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Matthew Stafford Vs. The Greats: Joe Montana

Seeing if there are any similarities between Matthew Stafford and Joe Montana.

DIRECTV's Sixth Annual Celebrity Beach Bowl - Game Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for DirecTV

Welcome to the comparison between the............. Joe Montana...... and...... the............. Matthew Stafford. I don’t believe it, it’s starting to............. rain. If you’re 28 or older, you totally get the reference here. If you’re not, this is from the Sega classic NFL Football 94: Starring Joe Montana. Check out these sweet graphics.

This used to be one of my favorite games for two reasons. First, Barry Sanders was unstoppable. All you had to do was hit the spin button. Secondly, Mel Gray could take it to the house two to three times a game. Oh, and Joe Montana was on it too. That’s three reasons, I guess.

This really was my only exposure to Joe Montana outside of my Aunt Linda keeping one of his trading cards on the fridge because he “had a cute butt.” You have to figure, I was only nine when this game came out. Montana would later retire after the 1994 season.

So everything I know about Montana has come from lore and old flashback videos like “the catch.” My understanding is that he’s one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. And apparently a pretty good tackler too.

But today I’m here to slightly disagree. When I asked football fans to name their top five quarterbacks of all time, I was expecting Brett Favre, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino. I was not at all expecting Montana. I thought John Elway, Roger Staubach or even Y.A. Tittle would make the list. Joe Cool was a surprise.

The reason I say that is this Joe Montana only played four full seasons in his 15-year career. He otherwise missed 48 games. This man was constantly injured. He also didn’t particular light up the scoreboard. You’ll see that later in the stats.

But what Montana did do is quarterback the greatest team of the 80s that won four Super Bowls, and he’s won a ton of awards. I’ll give him that. But to me, he just doesn’t stick out like the other great quarterbacks that played in his era. That’s simply a personal opinion. I’m sure i’ll hear about it in the comment section.

Regardless of my hot take, I still see a lot of similarities between Stafford and Montana. Apparently I’m not alone in this thought either. Pro Football Reference has Matthew Stafford listed quite high in their results of players that are similar to Montana. I don’t think it’s a stat game here, but I will show you the stats anyways.

The Stats

Stafford vs. Montana (Full career)

Quarterback Joe Montana Matthew Stafford
Quarterback Joe Montana Matthew Stafford
Completions 3,409 2,634
Attempts 5,391 4,285
Comp % 63 61.5
Yards 40,551 30,303
Touchdowns 273 187
INT 139 108
Rate 92.3 86.8

Perhaps I spoke too soon on Montana. While I still don’t think I’d put Montana in my top five, it’s pretty clear the guy was quite accurate, and his passer rating makes Stafford look like a scared little boy. That is something that seems to be the norm in these pieces.

What else is clear is that Matthew Stafford will have no problem passing Joe Montana in every record book ever written. Using Stafford’s averages when healthy, shows that he’ll pass Montana in yards and touchdowns in just three seasons. For a guy that I believe will one day hold the record for most career passing yards, this seems like a forgone conclusion. I wonder what Montana’s early stats tell us.

Stafford vs. Montana (First 8 years)

Quarterback Joe Montana Matthew Stafford
Quarterback Joe Montana Matthew Stafford
Completions 1,818 2,634
Attempts 2,878 4,285
Comp % 63 61.5
Yards 21,498 30,303
Touchdowns 141 187
INT 76 108
Rate 91.2 86.8

There’s something to really keep in mind here. These are different eras. It makes you wonder what Montana’s career would be like if he played today. Back to what we have here. Clearly Montana is the more accurate passer, but he clearly did not throw the ball nearly as much as Stafford has. And that’s a result of the game being a much different animal now.

A little experiment I wanted to do

I keep looking at the rate and completion percentage of Brady and Manning and now Montana, and I keep coming to the conclusion that they are incredible. Is Matthew Stafford really this inaccurate? Is his rate of play really this bad?

Or is it his first two seasons that are dragging down the average? Let’s do a little math. And yes, I was right. Stafford may be better than any of us are giving him credit for. If you take out the waste that was his first two years in the league where he was injury prone and barely played, his completion percentage comes out at 62.3 and his passer rating is 89.3. That’s pretty good. Unfortunately it doesn’t count in the stat world.


Joe Montana had a lot of nicknames in his career. Joe Cool, Golden Joe, Bird Legs? But the one that sticks out the most and bonds the two together is The Comeback Kid. If there is one thing that we know about Stafford above everything else, it’s that he is the current comeback kid of the NFL.

We’ve watched Stafford help drag the Lions out of the pits of despair and into paradise. In 2016 it happened on nearly a week-to-week basis. The Lions set the record for most fourth quarter comeback wins in a season in 2016.

Normally I’m not about quarterback wins, and you won’t see me give Stafford all the credit over his other 52 teammates. But something happens to Stafford in the fourth quarter. He’s like Jordan in Game 6, the Undertaker at Wrestlemania or Reggie Jackson in the World Series. He’s just at home and it’s his game.

Joe Montana as the very same way. Just when you were ready to count the 49ers or the Chiefs out, Joe Cool stepped up and made things happen. Perhaps his most memorable comeback, outside of the catch, was his last.

And that’s all well and good. Great effort, Joe. But nothing beats a grown man’s crackling voice screaming “Riley!!! Riley!!!!” Go ahead and watch it again. You know you want to.


There’s two things to conclude here. The first is that these guys are likely to go down as the league’s two best comeback artists in NFL history. Quote me on that, if you’d like. The other is that they’re both mobile when they need to be. Montana has over 1,000 rushing yards. Stafford will likely hit 1,000 in 2017.

Other than that, not much to see here. Montana is a pretty accurate, but not a dead-on accurate quarterback that played with one of the greatest wide receivers in history and specialized in comeback victories. Wait a minute...

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