Ranking the best seasons ever by a quarterback
5. Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers, 1992
268/402 for 66.7% | 3465 yards | 25 TDs, 7 Interceptions | 8.6 Y/A | 9.1 AY/A | 107 Rating
The late ‘80s and early ‘90s were a transformative time in football, as the league became more QB-centric. The 49ers played an important role in this transformation, with back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks at the helm. While Montana remains the favored son of San Francisco, Young might have surpassed him with more years of experience.
Steve Young’s star burned bright and fast. In 1992, he was a model of efficiency in both the passing game and the run game. He led the league in all 5 categories that year, including a post-merger bronze medal in passer rating with 107. That also led to his becoming the first QB with back-to-back triple-digit QB rating seasons.
He also gained 547 yards rushing, adding 4 TDs to his total.
Young’s mobility and elusiveness allowed Young to bring a new dimension to the West Coast office. His 1992 season cements his place in the elite pantheon of legendary Quarterbacks. Had his career not come to an abrupt end at the hands of HoF CB Aeneas Williams, Young may very well have ended up in the discussion for Greatest of All Time.
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, 2011
343/502 for 68.3% | 4643 Yards | 45 TDs, 6 Interceptions | 9.2 Y/A | 10.5 AY/A | 122.5 Rating
I stand by the value of this list as an objective way of stacking QBs up against one another. There is, of course, the very obvious elephant in the room that statistics are not everything. Aaron Rodgers’ 2011 season is evidence A in favor of that assertion. There isn’t much more to say about this season that hasn’t been said already. The highest QB Rating of all time was accompanied by a whopping 4643-yard effort, with a crazy 45 TDs and a laughably small 6 Interceptions. With more than 250 yards on the ground, adding 3 more TDs on 60 attempts, Rodgers was immensely effective on the ground.
Rodgers had a fantastic 2011 run, culminating in a well-deserved MVP and, ultimately, a crushing defeat in the playoffs. A year after a Super Bowl win in SBXLV, Rodgers looked predestined to win back-to-back championships, but unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Although Rodgers has continued to be one of the greatest QBs in the league, it will be tough for him to ever match his 2011 prowess and ability. The Packers averaged 35 points per game as they cruised to a 15-1 record, as their defense stood out themselves – allowing the most yards of any team in the NFL. Despite this anchor dragging the team down, Rodgers took a note from teammate Greg Jennings and put the team on his back.
3. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts, 2004
336/497 for 67.6% | 4557 Yards | 49 TDs, 10 Interceptions | 9.2 Y/A | 10.2 AY/A | 121.1 Rating
This is a season that can be described in any number of clichés. But clichés exist for a reason. Coming off an MVP season, Manning ramped up his game to really rewrite the record books. Throwing for over 4500 yards (3rd after #10, Daunte Culpepper’s 4717), Manning lit up the NFL with a record-setting 49 TD passes, limiting himself to an impressively small 10 interceptions (on nearly 500 attempts) while posting the highest Y/A and Rating in the league.
Manning set a league record with five consecutive games with four or more touchdown passes. He demolished the Lions with six scores in three quarters. Although this wasn’t his first MVP season and wouldn’t be close to his last, Peyton Manning established that he would go down as one of the greatest players of all time in this, his statement of a season. While many point to his once-again record-shattering 55 touchdown, 5477-yard season 10 years later as his proudest achievement, 2004 remains the all-time best statistical season for the Manning clan.
2. Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers, 1994
324/461 for 70.3% | 3969 Yards | 35 TDs, 10 Interceptions | 8.6 Y/A | 9.2 Y/A | 112.8 Rating
The only QB featured twice on this list, Young doubled down on a fantastic MVP season in 1992 to get a second MVP in an even greater 1994 season. The high expectations of the ’94 season were quickly confirmed in a 4-TD performance from Young Week 1. Although there were some concerns after a Week 2 loss to the former 49er Montana and his KC Chiefs, Young aptly put together a 10-game win streak to finish the year 13-3. From there, the 49ers cruised through the playoffs, crushing the Bears 44-15 and beating the Cowboys 38-28 before finally facing off against the Chargers in what would end up being just another notch in Young’s belt.
Throwing for 6 touchdowns against the hapless Chargers, Young was named MVP of the Super Bowl to go alongside his regular season MVP. Young broke the 49ers franchise passing TD record, he posted the third highest all-time completion percentage and he set a new standard with a record 112.8 rating. Importantly, Young raised the bar for mobile QBs, accumulating another 289 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground. Unfortunately, 1994 would be the peak for Young, who would continue to post good seasons, but, ravaged by injury, could never attain the heights of his 1994 campaign again.
The best QB season of all time is…
- Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers, 1989
271/386 attempts | 70.2% completion | 3521 Yards | 26 TDs, 8 Interceptions | 9.1 Y/A | 9.5 AY/A | 112.4 Rate
Unsurprisingly an MVP and 1st team All-Pro season, Joe Montana’s 1989 was a revelation.
At 33 years old, Montana set a then-NFL record QB rate with 112.4, with a ridiculously efficient 70.4% completion percentage. His TD: INT ratio of 3.25 was 50% than the next-best of 2.55 by Cincinnati’s Boomer Esiason.
His 270.8 yards per game led the league and would have netted him 4333 yards, but unfortunately, his play was limited to 13 games, leaving him with “only” 3521, still good for 8th in the league.
However, his efficiency in this limited time frame was undeniable. His 9.1 yards per attempt was 0.8 y/a better than 2nd place, and 25% more than the league average of 7.26 Y/A.
This efficiency is only amplified by compound stats like AY/A and Rate. His 9.5 AY/A was 18% better than the 2nd best 8 AY/A, and 49% better than the average 6.37.
His record-setting QB Rate of 112.4 crushed the next-best 90.6 and nearly doubled the average 77.27.
Prior to 1989, only 6 QBs (who are eligible for these rankings) surpassed 100 in Season Rate, including Joe Montana’s ’84 & ’87 season. The others were Dan Marino ’84, Roger Staubach ’71, Ken Stabler ’76 & Bert Jones ’76.
Montana also proved effective on the ground, rushing for 227 Yards and 3 TDs.
The most insane thing about Montana’s ’89 season is that on top of his regular season proficiency that led to an 11-2 record with him under center, Montana then continued to have (what will probably end up being) the best playoff performance as well.
These numbers are real, they are no exaggerated. In the 1989 NFL Playoffs, Joe Montana went 65/83, a 78.3%, for 800 yards, 11 TDs, and no interceptions. With a Y/A of 9.6 and AY/A of 12.3 Montana led the 49ers to 3 consecutive blowouts en route to a Lombardi trophy, ending up with an unimaginable 146.4 Rate. And yet, even without considering that playoff run, Montana sits comfortably atop the pile.
Montana is the only quarterback in history to have achieved at least a 98th percentile ranking in each of the 5 QB stats. While Tom Brady may be the GOAT (stay tuned for career rankings), Montana alone holds the crown of the best QB season of all time.