At the 2012 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, sabermetrics god Bill James was asked how he would name a stat representing a pitcher credited with a win despite blowing a save. His (brilliant-as-usual) answer? "BS Wins." As with many things James writes and says, there are multiple meanings, and all should be considered. The basic uptake: If you go out there and throw up the wrong kind of numbers in any sport, and your team somehow pulls your lame butt out of the fire, you should not be rewarded with anything approaching a "win."
This immediately got me thinking about my least-favorite statistic in all of sports: The legendary Quarterback Win. No matter that Mr. QB barfed all over the gridiron last Sunday -- if his team won by virtue of a fumble return, interception return and punt return for touchdown (not to mention, the occasionally equal incompetence of the opposing quarterback) ... well, if we win, he wins. The QB Wins metric is trotted out many times per season to my own extreme annoyance, and Joe Flacco's agent recently used his client's 44-20 won-loss record in the regular season to espouse the notion that Flacco was an elite quarterback, and therefore deserved a contract in line with the NFL's best.
Stats be damned -- this man just wins! Well, maybe not. We need only point to Flacco's performance in the 2009 wild-card playoff win over the New England Patriots, a 33-14 Baltimore whitewash despite Flacco's stat line: Four completions, 10 attempts, 34 yards, and a pick. Were it not for Baltimore's three defensive interceptions and three rushing touchdowns ... well, there's no win for Joe Flacco. Shucks.
In any case, we thought it might be interesting to see which quarterbacks were able to hose it up the most and still wind up on the right end of the scoreboard, despite what nobody in their right minds would call a winning effort.
So, going from the 2000 season through the end of 2011, and using Pro Football Reference's completely awesome Play Index tool, we set the following criteria: Quarterbacks whose teams won a game despite the quarterback throwing at least twice as many interceptions as touchdowns, completing 60 percent of their passes or less, and all on at least 20 passing attempts. Here's the full data if you'd like to investigate; it's pretty interesting stuff.
Brett Favre: 8 BS Wins (2000-2008)
Everybody's favorite gunslinger (and newly minted soy baron) claimed that he wasn't "pissed off" by the Saints' tendency to put him in the line of fire near the end of his career, but he might like his place on our list a little less. And it's pretty predictable that he'd head the list, for two reasons: He has more overall "wins" than anybody else, and he vacillated between transcendent and gawd-awful enough through his career that we're still suffering whiplash as a result.
Favre had two real stinkers during the 2000s -- two games in which the Green Bay Packers won, but he threw zero touchdown passes and three interceptions. There was the 17-9 win over the Detroit Lions in 2006, when the Packers' points came from a Dave Rayner field goal and two Vernand Morency touchdown runs. Favre went 20 of 37 for 174 yards, leaving him with a ghastly 4.7 yards per attempt. Favre also ran twice -- for a 1-yard loss total. Then, there's the 6-3 barnburner over the Philadelphia Eagles in 2000, when Favre "outdueled" Donovan McNabb by going 18 of 31 for 189 yards. This is where Favre and McNabb first intersect, which is entirely appropriate, because McNabb nearly tied Favre as the King of BS Wins in the new Millennium.
Donovan McNabb: 7 BS Wins (2000-2010)
In that loss to the Packers, McNabb completed just 15 of 31 passes for 118 yards and a pick. He deserved to lose that game, but there were more times he stunk up the joint and still had a "W" pinned on his jersey. McNabb never had a zero-touchdown performance in games based on our criteria, but he had quite a few howlers.
Our personal favorite is the Washington Redskins' 17-14 win over the Chicago Bears in 2010. McNabb went 17 of 32 for 200 yards, one touchdown and two picks -- it just so happened that he had the good fortune to be up against Jay Cutler in what might have been Cutler's worst professional performance: 26 completions in 40 attempts for 281 yards, one touchdown and FOUR interceptions. Even more humiliating for Cutler? All four picks came at the hands of DeAngelo Hall. When the reason you win is because you weren't as bad as a guy who got abused by DeAngelo Hall ... however we're setting the bar for winning performance by a quarterback, that ain't it.
Matt Hasselbeck: 7 BS Wins (2001-2011)
Mr. Hasselbeck had two of his seven BS Wins late in the 2011 season with the Tennessee Titans (wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars that each ended in 23-17 scores), but his most interesting BS win came in 2006, a 21-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Hasselbeck completed just 12 passes in 27 attempts for 227 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson, a bête noire for the Seahawks throughout his impressive career, came up with one of those picks and sacked Hasselbeck twice for good measure. However, Seattle's defense sacked Kurt Warner five times, and the Seahawks were able to roll on two rushing touchdowns and a 49-yard touchdown pass from Hasselbeck to Darrell Jackson.
Kerry Collins: 5 BS wins, 2001-2008
Like Vinny Testaverde (who had two BS Wins in 2000 alone; you'll see him a lot more in the historical review), Collins was a good stat collector over a number of years. Perhaps his most offensive "winning" performance came in a Week 2 game in the 2001 season against the Kansas City Chiefs, which the New York Giants pulled out, 13-3, despite Collins' stat line: 20 of 34 for 208 yards, no touchdowns and three picks. Collins targeted Amani Toomer 10 times and got five receptions out of it. But since the Giants' defense went all HAM on the Chiefs, Collins was able to win. Make sense? Of course not! Neither did it make sense for another Giants quarterback a few years later...
Eli Manning: 4 BS wins (2005-2010)
Interestingly enough, Eli had two of his most BS performances in the Giants' Super Bowl year of 2007 -- a 24-17 win over the Washington Redskins (21 of 36, 232 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT), and a 21-16 win over the Chicago Bears (16 of 27, 195 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT). Of course, the most "memorable" Eli game before the Giants turned everything around late in the season was the 41-17 loss against the Minnesota Vikings the week before the Chicago contest -- Eli threw four picks, just one touchdown, and completed 42 percent of his passes.
The week before the Giants almost beat the Patriots in the 2007 regular-season finale, Eli went 7 of 15 for 11 yards and two picks (no touchdowns) against the Buffalo Bills in a 38-21 Giants win. We now know Eli as the two-time Super Bowl MVP and the owner of that "OMG DID YOU SEE THAT THROW?!?!?!?!?!?!?" to Mario Manningham in Super Bowl XLVI, but it's good to remember that even the now-great quarterbacks require development, and there was a time when Eli was, well, kinda bad.
Rex Grossman: 4 BS wins (2006-2011)
Speaking of kinda bad, we have to include Grossman in the narrative, for it was he who put up the single-worst box score among our "winners" -- against the Arizona Cardinals in 2007, Rex completed 14 passes in 37 attempts (a 37.8 percent completion rate!) for 144 yards, no touchdowns and four picks. How did Rex's Chicago Bears win anyway, by a 24-23 score? Take it away, Dennis!