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Is Peyton Manning's 2015 season the worst ever for a QB starting in the Super Bowl?

Manning's 67.9 passer rating was terrible, but there have been worse marks for Super Bowl starters.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Peyton Manning's legacy as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history is unquestionable. Although the 2015 season was easily the worst of his career, it doesn't erase 14 trips to the Pro Bowl and five NFL MVP awards.

Still, nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions is a lousy stat line by any player's standards, let alone one of the league's all-time greats. Yet the Denver Broncos managed to win in spite of poor play from the team's starting quarterback. Even as Manning posted a 67.9 passer rating in 10 regular season games, the Broncos won seven of his nine starts. They also won two playoff games with him under center.

There isn't a position more important to a football team than quarterback, so winning with one who is playing in the bottom tier among passers is impressive. But is Manning set to be the worst quarterback to ever start in a Super Bowl based purely off his 2015 season?

No, but he is the worst in a very long time.

In the last six Super Bowls, Joe Flacco's 87.7 regular season passer rating was the lowest for a Super Bowl starter. Just two years ago, Manning led the Broncos with a 115.1 passer rating, but lost to the Seattle Seahawks led by Russell Wilson and his 101.2 passer rating.

With the NFL driven by top quarterback play more than ever, it has been rare for a team to find wins when the man under center is struggling to score touchdowns. But in the early years of the Super Bowl, it wasn't so rare.

In the first 17 Super Bowls, there were six quarterbacks who finished the regular season with a passer rating below 70, including Hall of Famers like Terry Bradshaw, Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr. But Manning will be the first quarterback with a regular season passer rating below 70 since David Woodley in a 1982 season that was shortened by a strike.

Quarterback Year Team Cmp Att Cmp % Yards TDs INTs Rating
Bart Starr 1967 Green Bay Packers 115 210 54.8 1,823 9 17 64.4
Len Dawson 1969 Kansas City Chiefs 98 166 59.0 1,323 9 13 69.9
Johnny Unitas 1970 Baltimore Colts 166 321 51.7 2,213 14 18 65.1
Terry Bradshaw 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers 67 148 45.3 785 7 8 55.2
Vince Ferragamo 1979 Los Angeles Rams 53 110 48.2 778 5 10 49.0
David Woodley 1982 Miami Dolphins 98 179 54.7 1,080 5 8 63.5
Peyton Manning 2015 Denver Broncos 198 331 59.8 2,249 9 17 67.9

The first four teams to start a quarterback with a regular season rating under 70 all came away with a win, but the Rams and Dolphins weren't as lucky with Ferragamo and Woodley.

Ultimately, Manning's 2015 season isn't the worst that has ended with a start in the Super Bowl. That designation likely belongs to Ferragamo, who had better years with the Rams in an otherwise forgettable NFL career. After a trip to Super Bowl XIV in his first year as a starter, Ferragamo bounced back with 30 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in the following year. He played only three more years with the Rams before retiring after short stints with the Buffalo Bills and Green Bay Packers.

A bounce-back year for Manning seems unlikely given many expect Super Bowl 50 to be the 39-year-old's final NFL game. But unlike Ferragamo, Manning doesn't need another season to correct his legacy, which has long since been etched into NFL history. Still, a trip to the Super Bowl with a season as poor as Manning's is a rarity that hasn't happened in over three decades.