Every year, there are certain players that stick out as “the guys” that everyone loves to watch and respect because they turn it on when clutch performances are needed. Whether they’re fighting through the Wild Card and Divisional rounds, or have been dominating all season and have an easier path to the playoffs, they put up big numbers and lead their team to victory. In honor of this, and some great Wild Card performances this past weekend, I figured I’d take a look at the top playoff players in NFL history.
6. Eli Manning
This one may shock some people, but Eli Manning has clearly been the better Manning brother when it comes to the playoffs. With two Super Bowl rings in two Super Bowls appearances (both against the Patriots), Manning has come up big for the Giants when it was most necessary. Manning has been named Super Bowl MVP in both of the wins, and is one of just five quarterbacks in NFL history with two MVPs in the league’s biggest game. These numbers are already impressive, and add in that the Giants were major underdogs in both playoffs where they won the Super Bowl. Manning knows how to turn his team into a dominant force in the late part of the season, and for that he is one of the best when it comes to playoff performers.
5. Adam Vinatieri
Adam Vinatieri has a special place in my heart as a Patriots fan, but favoritism isn’t what put him on this list. His playoff numbers and clutch performances have made him one of, if not the, greatest kickers of all time, and after watching the Vikings-Seahawks game this past weekend, you can see how important a good kicker really is. His clutch game-tying field goal in an AFC Divisional game against the Raiders in heavy snow started the trend, and it continued in overtime of that very game with a game-winning field goal. Vinatieri has kicked two Super Bowl-winning field goals, one against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI and one against the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, and tied the playoff record for most field goals in a game with five in the Colts’ 15-6 Divisional win over the higher-seeded Ravens. His four Super Bowl rings tell the story, and the “Iceman” has cemented himself in playoff history with his consistent clutch performances.
4. Terry Bradshaw
Another player with four Super Bowl wins, Terry Bradshaw is one of the greatest when it comes to postseason play. During his career, he passed for more than 300 yards in a game seven times, three of which came in the playoffs, and two of those in Super Bowls. In four career Super Bowl appearances, he passed for 932 yards and 9 touchdowns, which both were Super Bowl records when he retired from the league. He really knew how to come up clutch on offense for the Steelers, who were better known for their “Steel Curtain” defense and stars elsewhere on the field. Bradshaw was one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, and the numbers rang true in the playoffs.
3. Jerry Rice
The numbers speak for themselves when it comes to Jerry Rice. Probably the greatest receiver in NFL history, he holds the records for most career playoff receptions, most career playoff yards gained, and most career playoff touchdowns. Add those numbers to his three Super Bowl rings and one Super Bowl MVP, and you get one of the best to ever take the field in January and February. If you’re a football fan, you have to appreciate what Rice did for the game, and his consistent stardom in the postseason was huge for the game.
2. Joe Montana
One of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL, Joe Montana was the man when it came to clutch situations and big time games in the postseason. He started and won four Super Bowls with the 49ers and was the first player ever to be named Super Bowl MVP three times. Montana is also responsible for some of the greatest Super Bowl plays and moments of all-time. Whether it’s “The Catch” by Dwight Clark to put the Niners in the Super Bowl in the 1981 season, or his amazing game-winning drive against the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. Montana was always cool and collected in clutch situations, and some of his great performances led to Super Bowl records that would live on for many years to come.
1. Tom Brady
This one can’t be much of a surprise for many who have been following the NFL through the 2000’s and 2010’s. Again, favoritism doesn’t play a factor in this decision, as Tom Brady’s playoff numbers can’t be argued against and his clutch performances are some of the best in NFL history. With four Super Bowl rings, six Super Bowl appearances, and plenty of records to his name, Brady has established himself as the top playoff performer of all time. He has the most playoff wins by any quarterback in playoff history with 21 in 29 playoff starts, also a record, and has more playoff wins than more than two-thirds of the NFL’s franchises, which is pretty crazy. He has led some of the craziest comebacks in playoff history, whether it was in the 2001 season or 2014 season. Brady already has had great numbers in the postseason that have cemented him in this spot, and still has the chance to increase his records and improve on his legacy.