In the first in a series of articles examining the best performances we saw last year, Khaled Elsayed breaks down the 10 highest grades given to quarterbacks throughout the course of the 2011 regular season and playoffs.
As ever, if you disagree let us know which displays most impressed you via our comments section or Twitter.
Every game is treated as a Super Bowl, so there’s no weighting due to the importance of the match up–we’ll leave that up to you to decide how to weigh that–but here, starting with the 10th spot, are the highest-graded QB performances of the 2011 season.
10. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: Week 10 @ Atlanta Falcons
Crunch time in the Saints’ season as they visited the Falcons needing a win to maintain their dominance in the NFC South. In a game remembered for that decision by Mike Smith, let’s not forget why he made that decision: he knew he couldn’t give a hot Brees another chance to win the game. The Saints’ QB threw for 322 yards and completing 69.8% of his passes while humbling the Falcons on the deep and intermediate routes (13-of-19 for 263 yards on passes thrown over 10 yards in the air).
9. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: Week 16 vs. San Diego Chargers
As good as Stafford has ever looked, this was the first moment where you really felt like you were watching a special player. Helped somewhat by an impotent Chargers pass rush, Stafford picked apart their zone defense as he completed 80.6% of his attempted passes.
8. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears: Week 11 vs. San Diego Chargers
In probably his finest day since moving to Chicago, Cutler derailed the Chargers’ push for the playoffs with a deft display of downfield passing. He completed 5-of-7 balls thrown further than 20 yards for a game-changing 157 yards. If this hadn’t been his last game of the season who knows what the Bears could have achieved.
7. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: Week 5 @ Carolina Panthers
While others were fixated with Cam Newton, Brees settled down and gave the rookie a master class in passing. Picking up just four negative grades (one of which for holding onto the ball too long) compared to 20 positively-graded plays, Brees made all the throws in a standard Saints victory.
6. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: Week 17 @ Green Bay Packers
His Week 16 performance that ranked ninth was no fluke, as Stafford went at the Packers and their backups with a relentless energy. He walked away with 520 yards, but could have had more if not for five drops in the losing effort. If you give Stafford time, as his line did here, there aren’t many better quarterbacks out there.
5. Eli Manning, New York Giants: Super Bowl XLVI vs. New England Patriots
If any performance was going to get bonus points it was the one that led to the Giants taking hold of the Lombardi trophy. His pinpoint pass to Mario Manningham will live long in the memory of anyone who watched the game, but it was his quiet ruthlessness that kept the G-Men in position to strike as Manning graded negatively on just three plays.
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: Week 13 @ New York Giants
It may surprise some that Rodgers’ only entry in the Top 10 comes at the fourth spot, but it says a lot about the Packers’ QB that only 114 fewer drop backs meant Drew Brees finished above him in the rankings. Nothing summed up the excellence of Rodgers like his game-winning drive against the Giants where he looked every bit the league MVP he would go on to become. Facing consistent pressure, Rodgers’ 60.9% completion rate won’t blow you away, but watching him for all 60 minutes of the game will.
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: Week 15 @ Minnesota Vikings
It’s not often we give a QB five +1.0 grades in a game, but Brees was in remarkable form as he travelled to Minnesota. With just two negatively-graded plays, he went about achieving an accuracy percentage of 87.2% on his 40 passes (including two drops and one where he was hit as he was thrown).
2. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers: Week 17 @ Oakland Raiders
His start to the year was so bad that coupled with the Chargers inability to make the playoffs, it got overlooked that Rivers was playing as well as anyone over the final quarter of the season. With just the prospect of ending the Raiders’ season, Rivers was cold-hearted in throwing for 310 yards with 10 of his 26 attempts earning a +1.0 grade.
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots: Week 1 @ Miami Dolphins
And the best performance of the season also happened to be the highest-graded QB display of all time. His season may not have ended as he would have liked, but it started with an incredible effort: 517 yards on 48 attempts. The previous year we’d suggested Brady was more dink-and-dunk than people were prepared to admit, but he started off 2011 by picking up 320 yards on balls thrown more than 10 yards as the Patriots put the Dolphins in their place.