Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan form a high-quality quarterback quartet in NFL playoffs

Share via

Were there a Mount Rushmore for NFL quarterbacks this season, the four playing this weekend would be reasonable picks for those hallowed spots.

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and New England’s Tom Brady are all elite passers who have been around for years in the same systems. They have seven rings among them — four belonging to Brady — and all but Ryan have won at least one Super Bowl.

There were other stellar quarterbacks this season, including New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Dallas rookie Dak Prescott, but this is a top-shelf final four who threw for a combined 135 touchdowns with 29 interceptions.


“They’re the classic passers the last two decades,” said Arizona Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians, who went to three Super Bowls with Pittsburgh, first as receivers coach, then as offensive coordinator. “I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

“These guys have all been with their same coordinators, or in the same system, their whole careers. So you can’t throw anything new at them. They know the answers. You might get them in the first quarter, but they’ll get you back. They’re all athletic enough within the pocket, and they’re all just so accurate deep and short.”

In fact, the Super Bowl sameness on the AFC side of the ledger has been stunning. That conference has featured a nearly unbroken rotation of three quarterbacks on the league’s biggest stage — Brady, Roethlisberger and the now-retired Peyton Manning.

Since the 2003 season, the AFC quarterbacks in the Super Bowl have been, in order: Brady, Brady, Roethlisberger, Manning, Brady, Roethlisberger, Manning, Roethlisberger, Brady, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco (the lone departure), Manning, Brady, Manning.

Brady sat out the first four games this season, suspended for his role in the alleged football-deflating scheme, but still threw 28 touchdown passes with just two interceptions. He’s looking to become the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls.

Before the Steelers played host to the Patriots in Week 7, Roethlisberger met with Brady on the field and asked for one of his game-used jerseys as a memento. The exchange was captured by a microphone.


“I hate that those things get taped and [heard] because it wasn’t meant for that,” Roethlisberger told reporters this week. “I have it hanging in my office. I have a lot of respect for him; I think that’s very well known. I think he’s one of, if not the, greatest quarterbacks of all time. It’s been an honor to play against him, to call him a competitor, and so I put it up in my office with the likes of the Marinos and Elways and Kellys and things like that.”

The respect is mutual.

“Ben is an incredible player, and he’s been that way since 2004 when he came into the league,” Brady said. “I’ve always loved the way he plays, very tough, hard-nosed. He’s great for the city of Pittsburgh — a very tough, hard-nosed city. … To play at his level for as long as he has and with his style of play has been remarkable.”

Either the Steelers or Patriots will make Super Bowl history, even before the Feb. 5 game in Houston. Each franchise has made it to the Super Bowl eight times, tying them with Dallas and Denver for the most in league history. So one of those teams is headed for No. 9.

Ryan led all starting quarterbacks with a 117.1 passer rating this season, the fifth-highest in league history. Brady was second at 112.2, and Rodgers fourth at 104.2. The average rating of the final four quarterbacks, 107.0, shatters the previous record of 100.7 in 1998, when the remaining quarterbacks were Randall Cunningham, Vinny Testaverde, Chris Chandler and John Elway.

The NFC championship game will feature a potential MVP in Atlanta's Matt Ryan (2) and a former one in Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers.
The NFC championship game will feature a potential MVP in Atlanta’s Matt Ryan (2) and a former one in Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
(Mike Roemer / Associated Press )

While the other three quarterbacks in Sunday’s games have gaudy lists of postseason accomplishments, Ryan is 2-4, with both of those wins coming against Seattle. He has a chance to bring the Falcons their first Lombardi Trophy.


Rodgers has the hottest hand of the four. Even with star receiver Jordy Nelson sidelined with an injury, the Packers quarterback has been phenomenal, winning at Dallas last week with a dramatic field-goal drive in the final 35 seconds.

In the last eight games, Rodgers is 8-0 with 2,384 yards passing, 21 touchdowns and one interception.

“If you want to just look at it and say who is the most physically gifted,” said CBS analyst Phil Simms, a former Super Bowl-winning quarterback, “who’s going to argue that Aaron Rodgers is not the most physically gifted quarterback in the NFL?”

Four quarterbacks will make their individual cases Sunday, and each has a compelling argument.


Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer