Though the NFL places most of its premier quarterback matchups in primetime, few actually live up to expectations.
Sunday's showdown of rookie sensation Deshaun Watson and decorated veteran Russell Wilson proved to be the exception in a thrilling, back-and-forth 41-28 Seahawks victory over the Texans in Seattle. Both quarterbacks elevated their play in clutch time. Watson twice put Houston ahead in the fourth quarter, first on a touchdown pass to running back Lamar Miller and again on a 72-yard catch-and-run connection with wideout DeAndre Hopkins.
However, Wilson wasn't finished. In just a few more magical plays, he had the Seahawks back ahead for good.
So where does Watson vs. Wilson rank among the greatest QB showdowns ever? Here, we rank the 10 best signal-caller showdowns using an evaluation of the quarterbacks' production, flair for the dramatic and what was at stake
10. Johnny Unitas vs. Joe Namath, 1972 Week 2
Combined production: 872 passing yards, eight touchdowns
Final score: Jets 44 - Colts 34
A well-aged Unitas and a still-spritely Namath met for the final time in early 1972, a rematch of Super Bowl III. The two signal-callers directly accounted for all but one of the nine touchdowns scored that afternoon, with the Colts and Jets exchanging leads into the final quarter. Namath put the game out of reach with an 80-yard touchdown pass to Rich Caster, closing the book one of the most explosive games in NFL history. This proved to be the final gasp for both teams in a way, as neither qualified for the playoffs again with their respective Hall of Fame quarterback.
9. Deshaun Watson vs. Russell Wilson, 2017 Week 8
Combined production: 854 passing yards, eight touchdowns
Final score: Seahawks 41, Texans 38
The Seahawks hadn't lost to an AFC team at home since 2011, but the Texans nearly ended the streak. Houston needed the game to remain in a three-way tie atop their division while Seattle looked to keep pace among the NFC's upper tier. Watson became the first rookie quarterback to throw at least three touchdown passes in four consecutive games, furthering his case for Offensive Rookie of the Year. However, Wilson threw for a Seahawks-record 452 yards and made enough ridiculous plays to push his team ahead for good.
8. Bernie Kosar vs. John Elway, 1987 AFC Championship
Combined production: 637 passing yards, six touchdowns
Final score: Broncos 38, Browns 33
For a stretch, Kosar vs. Elway didn't seem like much a QB duel. The Broncos finished the first half with a commanding 21-3 lead and the Browns seemed unable to put much of anything together on offense. The tenor shifted in the second half, with Kosar catching fire to tie the game in the final quarter. Of course, this game came down to "The Fumble," a play that still haunts Cleveland sports to the present day. Still, the fireworks provided by two great signal-callers made the contest an instant classic.
7. Alex Smith vs. Drew Brees, NFC Divisional playoff
Combined production: 761 passing yards, eight touchdowns (including one rushing)
Final score: 49ers 36, Saints 32
The oft-derided Smith turned three of the 49ers' opening four possessions into scoring drives while the Saints produced three turnovers over the same span. Brees put his early hiccups behind him and kicked off a furious comeback, pushing new Orleans ahead in the fourth quarter. However, Smith performed brilliantly during the final minutes, retaking the lead on a 28-yard touchdown run and pulling ahead for the final time on a score to Vernon Davis with nine seconds left in regulation.
6. Steve Young vs. Jim Kelly, 1992 Week 2
Combined production: 852 passing yards, six touchdowns
Final score: Bills 34, 49ers 31
The 49ers' 1992 home opener featured two of the era's great quarterbacks in a matchup many believed would preview Super Bowl XXVII later that season. Young got off to a strong start, leading two scoring drives during the first half to put the Bills behind 14-3. Kelly responded, throwing Buffalo back into the game and eventually carving out a lead in the third quarter. The two signal-callers exchanged blows for the remainder of the game, with the Bills finishing ahead 34-31. Perhaps most impressively, neither team punted at any point during the game.
5. Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, 2009 Week 10
Combined production: 702 passing yards, seven touchdowns
Final score: Colts 35, Patriots 34
Manning and Brady produced many epic battles, but none produced more statistical firepower than their 2009 meeting in Foxborough. The Patriots moved ahead early courtesy of Brady's touchdown passes to Randy Moss and Julian Edelman, maintaining the lead into the final two-minute warning. Peyton Manning had the last laugh, however, hitting wideout Reggie Wayne with just 13 second remaining to seal the win. The victory gave the Colts the necessary edge to secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC, ultimately paving the way for their trip to Super Bowl XLIV.
4. Drew Bledsoe vs. Dan Marino, 1994 Week 1
Combined production: 894 passing yards, nine touchdowns
Final score: Dolphins 39, Patriots 35
Bledsoe had just arrived on the scene while Marino entered the second decade of his NFL career when their teams met to open up the 1994 season. Bledsoe got the better of the wily veteran through three quarters, limiting mistakes and despite attempting more passes than in any game of his career to that point. Marino seized control during the fourth quarter, throwing a 50-yard touchdown pass to Irving Fryer and leading an 11-play scoring drive to put the Dolphins ahead for the first time. It would prove to be the final lead change of the game.
3. Ken O'Brien vs. Dan Marino, 1986 Week 3
Combined production: 927 passing yards, 10 touchdowns
Final score: Jets 51, Dolphins 45
O'Brien spent the previous three years hearing about how the Jets erred in selecting him over Marino, a criticism that reached a fever pitch when the latter led the Dolphins to a Super Bowl in just his second season. While O'Brien never escaped Marino's shadow, he did earn a brief respite by outdueling his rival in an overtime win. The game proved to be the difference between New York and Miami in the final standings.
2. Aaron Rodgers vs. Kurt Warner, 2009 Wild Card playoff
Combined production: 802 passing yards, 10 touchdowns (including one rushing)
Final score: Cardinals 51, Packers 45
This playoff game pitted Rodgers, a future two-time MVP and Super Bowl champion, against Warner, a past two-time MVP and Super Bowl champion. It lived up to the hype, setting a still-standing record for most points in a playoff game (96). If not for the officials missing a blatant facemask penalty in overtime, perhaps the Packers would have emerged victorious. Instead, the game became the final win of Warner's Hall of Fame career.
1. Roger Staubach vs. Terry Bradshaw, Super Bowl XIII
Combined production: 546 yards, seven touchdowns
Final score: Steelers 35, Cowboys 31
By pure volume, the Staubach-Bradshaw matchup in the 13th Super Bowl doesn't quite match the inflated numbers of the contemporary game. However, their production seemed like a work of science fiction by the standards of the 1970s. Until the fourth quarter, the two teams kept within a single score of each other, and the Cowboys remained alive until a failed onside kick during the game's final minute. Not only did Bradshaw help secure the Steelers' their third championship, but he also made John Stallworth's case for the Hall of Fame in the process.