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Ranking the Best QBs in NFL History Without a Super Bowl

Who are the best quarterbacks in NFL history without a Super Bowl victory on their résumé? Here are the top 10 who came up short of a Lombardi Trophy.

NFL quarterbacks are inextricably linked with their Super Bowl success. Regardless of how well a signal-caller might perform throughout his career, Lombardi trophies will be a pivotal factor in assessments of their career.

Among the 10 quarterbacks on Pro Football Network’s review of the NFL’s all-time best passers, only one failed to win a Super Bowl (and you might be able to guess where that QB ranks on our list).

Who are the best quarterbacks in NFL history without a Super Bowl victory on their résumé? Here are the top 10 who came up short.

Best NFL Quarterbacks Without a Super Bowl Ring

Honorable mention: Sonny Jurgensen, Randall Cunningham, Boomer Esiason, Cam Newton

10) Steve McNair

Many quarterbacks on this list came close to winning a Super Bowl, but Steve McNair’s proximity can be measured in exact yardage.

Down seven points to the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl 34, McNair hit Titans WR Kevin Dyson for a completion to the Rams’ one-yard line as time expired. Dyson fought for the goal line, but St. Louis LB Mike Jones stopped him from scoring a game-tying touchdown.

McNair’s best individual performance was yet to come. In 2003, he split NFL MVP honors with Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning after leading the league in yards per attempt (8.1) and passer rating (100.4).

9) Donovan McNabb

While Donovan McNabb was one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks during the early 2000s, he could never break through for a Super Bowl title with the Philadelphia Eagles.

McNabb and then-Eagles head coach Andy Reid lost three straight NFC title games from 2001 to 2003. They broke through in 2004, only to lose to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 39.

Philadelphia went to the playoffs three more times with McNabb under center, returning to the NFC Championship in 2008 (a 32-25 loss to the Arizona Cardinals).

8) Jim Kelly

McNair and McNabb were so close to Super Bowl titles they could almost taste them — but no NFL quarterback went through more Lombardi torture than Jim Kelly.

Kelly and the Buffalo Bills lost four straight Super Bowls from 1990 through 1993. The first defeat was the narrowest, as the Bills went down 20-19 to the New York Giants after kicker Scott Norwood infamously missed a game-winning 47-yard field goal wide right.

None of Buffalo’s other defeats were particularly close. Kelly and Co. lost their next three Super Bowls by an average of 21.6 points; their 52-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl 27 is tied for the third-largest in the game’s history.

7) Warren Moon

Warren Moon was a genuine trailblazer who thrived in the CFL and NFL, earning nine Pro Bowls over 18 NFL campaigns before becoming the first Black quarterback to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Moon made the playoffs six times with the Houston Oilers and once with the Minnesota Vikings but never advanced to a conference championship. His best chance at a Super Bowl was probably after the 1991 season when the Oilers held a one-point lead over the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional Round before John Elway led a game-winning field goal drive.

Although Moon never captured a Lombardi trophy, he won five Grey Cups — the CFL’s version of the Super Bowl — with Edmonton.

6) Ken Anderson

Ken Anderson’s lack of a Super Bowl title will always hinder him in any Hall of Fame discussion. Still, the longtime Cincinnati Bengals quarterback was undoubtedly one of the NFL’s best signal-callers of the 1970s and 1980s.

Anderson won the 1981 MVP award, Offensive Player of the Year, and took Cincinnati to a Super Bowl appearance while leading the league in touchdown rate (6.1%), interception rate (2.1%), passer rating (98.4), and adjusted net yards per attempt (7.43).

Anderson and the Bengals lost Super Bowl 16 to Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. Cincinnati made only three other postseason appearances during Anderson’s career, all resulting in one-and-done paths.

Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame monitor — which uses various statistical metrics and awards to gauge players’ worthiness for Canton — has Anderson slightly above fellow QB Kenny Stabler, who already received a gold jacket. Anderson is well ahead of other HOF quarterbacks like Jurgensen, Bob Griese, and Moon.

5) Matt Ryan

Kelly’s repeated flirtations with a Super Bowl title had to be agonizing, but Matt Ryan’s loss to Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl 51 is the stuff of nightmares.

You remember the game. Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons somehow let a 28-3 lead slip out of their grasp, watching helplessly as Brady slowly chipped away at the deficit before beating them in overtime.

Being on the wrong end of the NFL’s most memorable comeback was surely excruciating, especially because Ryan posted his best statistical campaign in 2016. With Kyle Shahanan calling Atlanta’s offensive plays, Ryan led the league in touchdown rate (7.1%), yards per attempt (9.3), and QBR (79.6) en route to winning NFL MVP.

Ryan went to the playoffs five other times with the Falcons. In 2012-13, the Falcons went 13-3 and earned the No. 1 seed before suffering a four-point loss to the 49ers in the NFC title game.

4) Dan Fouts

Five quarterbacks on this list are in the Hall of Fame, and several more could follow in the years to come.

But Dan Fouts made history when he received his gold jacket in 1993. He became the first quarterback to enter the Hall of Fame despite never appearing in a Super Bowl or NFL championship game.

Of course, Canton couldn’t ignore Fouts’ overwhelming production with the San Diego Chargers. Fouts led the NFL in passing yards each season from 1979 through 1982; he’s still the only QB to rank No. 1 in passing four years straight.

Hardware — including the 1982 Offensive Player of the Year award, four All-Pro berths, and six Pro Bowls — was never an issue for Fouts, but the Chargers made the playoffs just four times during Fouts’ 15-year tenure and never got past the AFC title tilt.

3) Philip Rivers

While Philip Rivers will likely be inducted into the Hall of Fame someday, he could ultimately be overshadowed not only by Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning (his 2004 NFL Draft classmates) but by the other iconic quarterbacks of his era like Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees.

Rivers’ lack of a Super Bowl title may hinder him as he vies against Roethlisberger and the younger Manning, who have two Lombardis each. But he was undoubtedly one of the best quarterbacks of his era.

Rivers is sixth all-time in passing yards (63,440) and touchdowns (421). He ranked first in yards per attempt in three consecutive years from 2008 to 2010 and finished in the top three in QBR in four seasons.

Rivers made the playoffs six times with the Chargers. They advanced the deepest after the 2007 season, beating the Titans and Indianapolis Colts in the first two rounds before losing to the Patriots in the AFC title game. Rivers, one of the toughest players in league history, played in that 21-12 defeat despite having torn his ACL.

2) Fran Tarkenton

One of the NFL’s best quarterbacks of the 1960s and 1970s, Fran Tarkenton retired as the league’s all-time leader in pass attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns, rushing yards by a QB, and wins by a QB.

Tarkenton emerged as an off-script threat over 18 NFL seasons, most of which he spent with the Vikings. A nine-time Pro Bowler, Tarkenton earned the 1975 MVP award after leading the league in completions and touchdowns.

Minnesota went to the Super Bowl three times in four years with Tarkenton under center but couldn’t capitalize on any of their chances. All three defeats came by 10+ points; Tarkenton totaled one passing touchdown against six interceptions.

1) Dan Marino

Although Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins lost 38-16 to the 49ers in Super Bowl 19, it still felt like the beginning of something.

Marino was 23 years old and coming off the best passing campaign in the history of the sport. He set new NFL single-season records for passing yards (5,084) and touchdowns (48) while winning league MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.

Miami had finished the regular season 14-2. With Marino under center and head coach Don Shula at the wheel, the Dolphins’ ceiling appeared limitless.

Marino became arguably the best pure passer in NFL history, earning three first-team All-Pros and nine Pro Bowl nods in the process. He’s seventh all-time in passing yards and eighth in passing touchdowns despite playing in a bygone NFL era.

But Marino and the Dolphins never went back to the Super Bowl — and they never came all that close. His only other trips to the AFC Championship Game, after the 1985 and 1992 seasons, resulted in double-digit losses.

Marino retired as one of the league’s greatest all-time QBs and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He has more wins (147) than any quarterback without a Super Bowl, but he may always be best remembered for the feat he couldn’t accomplish.