News & Analysis

Highlighting 10 of the most notable Super Bowl performances in the PFF era

Feb 4, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy after a victory against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020-21 NFL season has nearly reached its conclusion; the Super Bowl 55 matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers is firmly in sight.

Many players have cemented or created their legacies in Super Bowls of old; some have even produced the best single game of their careers on the game's biggest stage. So, with just three days left until the big game, now is an appropriate time to reflect on 10 notable Super Bowl performances that we've seen in our 15 years of grading.

The list is heavily influenced by PFF grades, but it isn't solely based on that one data point. The following list, which is in no particular order, is merely a trip down memory lane to the biggest moments and performances of recent Super Bowl history.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS QB TOM BRADY & RB JAMES WHITE VS. ATLANTA FALCONS — SUPER BOWL LI

We would be remiss if we left off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

After falling into a 28-3 sized hole at halftime, Brady — aided by running back James White — launched an all-out offensive attack that ultimately secured the victory for New England. Brady completed just 16 passes for 184 yards, zero touchdowns and an interception in the first half but found his rhythm in the second, where he connected on 22-of-30 attempts for 232 yards, two scores and zero turnovers.

White also finished the contest with an impressive stat line, rattling off 139 total yards — 110 of which came in the receiving game — and three total touchdowns. White ended the game with a PFF overall grade of 79.4, the highest mark of his season.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES QB NICK FOLES VS. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS — SUPER BOWL LII

It took just one season for the Patriots to return to the Super Bowl, this time squaring off against the Foles-led Eagles.

The career journeyman continued his stretch of positive play in relief of the then-injured Carson Wentz, generating four big-time throws while committing zero turnover-worthy plays — his lone interception came off a tipped pass — against Bill Belichick’s vaunted defense in Super Bowl LII.

Foles tormented the Pats’ secondary for what seemed like the entire night, completing four throws targeted 20-plus yards downfield for 102 yards, two touchdowns and the aforementioned interception. Brady delivered a solid game in his own right, but Foles and his goal-line playcall, the Philly Special, proved too much to overcome. Foles put up a 92.3 passing grade for the game, marking the end of one of the highest-graded postseason runs of all time.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS DEFENSE VS. DENVER BRONCOS — SUPER BOWL XLVIII

There were too many great performances in this one to give it to any one player on Seattle’s defense.

Edge defender Chris Clemons racked up four QB hurries, one hit, one sack, a batted pass and even forced two fumbles. Hard-hitting safety Kam Chancellor saw six targets into his coverage, allowing five to be caught for just 25 yards and zero first downs. He also broke up a pass and intercepted another, adding to Peyton Manning’s long day. The last notable performance belongs to the Super Bowl MVP himself, Malcolm Smith. Smith totaled five solo tackles, three assists, a fumble recovery and a late second-quarter pick-six that resulted in a 22-0 Seattle lead.

GREEN BAY PACKERS QB AARON RODGERS VS. PITTSBURGH STEELERS — SUPER BOWL XLV

Facing a defense home to the likes of Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Ike Taylor, Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison, Rodgers maintained his composure and persistently moved the chains. Through four quarters, Rodgers amassed 304 passing yards, with 74% of those yards coming through the air. He also recorded six big-time throws — the most in a Super Bowl since 2006 — and zero turnover-worthy plays.

What makes his performance stand out even further is that his receivers dropped six passes on the evening, two times more than any other QB has endured in a championship game.

NEW YORK GIANTS QB ELI MANNING VS. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS — SUPER BOWL XLVI

Manning earned his second ring and second Super Bowl MVP Award in his second postseason bout against the Patriots. Although it was no David Tyree helmet catch, we witnessed yet another late-game heroic pitch and catch, one that will forever be in the record books as one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history.

Down by 2 points with just over three minutes remaining in the final quarter, Manning threw a 42-yard strike to a sideline-stranding Mario Manningham, swinging all momentum in favor of the G Men. Manning completed 30-of-40 attempts for 297 yards and one score, avoiding mistakes and making key plays in the brightest of lights yet again. His 91.5 PFF grade for the game was not only the highest of his 2011 season, but it was also the fifth-highest single-game figure of his career within the PFF era.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS WR SANTONIO HOLMES VS. ARIZONA CARDINALS — SUPER BOWL XLIII

Holmes torched the Cardinals' defense in what would be his final game in the black and gold, reeling in nine catches for 131 yards, one touchdown and five first downs. His work in the Steelers' passing game was good for a 91.7 PFF grade, and he generated an impressive 103.1 passer rating when targeted.

The Steelers wideout made defenders look as if they had their feet in quicksand, as he ran past them for 94 yards after the catch — still the most ever in a Super Bowl. Holmes secured his place in football history with an awe-inspiring touchdown grab in the back of the end zone, keeping his toes inbounds to effectively seal the fate of both parties.

ARIZONA CARDINALS WR LARRY FITZGERALD VS. PITTSBURGH STEELERS — SUPER BOWL XLIII

On the opposite side of the field, Fitzgerald also pieced together an elite receiving line. Quarterback Kurt Warner enjoyed success looking Fitzgerald’s way, completing 7-of-8 passes for 127 yards, two touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.

Three of his catches went for 15 or more yards as Larry Legend routinely exposed the secondary. Unless he returns for another season and the Cardinals make a playoff run, Fitzgerald will go down as one of the greatest ever players to never win a Super Bowl.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS CB MALCOLM BUTLER VS. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS — SUPER BOWL XLIX

Butler was not on the field for much of Super Bowl 49, but he made his presence known when he was. Butler was targeted six times across 13 snaps in coverage, allowing just two receptions for 39 yards while forcing two incompletions. Those numbers alone are impressive for an undrafted rookie, but Butler took it a step further and made the game-sealing interception that has gone down as one of the most iconic plays in the history of the Super Bowl.

DENVER BRONCOS EDGE VON MILLER VS. CAROLINA PANTHERS — SUPER BOWL 50

A couple of years removed from an embarrassing 43-8 blowout loss against the Seahawks, Miller and Co. were back in the Super Bowl and ready to prove they belonged.

Miller led the way, as he won 32% of his pass-rush reps, the highest rate we have seen in a championship match. He ate opposing offensive linemen alive, producing five QB hurries, three sacks and two forced fumbles, including the game-clinching strip-sack on the Panthers' final drive.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS EDGE NICK BOSA VS. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS — SUPER BOWL LIV

Although the 49ers ultimately fell to the Chiefs, Bosa still recorded one of the most dominant defensive outings we have ever seen. The rookie lived in the Chiefs’ backfield, generating a whopping 12 QB pressures — most in a Super Bowl — that included one QB hit and one sack. Here’s hoping the 49ers star returns better than ever next season.

Know tomorrow, today. Western Southern Financial Group.
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