter lead (35-17) and because the drama really only flickered for a few brief moments. But the public was certainly gripped by the new form of high-flying football as practiced by two of the game's legendary quarterbacks and marquee franchises: the 74 share it generated remains the highest in Super Bowl history, according to A.C. Nielsen figures.
1. Tom Brady vs. Jake Delhomme (Super Bowl XXXVIII -- February 2004)
As far as Super Bowls go, there was little hype before New England's 32-29 win over Carolina. The Patriots were constantly lamented for their boring style of play, while the Panthers were seen as something of a lucky upstart.
Carl Steward of the Oakland Tribune captured the national sentiment in a famously negative critique of the contest: "We know this stinkbug will be forced down our throats, whether we like it or not. It's just the nature of the Super Bowl hype machine ... Honestly now, how can you have a glitzy, gaudy Super Bowl without any stars, let alone superstars?" (This was before Brady became a prolific passer and magazine cover boy.)
What unfolded was anything but boring. In one of the more curious and entertaining contests in Super Bowl history, the Panthers and Patriots went scoreless for the first 25 minutes of the opening half, ripped off four scores in the final two minutes, went scoreless again in the third quarter, then exploded for 37 points in a breathless fourth quarter.
Among the furious final-frame highlights: DeShaun Foster's 33-yard touchdown run, a soaring 85-yard bomb from Delhomme to Muhsin Muhammad (the longest TD connection in Super Bowl history), a touchdown pass from Brady to linebacker Mike Vrabel and a two-point conversion run by New England's Kevin Faulk.
Oh yeah: the teams not only combined for 37 fourth-quarter points, but also produced 18 of those points points in the final three minutes, capped by Adam Vinatieri's 41-yard field goal with four seconds to play. When all was said and done, Delhomme and Brady had combined for a Super Bowl record 677 passing yards and six touchdown passes.
The pigskin public was gripped by the unexpected drama: with 144 million viewers, Super Bowl XXXVIII was the most watched TV program in American history (since surpassed by the last two thrillers in Super Bowls XLII and XLIII).
Not bad for a stinkbug.
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