The NFC championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks was an instant classic, and will go down in history as one of the most entertaining and improbable games in NFL history. Time and time again, each little thing went wrong for the Seahawks as they had to overcome what was, at its most, a 16 point deficit. But, forgetting for a moment that we now know that the Seahawks could pull something like this off, there is another interesting question that needs answering: was this the worst winning QB performance in NFL playoff history? And how close did Russell Wilson come to having the worst playoff game ever, for a winner or a loser?
The first question is pretty easy to answer: no. According to past passer ratings, 25 times has a QB thrown the ball at least ten times and recorded a passer rating lower than the 44.3 that Wilson put up in Sunday’s bout. The lowest such game actually occurred relatively recently, with Joe Flacco going 4/10 for 34 yards and an interception in 2010’s 33-14 victory in Foxborough¹. Flacco’s limited day yielded him a passer rating of 10.0, which is actually the tenth worst playoff game of all time², regardless of outcome.
So Wilson’s final numbers weren’t catastrophic, but at a certain point in the fame, it seemed very plausible that Wilson could end the day in historically bad territory. After throwing his fourth pick of the day, Wilson’s stat line read: 8/21 for 75 yards, no touchdowns, and the four interceptions. The resulting passer rating, had Wilson not gotten the opportunity to throw another pass, would have been 7.007, the sixth worst in playoff history, and dangerously below Flacco territory. Following a Green Bay three and out, Wilson went 2/3 for 46 yards before rushing for a touchdown to narrow the score to 19-14. At this point, Wilson’s rating was 16.0, or the 17th worst all time. After the unlikely success of an onside kick attempt, Wilson threw one eight yard pass on the drive to take the lead, before Marshawn Lynch rumbled into the end zone to take a one point lead. Because two point conversions don’t get recorded as stats, Wilson’s desperate completion to Luke Willson doesn’t factor into his rating at this point, which had now improved to 18.429. If the Packers score a touchdown on their final drive, or if they won the coin flip in overtime and scored on the first drive as the Seahawks did, then Wilson’s day would have ended with numbers that would rank as the 25th worst game in playoff history. Instead, Wilson got one more chance, during which he went 3/3 for 80 yards and the game winning touchdown, resulting in the bad, but not horrific, rating of 44.253. Still, there have been 25 playoff games in history where a QB threw 4 or more interceptions, and one or no TD’s, and the other 24 all ended in losses for that QB. In fact, only 4 of those 24 ended in one score games. So while a combination of good defense, good special teams, and a bit of good fortune helped give Wilson a chance to transform his performance from one of the worst all time to that of an improbable victor, the Seahawks chances in the Super Bowl might be higher if they take a more conventional path to victory.
¹ That was the game where Tom Brady threw 42 passes for 154 yards, while the Ravens ran the ball 52 times for 234 yards and 4 touchdowns.
² Still keeping the minimum of 10 attempts.
³Taken from ESPN.com