From Tom Brady to Nick Foles to John Elway, how notable quarterbacks fared in their first career playoff starts
Joe Montana won his first playoff start. Drew Brees, Randall Cunningham and Peyton Manning did not.
Because of late-season injuries the last two years, Carson Wentz will have started more regular-season games than any other notable recent quarterback before making his postseason debut. Not talking the scrubs here, but the top guys.
Here’s a look at the upper echelon of contemporary, legendary and top quarterbacks and their first playoff starts. We’ll open with a quick recap.
Won their first playoff start: Brett Favre (road game), Johnny Unitas (road), Russell Wilson (road), Tom Brady (home), Patrick Mahomes (home), Joe Montana (home), Donovan McNabb (home).
Lost their first playoff start: Drew Brees (home), John Elway (home), Nick Foles (home), Jared Goff (home), Lamar Jackson (home), Peyton Manning (home), Dan Marino (home), Dak Prescott (home), Philip Rivers (home), Randall Cunningham (road), Andrew Luck (road), Aaron Rodgers (road), Matt Ryan (road).
Regular-season starts before first playoff start
First playoff start: Jan. 19, 2002 — Won, 16-13. Stats: 32-52, 312 yards, 0 TD, 1 Int.
Opposing QB: Rich Gannon, Raiders.
Notable: The Patriots’ remarkable dynasty started with the obscure “Tuck Rule,” which is right up there with the “Immaculate Reception” as far as painful playoff memories for Raiders fans.
First playoff start: Jan. 8, 2005 — Lost, 20-17. Stats: 31-42, 319 yards, 2 TD, 1 Int.
Opposing QB: Chad Pennington, N.Y. Jets.
Notable: The Chargers missed a 40-yard field goal in overtime as the Jets tried to give them the game with a boneheaded late hit on Brees in the final seconds of regulation.
First playoff start: Jan. 6, 2018 — Lost, 26-13. Stats: 24-45, 259 yards, 1 TD, 0 Int.
Opposing QB: Matt Ryan, Atlanta.
Notable: The Rams went 13-3 during the regular season but were upset by the visiting Falcons in the wild-card round. “Goff was ready to get the Rams to this point,” wrote Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. “He wasn’t ready to get them past it.” The following year, Goff and the Rams went to the Super Bowl — and lost badly to the Patriots.
First playoff start: Jan. 6, 2019 — Lost, 23-17. Stats: 194 yards, 2 TD, 1 Int., 54 rushing yards.
Opposing QB: Philip Rivers, L.A. Chargers.
Notable: Jackson’s two touchdowns for the Ravens came in the fourth quarter, but the Chargers controlled play throughout.
First playoff start: Jan. 6, 2013 — Lost, 24-9. Stats: 28-54, 288 yards, 0 TD, 1 Int.
Opposing QB: Joe Flacco, Baltimore.
Notable: The Ravens made quick work of the Colts, who improved from 2-14 to 11-5 after taking Luck with the No. 1 overall pick. Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was hospitalized with an illness and missed the game. He was a candidate for the Eagles’ head-coaching position, a job that eventually went to Chip Kelly.
First playoff start: Jan. 12, 2019 — Won, 31-13. Stats: 27-41, 278 yards, 0 TD, 0 Int.
Opposing QB: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis.
Notable: Mahomes ran for a score as the Chiefs avenged a 2014 playoff loss at Indy when they led by 28 in the third quarter. This also ended up being the final game of Luck’s career.
First playoff start: Jan. 15, 2017 — Lost, 34-31. Stats: 24-38, 302 yards, 3 TD, 1 Int.
Opposing QB: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay.
Notable: Prescott stood toe-to-toe with Rodgers, but he left the Packers star 35 seconds to move Green Bay into position to win it with a 51-yard field goal. Prescott, a rookie, helped Dallas improve from 4-12 to 13-3 and the No. 1 seed in the conference. “There’s going to be more battles like this over the years,” Rodgers said of Prescott.
First playoff start: Jan. 10, 2010 — Lost, 51-45. Stats: 28-42, 423 yards, 4 TD, 1 Int.
Opposing QB: Kurt Warner, Arizona.
Notable: Rodgers and Warner combined to throw nine TD passes in the highest-scoring postseason game in NFL history. It was somewhat anticlimactic in that it ended in overtime when Rodgers was strip-sacked and Arizona returned his fumble for a touchdown. Rodgers appeared to have been face-masked on the deciding play, but no penalty was called.
First playoff start: Jan. 3 2009 — Lost, 30-24. Stats: 26-40, 199 yards, 2 TD, 2 Int.
Opposing QB: Warner, Arizona.
Notable: Ryan threw an interception on his first pass and struggled throughout. It was the first time all year the Falcons star looked like a rookie. Still laudable that Ryan and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco became the first first-year QBs since the merger to play all 16 games and take their teams to the playoffs.
First playoff start: Jan. 14, 2007 — Lost. 24-21. Stats: 14-32, 230 yards, 0 TD, 1 Int.
Opposing QB: Tom Brady, New England.
Notable: This was the first of Rivers’ three postseason losses to New England, but the only one at home. “We lost to a better team today,” said Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who set the single-season record with 31 touchdowns. “Hopefully, the next opportunity we have we’ll learn something from this.”
First playoff start: Jan. 6, 2013 — Won, 24-14. Stats: 15-26, 187 yards, 1 TD, 0 Int.
Opposing QB: Robert Griffin III, Washington.
Notable: Somewhat appropriate that Wilson rallied the Seahawks from a 14-point deficit. Was the only career postseason start for RG3, who was injured in the game and was never the same.
First playoff start: Dec. 30, 1984 — Lost, 24-17. Stats: 19-37, 184 yards, 2 TD, 2 Int.
Opposing QB: Mark Malone, Pittsburgh.
Notable: Elway, playing through injuries to his knee and groin, threw a critical interception that set up Pittsburgh’s game-winning touchdown. The loss by the Broncos, who were 4.5-point favorites, ended a chance to see Elway go up against Dan Marino in the AFC championship game.
First playoff start: Jan. 8, 1994 — Won, 28-24. Stats: 15-26, 204 yards, 3 TD, 1 Int.
Opposing QB: Erik Kramer, Detroit.
Notable: Favre threw three touchdown passes to Sterling Sharpe, including a 40-yard heave off his back foot with 55 seconds left to win it for the Packers. “I don’t want to say [the pass was] a hope and a prayer,” Favre said afterward, “but that’s really what it was.”
First playoff start: Dec. 31, 1983 — Lost. 27-20. Stats: 15-25, 193 yards, 2 TD, 2 Int.
Opposing QB: Dave Krieg, Seattle.
Notable: Marino played for the first time in nearly a month because of a sprained knee, and Miami lost as an 8-point favorite.
First playoff start: Jan. 16, 2000 — Lost, 19-16. Stats: 19-42, 227 yards, 0 TD, 0 Int.
Opposing QB: Steve McNair, Tennessee.
Notable: Manning was suffocated by the Titans defense into his worst performance of the season. The Colts, who averaged better than 26 points per game, managed just one touchdown: a 15-yard scramble by Manning.
First playoff start: Jan. 3, 1982 — Won, 38-24. Stats: 20-31, 304 yards, 2 TD, 1 Int.
Opposing QB: Scott Brunner, N.Y. Giants.
Notable: The 49ers great posted the first 300-yard game of his career. A week later, he threw the most famous pass of his career, the touchdown to Dwight Clark in the NFC championship game known simply as “The Catch.”
First playoff start: Dec. 28, 1958 — Won, 23-17. Stats: 26-40, 349 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int.
Opposing QB: Charlie Conerly, N.Y. Giants.
Notable: The Colts won in overtime in what often was charmingly regarded as “The Greatest Game Ever Played" as it vaulted the NFL into prominence. Alan Ameche scored on a 1-yard dive in overtime, and Raymond Berry caught 12 of Unitas’ 26 completions.
First playoff start: Dec. 31, 1988 — Lost, 20-12. Stats: 27-54, 407 yards, 0 TD, 3 Int.
Opposing QB: Mike Tomczak, Chicago.
Notable: Cunningham’s rocket right arm was neutralized by a haze rolling off Lake Michigan and over Soldier Field in what became known as the “Fog Bowl.” “The visibility was so bad, you couldn’t see more than a 10-yard radius,” Bears safety Todd Krumm said. “You just couldn’t throw the long ball. You couldn’t find your [receiver].”
» YouTube: NFL Films looks at the “Fog Bowl”
First playoff start: Jan. 4, 2014 — Lost, 26-24. Stats: 23-33, 195 yards, 2 TD, 0 Int.
Opposing QB: Drew Brees, New Orleans.
Notable: Foles rallied the Eagles from a 20-7 deficit, but a crippling kickoff return by the Saints’ Darren Sproles (plus a horse-collar penalty on the Eagles’ Cary Williams) made it easy for New Orleans to turn a one-point deficit into a two-point win.
First playoff start: Dec. 31, 2000 — Won, 21-3. Stats: 24-33, 161 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int.
Opposing QB: Shaun King, Tampa Bay.
Notable: The Eagles were 3-point underdogs, but there was a special vibe at Veterans Stadium for the first playoff game of the McNabb-Andy Reid era. It also was a late-afternoon start and made for a raucous opening act to New Year’s Eve throughout the region.
Note: Ron Jaworski and Norm van Brocklin both made their first playoff starts with the Los Angeles Rams. Jaworski in 1975, van Brocklin in 1950.