Why is Ben Roethlisberger left out of 'elite' QB conversation?
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Why is Ben Roethlisberger left out of 'elite' QB conversation?
Wednesday October 29th, 2014

Ben Roethlisberger threw for a career-high 522 yards and six touchdowns in a 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, putting up the best single-game performance in the regular season by any quarterback in the DYAR era. DYAR is Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted efficiency metric which dates back to 1989, and Roethlisberger's passing DYAR (362) and Total DYAR (355), outpaced all other efforts by any quarterback in a single regular-season game.

However, his impressive performance on one of the biggest passing days the NFL has seen recently was almost one-upped by Tom Brady in a rare stat category that prevented Big Ben from achieving the best single-game DYAR in history.

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In the wild-card round of the 2009 playoffs, Kurt Warner completed 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns in the Arizona Cardinals' 51-45 win over the Green Bay Packers. It was not only the highest single-game DYAR for any quarterback in history -- it also put Warner in rarefied air as a quarterback who threw more touchdowns than incompletions in a game.

Brady came close to that mark last Sunday in a 51-23 thrashing of the Chicago Bears, with 30 completions in 35 attempts for 354 yards, five touchdowns and no picks. Those are amazing numbers, but had running back Shane Vereen caught the quick slant from Brady with 10:07 left in the game, Brady (who left the blowout at the end of that drive) would have achieved something that has happened just 15 times in the regular season since 1960 and only three times in the playoffs during that stretch -- a quarterback, with at least 20 passing attempts in a game, throws more touchdowns than incompletions. And just to make the bar a bit higher, we'll throw in a requirement that none of those incompletions can be interceptions.

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Brady shouldn't feel too badly about his near-miss -- he has already achieved this three times in the regular season and once in the postseason, which ties him with Peyton Manning. Both Brady and Manning have thrown six touchdown passes in two of their games, but neither had the most productive day under these unique circumstances. Let's take a look at the two most productive games for quarterbacks.

Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles -- Nov. 3, 2013 vs. Oakland, 22-of-28 for 406 yards and 7 touchdowns

In 2013, three different quarterbacks threw more touchdowns than interceptions with at least 20 passing attempts and no interceptions as incompletions against the Raiders defense -- Alex Smith on Dec. 15 (17-of-20 for 287 yards and five touchdowns) and Manning (25-of-28 for 266 yards and four touchdowns). That's bad, Raiders.

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But Foles takes the prize, because he threw seven touchdown passes against an Oakland defense that was obviously incapable of stopping anyone in his first full season as a starter. He tied the NFL record for touchdown passes in a game, amassing more scores through the air than he had in his five previous games combined. And on top of that, Foles was only in the game because Michael Vick injured his hamstring the week before. Safe to say, everything worked out.

This game was the pinnacle of Foles' amazing 2013 season, in which he threw 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Based on Foles' performance through seven games this season (he has already thrown nine picks to 12 touchdowns), we can guess that pace isn't a sustainable output.

Still, Foles' game didn't make much of a historical dent in FO's DYAR files, because... well, because DYAR is opponent-adjusted, and this was against the Raiders. That's why Warner's game takes the prize as the greatest single-game quarterback performance.

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Kurt Warner, Arizona Cardinals -- Jan. 10, 2010 vs. Green Bay, 29-of-33 for 379 yards and five touchdowns

The narrative for this game was something to the tune that Aaron Rodgers "couldn't win the big one." This was stupid, because Rodgers "won the big one" the next season, and it completely overlooked the day Warner had.

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Warner picked apart a Packers defense that ranked second overall in FO's DVOA metrics and fourth against the pass. The 51-45 game, which the Cardinals won in overtime, was the highest-scoring postseason game in NFL history, because Rodgers was just about as good with a 28-of-42, 422-yard, four-touchdown performance. But Warner threw two touchdowns each to Larry Fitzgerald and Early Doucet, and another to Steve Breaston, making that Packers defense look more confused than ever.

"We knew how tough it was going to be on our defense with all the weapons they have offensively and how they've been playing," Warner said after the game. "It was just one of those games where I felt great. I loved our playing. I felt like I was seeing everything well and it accumulates to 51 points."

It was a shame that such a game ended on Rodgers' mistake -- a fumble returned by Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby for a touchdown -- but Rodgers would make his name down the road. It's still Warner, however, who has what FO's metrics call the best single-game performance by any quarterback.

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The Brady Files

Oct. 21, 2007 vs. Miami, 21-of-25 for 354 yards and six touchdowns
Jan. 12, 2008 vs. Jacksonville, 26-of-28 for 262 yards and three toucchdowns
Oct. 18, 2009 vs. Tennessee, 29-of-34 for 380 yards and six touchdowns
Dec. 27, 2009 vs. Jacksonville, 23-of-26 for 267 yards and four touchdowns

The Manning Files

Sept. 28, 2003 vs. New Orleans, 20-of-25 for 314 yards and six touchdowns
Jan. 4, 2004 vs. Denver, 22-of-26 for 377 yards and five touchdowns
• ​Nov. 25, 2004 vs. Detroit, 23-of-28 for 326 and six touchdowns
• ​Dec. 29, 2013 vs. Oakland, 25-of-28 for 266 yards and four touchdowns

So, Manning is not only the only quarterback on the list to do it with two different teams; he also has the distinction of torching his current team when he was with his former one. That's fairly impressive, as is the fact that he did it three times in a 14-month span.

If you'd like to see the entire sortable list of regular-season performances, you can do so here. The list of postseason performances is here.

Thanks to Chase Stuart of Pro Football Reference and Football Perspective for his help.

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