Odds and Burnt Ends: Wait, Where’s the Clutch?

 23 replies

The question was posed on Twitter, which QB would you want when down by 7 in the 4th? Mahomes, of course, but somebody argued that any of the “big three”, Brady, Brees, and Rodgers were the only “right” answer. I hit him with that 4th-and-nine throw against the Ravens, and he hauled out a tired line revolving around longevity. Now longevity is well and good, and NFL history is littered with quarterbacks who take the league by storm in their first season, only to fall apart in their second, but as we all know, Mahomes is different.

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Later on, Mitko commented that he’s got a project going, and it struck me that rather than reply to Mr. Longevity directly on Twitter, I could write up the argument for here, plus tweet it at him. The idea took hold well enough that when I woke up I remembered it, so I figured I was on to something.

Once I had poured my coffee, I settled in at the command station and started doing research. The more I worked on getting the question framed as fairly as possible, the more I refined the question’s parameters, the more interesting the premise became: Just how clutch is Mahomes, compared to the “big three”? So I pulled the game logs from Pro Football Reference to compile these lists.

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After much labor, I arrived at these parameters to compare him to the “big three” To be considered clutch in a game, the QB has to

  • Been down by more than 3 points but less than 14 in the 4th quarter
  • Led the team to at least a touchdown
  • Won the game or forced overtime by doing so
  • Mounted a comeback rather than just swapped touchdowns

Leaving out the touchdown swaps excludes the Rams game, but I think its more than fair to say that both QB’s were clutch in that game. That also serves to balance out the relative strength of competition, considering that the AFC East has been the Patriots’ cupcake for years, and while the Saints had some better divisional competition, Brees lost games by double-digit scores against some lesser teams, which excluded them from consideration entirely due to the game being blown out, so the equalizer is merited.

Blowout wins and losses weren’t considered, but if a QB had the opportunity to mount a comeback and did not score at least 7 in the 4th, I counted it as a loss.

Arriving at these boundaries was largely a matter of trial and error, mainly to not put Mahomes at too great an advantage. The rest was attempting to avoid the “noise” of defensive influence and trim out the temptation to include the other quarters. Those do matter, but the question is about the 4th quarter, not the overall performance. Well mostly, because Brees needs a bit of qualification which I’ll get to after the lists.

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This is also necessarily limited to the 2018 season, because demanding a multi-year record arbitrarily excludes Mahomes. Additionally, one could as easily apply this as a predictor for 2019 as looking at it as an assessment of 2018. There’s just as good a chance of one or more of Brees, Brady, or Rodgers collapsing due to age as there is Mahomes collapsing due to “the league figuring him out” or otherwise being proven incapable.

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With those qualifiers in mind, here are the results I came up with:

Rodgers wins:

  • @Jets
  • vs. 49ers


  • @Bears
  • vs.Cardinals
  • @Vikings
  • @Seahawks
  • @Rams

I’ll pause to say that I believe we can dispense with Rodgers as non-clutch in 2018, since while he had a couple comeback wins, he failed more than twice that amount while chalking up a losing season. Now on to the rest.

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Brady wins:

  • @Kansas City


  • @Lions
  • @Steelers

Brees wins:

  • vs. Steelers
  • @Ravens
  • @Browns
  • @Falcons


  • @Dallas

Mahomes wins:

  • vs. Ravens
  • @Broncos


  • @Patriots
  • @Seahawks
  • vs. Chargers

As you can see, Mahomes’ number of clutch wins/losses are quite comparable to Brady’s, and while Brees looks very clutch compared to the other two, consider who he had to mount comebacks against, as Mahomes beat both the Steelers and the Browns with ease whereas Brees had to mount comebacks, and both of them had wins against the Ravens. That’s coloring a bit outside the lines, but if I don’t it makes Brees appear to be superior to Brady and Mahomes by virtue of digging his way out of holes he dug for himself in the first place.

Now this article isn’t likely to sway anyone who has taken a foolish, public stance to the contrary, not even with Rodgers excluding himself, but it’s easy to see that Mahomes is comfortably in the same class as Brees and Brady. And if we are talking about the upcoming season, there’s an additional reason to prefer Mahomes, in that he can get better. Brady and Brees can only fight to slow their declines, at this point in their careers, and the same goes for Rodgers, and though a bounce-back season from 2018 wouldn’t surprise me, I believe prime Rodgers is in the rear-view mirror now, for the same reason.

In the end, nobody outruns Father Time.

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Reply to  BleedingRedAndGold
06/17/2019 5:55 pm

I definitely appreciate the effort that goes into this kind of statistical research. The concept of clutchness has always been hard to quantify and some statistic geeks even deny its existence. This is the best attempt at measuring it that I’ve seen.
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06/18/2019 12:46 pm

The picture that headlines this series..

Is it some kind of tournament requirement that your brisket be placed on that stupid ass bed of lettuce?

Keyser Söze
06/18/2019 10:20 am

Interesting piece, thanks for linking me to it! I do think that it’s tough to figure this stuff from a one year sample size, but since you’re using Mahomes there’s not much other choice in the matter. Nice job laying out your methodology.

I’ve often thought that “clutchness” is more a matter of ability meeting opportunity. Good QB’s are likely going to be good in the 4th quarter, bad QB’s are likely going to be bad. Given Mahomes is a fantastic QB, it’s not surprising he’d perform well in those situations.

06/18/2019 9:54 am

Father Time eventually got Peyton Manning. Thought that guy was going to go on forever. Now it’s Brady that will just never go away.

In terms of clutch, Mahomes just seems to have what Terez Paylor would refer to as the Juice. He’s just got it. Is he the best yet? Probably not yet. But he’s in the conversation, after just one season. That in and of itself is amazing.

Great stuff.

06/17/2019 12:48 pm

Great stuff. I appreciate your effort to make it fair for the old guys, but the exchanges of touchdowns can’t be blamed on the QB. Neither Brady nor Brees had to beat both the other team’s defense and his own.

Anthony Stratton
06/17/2019 12:22 pm

I love that it requires concerted effort to make it fair to compare other QB’s to Mahomes.

06/17/2019 11:38 am

Nice work

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06/17/2019 11:24 am

Loved the article BRAG!
Question: how do the answers change when you take away the qualifier of swapping TDs and replaced the qualifier of winning with taking the lead.
I feel like in this scenario QBs get punished for
having bad defenses. I watched a lot of saints games and Brees would only have to come back once in the 4th vs Mahomes who would have to give come back over and over since his defense was so terrible

06/17/2019 11:21 am

good article. but i dont understand how Rodgers has a clutch loss against Bears. didnt he mount a comeback on the very first game of the season?

Reply to  BDChiefsFan
06/17/2019 11:27 am

He lost 24-17 @ CHI. He did come back at home, but I don’t know if it counts since he left for 2 quarters with an injury.

Reply to  BDChiefsFan
06/17/2019 11:51 am

Green Bay drafts their QBOTF this year in the top 10…

06/17/2019 12:53 pm


06/17/2019 10:45 am

Good food BRAG. Thanks for your time.

06/17/2019 10:39 am

This was good, and a fun read. Thanks for going into your background and methodology and stuff as well, instead of just hitting us with a bunch of random numbers. (This isn’t a math class, after all.)

You – and the rest of the writers here at AG – do really good work in explaining this stuff to those of us who are less than knowledgeable about the intricacies of football stat comparisons.

06/17/2019 9:38 am

Great write up – I’ll also say that outside of my obvious favorite, Brees is also the most likable of the other 3. I’m to the point where I just can’t stand to look at Brady or Roger’s dumb face anymore.

06/17/2019 9:30 am

Great article here man!

06/17/2019 9:09 am

Pretty dang good article BRAG.

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