Lists are the one thing in the sports world that can be counted on to consistently fire people up, and that's one thing we don't do enough of here on The Corner: make you angry. Every Monday going forward, Shutdown Corner's going to present a list of five NFL-related somethings.
With all the Game 7s going down recently in the NBA and NHL, it makes a guy think of who's clutch, and who isn't (and if that sentence made you feel self-conscious Simeon Varlamov, I'm very sorry). We start the lists today with the top five clutch quarterbacks in the NFL, a list that was harder to put together than I anticipated.
1. Tom Brady(notes). This part of the list isn't difficult, though, as Handsome Tom of the New England Patriots is an easy choice for top billing. He's been to four Super Bowls, won three of them (and was, in 2001, the youngest to ever win one) and took home MVP trophies from two of them. He holds the NFL record for consecutive postseason wins (10). He once went 26-of-28 (92.9%) passing against Jacksonville in a 2007 playoff game. What else can a man do?
Patriot haters might point to a couple of recent hiccups. Like in 2006, when Peyton Manning(notes) finally toppled him in a playoff game. Or in 2007, when he was finally beaten in a Super Bowl (even though Brady did throw a go-ahead touchdown pass with less than three minutes to play). Even with those, though, Brady is a clear No. 1 , and it's a long way down to No. 2.
2. Ben Roethlisberger(notes). No disrespect to Roethlisberger intended with that last statement, of course, it's just that Brady's set the bar pretty high. If any current quarterback's in a position to catch him, though, it's Benjamin. At age 27, Roethlisberger's already led the Pittsburgh Steelers to two Super Bowl wins and is sitting on a ridiculous 8-2 record in the playoffs. He's also got a pretty respectable list of fourth quarter/overtime comebacks, too.
The knock on Benjamin, as far as this list is concerned, is that he didn't play particularly well in Pittsburgh's first Super Bowl win (9-of-21 for 123 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions), and that's perfectly valid. But he's still got more than enough on the rest of the résumé to claim the No. 2 spot here.
3. Peyton Manning. The list starts to get a little tricky right around here. Until Tom Brady officially takes the field again, Peyton Manning will be my pick for the best quarterback in the game. If it's late in the fourth quarter, and I'm down six points, I will happily trust Peyton Manning to lead that game-winning touchdown drive.
How does he rank on the clutch scale, though? Well, his rep there is largely built on two wins; the Indianapolis Colts' Super Bowl XLI win against Chicago, and the game that got them there, a 38-34 win over the Patriots and nemesis Tom Brady. Manning gets major bonus points for that one, and it required him to lead a comeback from a 21-3 deficit.
Manning is a player who can succeed in the clutch. I have no doubts about that. Still, with a 7-8 record, he's lost more playoff games than he's won. There have been failures, and I suppose those failures could provide an argument to move him down the list. When I look at Manning as a quarterback, though, and forget about the numbers, I see a guy I want with the ball in his hands. There's no way I'd put him lower than third right now.
4. Kurt Warner(notes). For whatever the reasons -- his Arena League background, his "golly gee" nature, the couple of years he rode pine -- Kurt Warner isn't usually a name that immediately comes to mind on a list like this one. But he's got the goods. He's been to three Super Bowls, and he's got one win, and even in the losses, he's played well. He threw for over 350 yards in each. His playoff record is an extremely impressive 8-3.
5. Donovan McNabb(notes). I expect that this will be a controversial selection, but there's no one else better suited for inclusion here. No, McNabb does not have a Super Bowl ring. No, that does not make him a choker. His career playoff record of 9-6, actually, says quite the opposite.
As a tangent on McNabb and as a conclusion to the list, though, let's take a minute to discuss the nature of "clutch." It's harder to nail down for a quarterback than it is for an athlete in most other sports, because so much depends on external factors. Perception is a huge factor, expectations are a huge factor, the quality of opponents, the quality of teammates, injuries, coaching ... it's endless.
For example, do you look at Donovan McNabb's career and say, "Yes, some of those Philadelphia Eagles teams had the talent to win the Super Bowl, and therefore, McNabb is not clutch," or do you think, "Some of those teams weren't super-talented, but McNabb took them deep in the playoffs often, and therefore, he is clutch"?
Do you look at Peyton Manning and say, "He lost to Tom Brady a lot, so he must not be clutch," or do you say, "Well, he ran up against one of the all-time greats, and more often than not, he didn't have quite the defense that Brady did, and therefore, he might be clutch"?
Not only do these factors cloud making a list of who is and isn't clutch, but they cloud the importance and validity of the list's existence. Just something else to think about.
Most Mondays, we probably won't be getting this deep with the Shutdown Five.