Best Of The Rest: The Greatest Super Bowl Performances From Losing Players

Darren - February 15, 2023

Best Of The Rest: The Greatest Super Bowl Performances From Losing Players

Darren - February 15, 2023

Oftentimes, sports can be cruel. This can be true in many ways, but especially because we rarely talk about losing players. At last weekend’s Super Bowl LVII on February 12, 2023, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts had the game of his life against the Chiefs. Unfortunately for the Eagles quarterback, however, he didn’t win the game. Instead, the narrative turned to Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who also had a great game and won his second Super Bowl ring.

Some argued that Hurts actually deserved the MVP award even though his team lost the game. So today, we’ll focus on the best performances by losing players in Super Bowl history. These players deserve a clear remembering of how they stepped up to the plate. Yes, they wound up on the losing team, but they gave everything they had and put in great performances. Let’s show them the respect and appreciation they deserve.


Devonta Freeman

Freeman might not be on this list if Atlanta decided to keep running the ball in 2017. The running back was enjoying a great game before the Falcons decided to become a synonym for failure. He rushed for 75 yards off 11 carries and also scored a touchdown. But the team underused him and targeted Tevin Coleman instead.

CMG Atlanta

This was a mistake but not the biggest one of the day. Freeman did his part for the team, but in the end, it wasn’t enough. We all know what happened next as they blew a record 25-point lead. The Patriots deserve immense credit for their comeback but the Falcons didn’t do themselves any favors (via USA Today Sports).


Joe Burrow

Many young quarterbacks wilt under the pressure when they play in the Super Bowl, especially their first one. Former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff is a recent example but there have been many more. However, Burrow showed his incredible maturity against the Rams in 2022. The Bengals star played efficiently with 263 yards and a touchdown pass.

Sporting News

He remained in contention for Super Bowl MVP throughout the entire game. In the end, the Rams edged out a narrow win on a heartbreaking day for the Bengals in Inglewood. In the end, L.A.’s Cooper Kupp claimed the individual prize as well as the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award (via DraftKings).

Acme Packing Company

Antonio Freeman

Green Bay played the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII. It was a fun game with some great displays all over the field. In the end, Terrell Davis won the game’s MVP award. The Denver Bronco running back was outstanding but he wasn’t the only productive offensive weapon on the day. Freeman was equally effective for the Packers on the day but people don’t usually talk about losing players.


The Packers star caught nine passes for 126 yards and a pair of touchdowns but Davis managed one more. This was a Super Bowl record and it proved to be decisive. However, on another day, we’d be talking about Freeman’s success. He didn’t get the result he wanted but he improved his reputation (via CBS Sports).

Sports Illustrated

Tom Brady

Everybody spoke about Nick Foles after Super Bowl LII because the backup stepped up with an MVP performance. But the legendary Brady also had a brilliant game for the Patriots. The seven-time Super Bowl winner didn’t emerge victorious after this game. But some losing players emerge with more credit than they started with.


Brady broke the record for most passing yards in a Super Bowl game. He had a costly fumble late in the game but no one is perfect. Brady also threw three touchdown passes as he took on full responsibility. This was arguably one of his best Super Bowl displays despite the loss (via Bleacher Report).

Sports Illustrated

Ken Anderson

Anderson was the Bengals’ starting quarterback in their first-ever Super Bowl appearance. Unfortunately, they met Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers and fell cruelly short. But Anderson had a great game as he entered gunslinger mode. Yes, he threw a couple of interceptions but the rest of his stat line is excellent.


The Cincy QB completed 25 of 34 passes for 300 yards with two touchdown passes and rushing in another score himself. Anderson was also a great leader on the field and kept his team in the game. Losing players don’t get the credit they deserve but Anderson had a fine game (via Cincinnati Enquirer).

Sports Illustrated

Roger Staubach

Staubach was one of the lucky athletes on this list because he retired with multiple winner’s rings. Most losing players don’t get another chance to win a Super Bowl. The two-time champion played for Dallas against the Steelers. However, the Steelers ended his dream of claiming a third in 1979 (via USA Today Sports).


It may seem crazy that Staubach is on this list after he sustained five sacks. But he showed remarkable toughness as he passed for 228 yards and three touchdowns. In the end, this was a three-point game and Staubach kept ‘Americas’ Team’ in contention. Losing players sometimes go down swinging their swords and Staubach was one of these.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Levon Kirkland

Larry Brown won the Super Bowl XXX MVP award. In another life, we’d be praising Kirkland for his phenomenal display. Unfortunately, the linebacker’s brilliance didn’t matter in the end. That’s because his quarterback undermined his performance and threw costly interceptions (via Pittsburgh Steelers).

Pittsburgh Steelers

Super Bowls are often games of fine margins and errors prove very costly. One of Kirkland’s best moments saw him sack Troy Aikman like a bulldozer taking down a brick wall. However, the definitive plays of this game were out of his hands. That’s often the case for losing players on the biggest stage.

Sporting News

Tee Higgins

Cooper Kupp won the Super Bowl LVI MVP award but this was a game of fine margins. If the Bengals pulled off the upset, another receiver might have claimed this prize. We’re talking about Higgins because he was the most productive wideout on the day. Higgins caught four touchdowns for 100 yards and scored two touchdowns.


Arguably, he outshone his star quarterback teammate, Joe Burrow. The losing players had good games but they fell narrowly short against the Rams. Advanced metrics suggested that Higgins didn’t play well but his post-catch delivery was outstanding. Sometimes, stats don’t tell the truth (via Pro Football Network).

Dallas Cowboys

Chuck Howley

Howley is an anomaly on this list because he won the MVP award. Losing players never win this coveted prize in the modern game. Usually, it goes to the winning quarterback unless another attacker has an outstanding game. But Howley had an amazing performance against the Colts in Super Bowl V.

Sports Illustrated

The Dallas linebacker forced interceptions and fumbles in an unbelievable day for the Cowboys’ defense. Unfortunately, Dallas also had a few crucial turnovers and finally conceded the game-winning field goal. But Howley was like a brick wall and earned the respect of the entire nation (via Dallas Cowboys).


Kurt Warner

A strip sack and a pick-six ended Warner’s hopes of another Super Bowl win and the game’s MVP award. But he was outstanding before the final quarter with lethal productivity. He completed 31 of 43 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns. Statistically, he was excellent but it wasn’t enough for the Cardinals (via Sportskeeda).

Arizona Cardinals

Warner’s fairytale career didn’t get the cherry on top that he wanted. At least he won a ring with the Rams during his days with ‘The Greatest Show On Turf.’ Warner also won two MVP awards as he arguably overachieved throughout his career. Everybody knows about his humble origins before he emerged as a Hall of Famer.

Sky Sports

Julio Jones

It may seem crazy that the Falcons have three losing players on this list after their shocking meltdown in 2017. They blew a 25-point lead but there were still some outstanding performances. Jones didn’t touch the ball many times but he was extremely effective. His great moments included a brilliant fourth-quarter catch for 27 yards.

He showed beautiful balance and composure but nobody remembers losing players. Jones only made four catches but achieved 87 yards for his team. Nobody can say that he did anything wrong because he stood up on the day. That’s why Jones was one of the best players of the past decade (via SBNation).


Marshawn Lynch

The Seahawks almost won the Super Bowl in 2015 to go back-to-back. Pete Carroll infamously told Russell Wilson to pass the ball instead of using Lynch to score a rushing touchdown. Malcolm Butler pulled off the interception and the rest is history. Lynch would also have been in with a shot of claiming the game’s MVP award.

Sky Sports

He rushed for 102 yards with a touchdown in a great display for the team. If he scored the game’s winner there’s little doubt that we’d be talking about it today. But losing players don’t receive praise for good displays. That’s the sad reality of life as an elite athlete because we only remember the winners (via USA Today Sports).

Fox News

Jason Kelce

Even if the Eagles won in 2023 against the Chiefs, Kelce’s performance would have gone under the radar. But the big safety delivered on the biggest stage. He proved that he was one of the top losing players in Super Bowl history. Kelce played in 72 snaps but didn’t allow a single pressure or sack in an excellent game (via CBS Sports).


Meanwhile, he excited the crowd with one hard hit that everybody heard around the stadium. Kelce had an emotional reunion with his brother after the game. Travis won his second ring with the Chiefs after he broke records with Patrick Mahomes. But the older Kelce showed his love to his younger, victorious brother.

Boston Globe

Kony Ealy

Ealy didn’t have the best time in Carolina but he chose the right moment to have his best game. The defensive lineman tied a Super Bowl record as he gave Peyton Manning a major headache. He sacked Manning three times as he equaled a Super Bowl record. In the end, the Broncos had too much for the Panthers and they won the game.


But Ealy was like a brick wall as he refused to allow Manning to fire. He also forced a fumble and made an interception in a standout display. Losing players rarely emerge with a lot of credit but this was elite. Ealy only had one more season with the Panthers before he joined New England (via

Sports Illustrated

Steve McNair

McNair was one of the most heroic losing players in Super Bowl history. The Titans quarterback almost led his team to a brilliant comeback in 1999. Tenessee scored 16 unanswered points as they drew level with the Rams. But this game wasn’t over and the Rams took the lead again. McNair stayed calm and led his team down the field.

Sporting News

Somehow the Rams tackled Kevin Dyson on the one-yard line and ended McNair’s Super Bowl dream. Arguably he still had a good claim to win the game’s MVP award because he was brilliant. This was one of the most inspirational and charismatic displays we’ve ever seen (via CBS Sports).

Matt Ryan

Ryan remains one of the best quarterbacks in history without a Super Bowl ring. The former NFL MVP played in 2017 against the Patriots in one of the most infamous games ever. Atlanta suffered a massive meltdown as they dropped a record lead. But Ryan was one of the losing players who emerged with credit.

NBC Sports

The quarterback didn’t throw a single interception in the legacy-defining defeat. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 284 yards and a pair of touchdown passes as he drove his team forward. Lots went wrong for Atlanta that day but Ryan did his best and deserved more from his teammates (via Sports Illustrated).


Larry Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald was one of the best players who never won a Super Bowl. The 11-time Pro Bowler played in the showpiece event in 2009 against the Steelers. Fitzgerald and his quarterback, Kurt Warner, had excellent games. They were two of the top losing players in the event’s history but it’s easy to forget this (via AZCentral).

Arizona Cardinals

The wideout had 127 receiving yards with seven catches and two touchdowns. Arizona fell cruelly short of a momentous victory. Fitzgerald or Warner would likely have won the game’s MVP award but they ran out of time. Fitzgerald joined the likes of Fran Tarkenton and Dan Marino as legends who retired without rings.


Thurman Thomas

The Bills lost four straight Super Bowls as they turned it into an art form. But Thomas gave everything in 1991 against the Giants. He managed to achieve lethal productivity even though the Bills underutilized him. Thomas set the standard for losing players with this heroic display (via Bleacher Report).

Buffalo News

Thurman rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Everything he did was brilliant but the Bills failed to get over the line. This was agonizing for Thurman because he deserved more. It remains shocking that Thomas didn’t get a ring but he won the league’s MVP award. The running back was one of the best players of his generation.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Terrell Owens

Owens is on this list because he had no right to even play in Super Bowl XXXIX. The Eagles star broke his leg in December and also tore a ligament. Everybody wrote him off and assumed there would be a long road to recovery. But Owens belied expectations and started for the Eagles against the Patriots.

NBC Sports

He caught nine passes for 122 yards as he showed no ill effects. Indeed, it’s not the greatest stat line ever but the context improves this story. We often forget losing players’ stories but Owens went through so much. He didn’t win a ring but he won the respect of every NFL fan in the country (via SBNation).

Fox News

Jalen Hurts

Hurts had the game of his life for Philadelphia in Super Bowl LVII. He made history with Patrick Mahomes because it was the first time a pair of African-American quarterbacks started for both teams in the showpiece event. Hurts exploded for three touchdowns as the Eagles pulled off multiple QB sneaks. This was also a Super Bowl record (via CBS Sports).

Men’s Health

The Philly star threw for 300 yards but had one costly fumble that handed Kansas City a touchdown. This was cruel because the Chiefs won by three points. But many people thought that Hurts deserved MVP recognition. Losing players don’t win this award and Mahomes overshadowed him. Nonetheless, Hurts had an exceptional performance for his franchise.