NFL’s most clutch quarterbacks
It’s a question that can define a quarterback’s career: Just how “clutch” is the signal-caller, turning around the game in the tightest situation?
Traditionally, the answer to the question was derived simply by looking at the raw number of comebacks led by an NFL quarterback in the fourth quarter or in overtime. But Scott Kacsmar, a contributor to NFL statistics Web site pro-football-reference.com, has come up with another metric.
Instead of just looking at the number of comebacks, Kacsmar decided to look at the percentage of comeback opportunities won. His definition of a comeback opportunity: Any time a quarterback takes the field late in the fourth quarter facing a deficit of between 1 and 8 points.
|In Depth: NFL’s most clutch quarterbacks|
Kacsmar is quick to point out that even this method of calculating comebacks has its flaws. A QB may lead a drive late that puts his team ahead only to have his defense give up a game-losing score. Or, a quarterback may be put in an impossible situation, like getting the ball on his own 20-yard line for a potential game-winning drive with only one second on the clock.
“Drew Brees(notes) has a lot of failed comebacks, but he has thrown five go-ahead touchdowns in games that eventually resulted in losses,” says Kacsmar. “Some defenses are better at protecting leads in the fourth quarter than others.”
But even with those caveats in mind, Kacsmar’s methodology is still fascinating. The Philadelphia Eagles’ Donovan McNabb(notes) has sometimes been seen as a choker. Kacsmar has him ranked in the top 10. And which Manning brother is better in the clutch? You might be surprised.
Behind the numbers
We asked Kacsmar to come up with a list of the top 10 active quarterbacks with the best comeback percentages. We narrowed the list to veteran QBs, that is, ones with at least five seasons under their belts. Some fine young quarterbacks – like the Baltimore Ravens’ Joe Flacco(notes), the Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan(notes) and the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers(notes) – don’t yet have a large enough sample size to draw from.
Topping the list is the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady(notes), who has converted 21 of 33 comeback opportunities (64 percent) in his 10 years in the NFL. Brady has led three fourth-quarter come-from-behind wins on the world’s greatest stage, the Super Bowl. He did it in 2002 (against the St. Louis Rams), in 2004 (against the Carolina Panthers) and in 2005 (against the Philadelphia Eagles).
Maybe Brady learned something when he was a kid: As a young boy, he was in the stands for one of the great comebacks in NFL history: the 1982 NFC Championship game in which Joe Montana hit Dwight Clark in the end zone, in a play known simply as “the Catch,” to lift the San Francisco 49ers over the Dallas Cowboys.
No. 2 is Ben Roethlisberger(notes) of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who has had 16 comebacks in 31 opportunities (52 percent). His greatest came in last year’s Super Bowl, which culminated in a perfect touchdown pass to a tiptoeing Santonio Holmes(notes).
The Brothers Manning
The Colts’ Peyton Manning(notes) may have better career numbers than his younger brother, Giants’ QB Eli, but Eli trumps Peyton in clutchness. Eli, third on our list, has converted 13 comebacks in 27 opportunities (48 percent) to Peyton’s 29 in 65 (45 percent).
Eli’s greatest clutch performance came in the Super Bowl two years ago, when he found Plaxico Burress(notes) in the end zone for a touchdown that would top the previously undefeated Patriots. That drive included David Tyree’s(notes) miraculous catch against his own helmet.
(Eli, Roethlisberger and San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers(notes), all drafted in 2004, all made the top five our list. Click here to read about who we think is the best overall QB of the three.)
And a couple of old gunslingers made the list too. The retired-unretired-retired-unretired Brett Favre(notes) checks in at No. 7. The Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback, now in his 19th season, has converted 29 comebacks in a whopping 93 opportunities (31 percent).
Warner’s career, however, is perhaps the greatest comeback of all: He went from getting released by the Green Bay Packers in 1994, to stocking grocery store shelves, to winning a Super Bowl in 2000 against the Tennessee Titans with a game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
The top five:
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots: Slideshow
2. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: Slideshow
3. Eli Manning(notes), New York Giants: Slideshow
4. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts: Slideshow
5. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers: Slideshow
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