Lots of great seasons by quarterbacks have ended in heartache. Dan Marino set the NFL touchdown record, only to lose to Joe Montana’s 49ers in the Super Bowl. Twenty years later, Peyton Manning broke that record, but lost to the Patriots (again) in the playoffs. Tom Brady had his greatest regular season in 2007, when New England went 16-0, only to fall in the Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers followed up his Super Bowl title with his first MVP season, leading the Packers to a 15-1 record only to get upset by the Giants.
Great quarterbacks have won many Super Bowls. It hasn’t always happened in the year when they put up their best numbers. The last MVP to win the title was Kurt Warner with the Rams.
Using the information at pro-football-reference.com, here are the highest scoring seasons in terms of comparison to league average, by adjusted net yards per attempt, for all QBs with 300 passes in a season since the merger. (The higher the score, the further above league average).
Every one who did not get MVP either (a) played less than a full season, often emerging from nowhere, (b) had a season that failed to win MVP only because there was another season on this list that did (or a historically great running back season), or (c) was in a strike-shortened season where voters selected a kicker as MVP.
I highlighted in dark red those that won the Super Bowl. The best statistical seasons to win both MVP and then go on to a title were Joe Montana in 1989 (who missed 3 games in the regular season), Steve Young in 1994, and Kurt Warner in 1999. In addition, Mark Rypien in 1991 (where Jim Kelly was first team all-pro and Thurman Thomas won MVP) and Joe Montana in 1984 (who lost out on MVP to Marino) are on the short list of best seasons by a Super Bowl winning quarterback.
One of these quarterbacks will join that short list, and the other will join the longer list of great seasons to end up just short. Matt Ryan put up an obscene 9.3 yards per attempt over the entire season, and has pretty much matched that in the playoffs, while throwing 38 touchdowns. Tom Brady has put up his 2nd-most efficient season (behind 2007), throwing only 2 interceptions to 28 touchdowns after missing the first four games due to the league suspension. Had he not missed those games, Brady would have been right in line with Ryan as well.
Ryan doesn’t have the reputation, but what he does going forward will likely impact our perception looking back. Tom Brady’s first huge statistical season was 2007, when he won his first MVP award and first all-pro selection. He was just one year younger than Ryan is now. Both had 3 pro bowl selections before their monster years.
Brady, meanwhile, has happened to lose the two Super Bowls when he had his best regular season numbers. This year, he will try to reverse that.
This marks the fifth meeting in the post-merger Super Bowl era between the two quarterbacks selected first and second team all-pro by the Associated Press, joining Manning-Brees (2009), Kelly-Rypien (1991), Marino-Montana (1984), and Anderson-Montana (1981). In all of those prior matchups, the player that was selected first team all-pro ended up losing the Super Bowl.