Clutch Encounters
A look at Sunday's fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drive opportunities

Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Scott Kacsmar

Start spreading the news. Cleveland ended the fourth-longest winless streak (19 games) in NFL history by coming back to beat the Jets, 21-17, on Thursday night.

Things certainly did not start well with a 14-0 deficit for the Browns, a team that for over a decade has almost never been able to come back after falling behind big in a game. From 2008 through 2017, the Browns were 1-72 when trailing by at least 14 points in a game. After three weeks of the 2018 season, that record has improved to 2-72-1. The 2018 Browns might even be 3-0 had they been able to execute a few field goals and extra points against the Steelers and Saints the last two weeks.

But this night would not have gone well if a little luck did not intervene. Despite head coach Hue Jackson profusely claiming that No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield would serve as the backup for his rookie season, Mayfield made his pro debut in Week 3. It sure helped that starter Tyrod Taylor left the game with a concussion, but with the way Cleveland's offense was struggling, Mayfield's entry into the game may have been inevitable.

Mayfield's performance and the way it ignited a team turnaround was nothing short of remarkable. In a special Friday edition of Clutch Encounters, we'll look at some points of interest from the first Cleveland win since December 24, 2016.

Setting the Stage

For the first 28 minutes this really did look like a lost cause for the Browns on a night most people felt they could win a game. In fact, it was the first time since Week 12 of the 2015 season that Cleveland (-3) was favored by more than 2 points. The Browns started with six punts and some horrendous play-calling from offensive coordinator Todd Haley. We're talking about a bubble screen on third-and-14 with the ball just outside of field goal range, and a quarterback draw (inside the Cleveland 40) that still allowed a free rusher after Taylor. Even when Taylor had time to throw and an open receiver, he missed a few completions he has to make to justify his starting position.

It's hard to say any quarterback who is 4-of-14 for 19 yards with 3 sacks is pulling his weight, but the Browns as a whole looked lifeless on those six drives with Taylor. Mayfield entered the game with 1:42 left in the second quarter and immediately hit two completions for 31 yards. He was fortunate his teammates recovered a fumble on his third play, but he finished the drive with points as new kicker Greg Joseph made a 45-yard field goal to make it 14-3 at halftime.

Mayfield threw for 47 yards on his first drive, which was more yardage than Taylor (19) and Sam Darnold (45) had in the whole first half.

Baker's First Game-Winning Drive

Mayfield is used to playing in a shotgun-heavy, up-tempo offense from his college days. It wasn't too surprising to see him have early success in a two-minute offense situation, but how would he fare running a more conventional offense called by Haley on a short week where he didn't get first-team reps? As the second half showed: pretty damn good.

Unlike when Taylor was in the game, Mayfield displayed rhythmic, on-time passing while also extending the play a few times to make good throws. His 29-yard completion to Jarvis Landry was a great catch in the third quarter and Cleveland's longest play of the night. Miami quarterbacks were 2-of-9 on passes thrown at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage to Landry last season. In three games with Cleveland this year, quarterbacks are 3-of-5 on such deep throws to Landry. That last one set up Carlos Hyde for a 1-yard touchdown run, which was then answered by Cleveland's version of the Philly Special for a two-point conversion to tie the game. Mayfield caught the pass from Landry to tie the game at 14.

The Jets did not show much offensively on the night, especially in the passing game. Some of Darnold's best completions were screen passes on third down to Quincy Enunwa that caught the aggressive Browns out of position a few times. One of those conversions led to a 28-yard field goal that put the Jets back on top 17-14 with 8:56 to play.

Mayfield started his first ever game-winning drive opportunity with a perfect deep pass that rookie Antonio Callaway was unable to secure down the left sideline. Landry later dropped an easy completion on the drive, so Mayfield actually had three drops on his way to a night of 17-of-23 for 201 passing yards. Landry also had an illegal block penalty that negated a touchdown and a shovel pass for no gain on the drive, but those actually ended up helping the Browns run more clock. Instead of scoring a touchdown with 4:47 left, the need to run five more plays ended up leaving the Jets with just 2:04 to answer, trailing 21-17.

The Darnold Denouement

With the Cleveland faithful sensing a victory, Darnold had a chance to lead a soul-crushing 75-yard drive for a winning touchdown that would always make us remember the first meeting between the top two quarterbacks taken in the 2018 draft. But after seeing the struggles Darnold had in getting any chunk plays for 58 minutes, I felt pretty confident that this one was headed for disappointment.

He almost started the drive with an interception on a deflection from a poorly thrown screen pass. When the Jets quickly faced fourth-and-10 with 1:48 left, FOX's Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were surprised the Jets weren't punting the ball. In 2018, it seems crazy that we're still hearing this. Had the Jets been down 24-17, then I could see an argument for punting from the 25 with three timeouts left rather than put the game on Darnold to convert a fourth-and-10. However, it was 21-17 and the Jets needed a touchdown no matter what. They absolutely should not have punted, and Darnold made the call look good by converting with a fine throw. Unfortunately, he may have rushed the next play to avoid a review and made a pretty brutal rookie mistake (under pressure) by throwing right into coverage for an interception. Joe Schobert made the pick, but T.J. Carrie was right there as well.

The game wasn't over since the Jets still had all three timeouts with 1:21 left. I did not mind Cleveland staying conservative with three runs to make the Jets burn those timeouts, but may have considered going for it on fourth-and-2 at the 35 to end the game with a sure win. Darnold was going to be up against a long field either way, but for as much as things go wrong for Cleveland, it would have been nice to end the game on their own terms offensively. At least the punt was good, pinning Darnold at his own 6 with 56 seconds left.

Darnold finally hit a 25-yard gain out of desperation, but he also took a sack by Myles Garrett while trying to throw the ball away. He didn't get rid of the ball in time and the Jets were really up against it with 15 seconds left. Another desperation throw from Darnold was intercepted by Terrance Mitchell to finally seal the long-awaited Cleveland victory. Mayfield finished with a 95.4 QBR, the highest game by a Cleveland quarterback with at least 20 passes since Derek Anderson in 2007 according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Mayfield technically doesn't get the win in the NFL record books since Taylor started the game, but it's his first fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive. He's the first quarterback to make a 14-point comeback in his NFL debut since Harvard alumnus Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2005. That's a good flashback, but I think this one could be more like when Brett Favre replaced an injured Don Majkowski for the 1992 Packers and led a 14-point comeback win against the Bengals in his first memorable game.

Favre started the following week and the rest was history. Cleveland fans hope this can be the first chapter of a new era, but Jackson says he has to watch the tape before he makes that type of decision.

Cut the Crap: Draft Him, Start Him

Obviously the first question after last night's game is would the Browns be 3-0 had Mayfield started the season? We can't say for sure how those games would have played out, but the defense certainly stopped the Steelers and Saints enough to make those contests winnable despite ineffective quarterback play.

The bigger question is why would the Browns purposely delay Mayfield's debut that may not have even happened last night if Taylor didn't have a concussion? If a team is so confident to make a player the first overall pick, how do they not get him on the field as soon as possible? This same team started second-round quarterback DeShone Kizer last year in Week 1 against a Pittsburgh team coming off an AFC Championship Game loss. That actually ended up being one of Kizer's best games in a putrid rookie year that led to the team drafting Mayfield.

Earlier this week after Cleveland's second game of the season, Hue Jackson said that "It's time" in regards to fourth-round rookie receiver Antonio Callaway replacing Josh Gordon, who the Browns just traded to New England. Why is it fine to go with a fourth-round pick in a big role, but continue to keep the No. 1 pick in the draft on the bench? How would putting Mayfield out there 11 days ago ruin his future?

No position gets coddled like quarterback despite the fact that this era has featured the most successful stretch of rookie quarterback play in NFL history. Ever since Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco in 2008, 21 rookie quarterbacks have started in Week 1. From the 1970 merger through 2007, 21 true rookie quarterbacks started in Week 1. That's the same amount, but in 38 seasons compared to 11 years. This season, only Sam Darnold started in Week 1 after a first round that featured five quarterbacks.

Jackson is just the latest coach to prove he doesn't really know what his team is doing with the most important position. Let's look at some recent examples of coaches saying one thing and doing the opposite with their first-round quarterback.

Sean McDermott and Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

Remember when those flashy preseason stats by Nathan Peterman caught Sean McDermott's eye?

McDermott on 9/3/2018:

“Nate has earned the right,” coach Sean McDermott said. “I thought his total body of work, all the way back from the spring through the summer and fall camp to this point, he has certainly earned the right.”

Six days later: Peterman was benched at halftime in the season opener for Josh Allen, who made his first start in Week 2.

Bill O'Brien and Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans

It seems preposterous now to think that Tom Savage beat out Deshaun Watson for the 2017 Texans, but that happened.

O'Brien on 8/22/2017:

"Deshaun is a very, very good young player who has a bright future in this league," O'Brien said. "Let's put the cards on the table, but Tom has been here for four years. The way we want to play, the style relative to getting guys lined up, protection points, route reads, putting guys in the right spots, Tom's ahead of Deshaun."

Nineteen days later: Savage was benched at halftime in the season opener for Watson, who made his first start in Week 2. The Texans averaged 21 fewer points per game without Watson last season.

John Fox/GM Ryan Pace and Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears

When the Bears traded up to No. 2 to take Mitchell Trubisky in 2017, the plan was that he would be a red-shirt rookie after the team signed Mike Glennon to a deal that would pay him $18.5 million for the first season. General manager Ryan Pace reportedly overruled former head coach John Fox on starting Trubisky sooner because of the Glennon contract he thought would work out.

Pace on 9/6/2017:

"(Glennon is) a very smart, intelligent player," Pace said. "There's a lot that went into that evaluation. He has a lot of experience that we're leaning on. He was voted a captain for a reason by that locker room. We're ready to watch it unfold."

One month later: They watched it unfold for four miserable weeks before Trubisky took over for good in Week 5.

Gus Bradley and Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars

When the Jaguars drafted Blake Bortles No. 3 overall in 2014, head coach Gus Bradley was quick to lay out the team's plan that would make Bortles a redshirt rookie behind veteran Chad Henne.

Bradley from May 2014:

"We do feel good about where Blake's at, but we feel like this time that he has under Chad, a year to develop, will be really good for him in the end result. So our plan is to stay really strong with this."

September: With the Jaguars down 30-0 and on their way to 0-3, Bortles replaced Henne and made his first start in Week 4.

Notable Quarterbacks' First Start

Jackson will hopefully stop being coy and make Mayfield the Week 4 starter, his first official NFL start. How does that stack up historically? Brett Favre had to wait until his 20th regular-season game to make his first start, the longest wait for any of the 26 modern-era quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame. No, I'm not putting Mayfield in Canton after one night, but greatness is the goal, is it not?

The next-longest wait for a future Hall of Famer will eventually belong to Aaron Rodgers (49), who of course had to sit behind Favre in Green Bay for three full seasons. Those really are some of the outliers when you look at how quickly quarterbacks made their first start from the groups listed below that went on to win a Super Bowl, win an Associated Press Most Valuable Player Award, or make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We also added 33 more notable quarterbacks, including many 2018 starters.

Super Bowl Winning QBs AP MVP QBs (Since 1966) Modern Era HOF QBs 33 Other Notable QBs
Player First Start Player First Start Player First Start Player First Start
Doug Williams 1 Bert Jones 1 Jim Kelly 1 Andrew Luck 1
Jim Plunkett 1 Cam Newton 1 John Elway 1 Andy Dalton 1
Joe Flacco 1 John Elway 1 Otto Graham 1 Carson Wentz 1
John Elway 1 Matt Ryan 1 Roger Staubach 1 Dak Prescott 1
Peyton Manning 1 Peyton Manning 1 Terry Bradshaw 1 Derek Carr 1
Roger Staubach 1 Terry Bradshaw 1 Troy Aikman 1 Drew Bledsoe 1
Russell Wilson 1 Fran Tarkenton 2 Warren Moon 1 Jameis Winston 1
Terry Bradshaw 1 Joe Namath 3 Bob Griese 2 Marcus Mariota 1
Troy Aikman 1 Ken Anderson 4 Fran Tarkenton 2 Matthew Stafford 1
Bob Griese 2 Earl Morrall 5 Y.A. Tittle 2 Ryan Tannehill 1
Ben Roethlisberger 3 Johnny Unitas 5 Joe Namath 3 Sam Bradford 1
Jim McMahon 3 Boomer Esiason 6 Sonny Jurgensen 3 Deshaun Watson 2
Joe Namath 3 Dan Marino 6 Dan Fouts 5 Randall Cunningham 2
Johnny Unitas 5 Bart Starr 8 Johnny Unitas 5 John Hadl 3
Phil Simms 6 Brian Sipe 8 Dan Marino 6 Jeff Garcia 4
Player First Start Player First Start Player First Start Player First Start
Trent Dilfer 7 Roman Gabriel 11 Bob Waterfield N/A (1-7) Alex Smith 5
Bart Starr 8 John Brodie 12 Bart Starr 8 Bernie Kosar 6
Len Dawson 9 Steve Young 12 Len Dawson 9 Don Meredith 7
Eli Manning 10 Daryle Lamonica 13 Bobby Layne N/A (<12) Michael Vick 8
Nick Foles 10 Joe Montana 14 George Blanda N/A (<12) Donovan McNabb 10
Steve Young 12 Steve McNair 15 Steve Young 12 Jared Goff 10
Joe Montana 14 Kurt Warner 17 Norm Van Brocklin 13 Vinny Testaverde 12
Drew Brees 17 Ken Stabler 19 Joe Montana 14 Frank Ryan 14
Kurt Warner 17 Tom Brady 19 Kurt Warner 17 Kirk Cousins 14
Ken Stabler 19 Brett Favre 20 Ken Stabler 19 Carson Palmer 17
Mark Rypien 19 Joe Theismann 33 Brett Favre 20 Daunte Culpepper 17
Tom Brady 19 Aaron Rodgers 49 Average (26 QB) ~6.9 Ron Jaworski 28
Brett Favre 20 Rich Gannon 51 Dave Krieg 30
Joe Theismann 33 Average (28 QB) 12.1 Jimmy Garoppolo 33
Aaron Rodgers 49 Matt Hasselbeck 33
Brad Johnson 66 Philip Rivers 33
Jeff Hostetler 76 Mark Brunell 35
Average (32 QB) 13.6 Tony Romo 55

Note: not all of these quarterbacks held onto the job after their first start. For example, Roger Staubach started his first game in 1969, but notoriously had to battle Craig Morton for a few years to win the job for head coach Tom Landry. In the case of some pre-1950 quarterbacks, start data is not reliable so estimates were used. For any quarterback active in 1987, 15 games was used even though he likely would have sat out the three replacement games during the strike that year.

For the most part, once that seal is broken and the quarterback is taken out of the plastic wrap, there is no turning back. You either play with him or discard him, and much like a little kid with his toys, it doesn't take that long to figure out if you have a good one you like or not.


40 comments, Last at 24 Sep 2018, 6:05pm

1 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

Gotta disagree with the notion that Mayfield should have started the season
Last night you saw the difference between a guy playing a game with zero pressure(Mayfield) and a guy playing with the weight of the world on his shoulders (Darnold)
Mayfield could not have gone into the game with a better situation
Browns were already down
The offense looked terrible
At home
Guy had nothing to lose

I have to agree with Jackson not having Mayfield start the season and I think that decision showed last night and will show in the future
Not damning Darnold, I just think that starting qbs behind bad teams has a history of backfiring and ruining a qbs confidence

24 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

Agree - also, the first 11 days and nearly 2 1/2 games of the season is an eternity on a rookie QB's learning curve, much as Scott's otherwise exemplary analysis tries to minimize.

Basically agree with the commonly-stated what-if about how Rodgers et al started day 1 what would've happened with them.

2 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

I'm hoping this puts the nail in the "you can win with Tyrod Taylor" argument.

Two years ago? Yes. Now? No.

3 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

It's interesting how opinion has shifted on QBs. It used to be gospel that giving QBs time to learn the game and the system was better for the development. I still believe that. You mentioned Rodgers, but Steve Young sitting for so long behind Montana is another example. Play them right away and they develop bad habits that are very, very hard to break (see: Steve Young in Tampa).

I honestly believe that if Rodgers had started Day 1 he would be an average QB at best.

12 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

I agree with you on this, but every prospect is different. Baker Mayfield was a four year starter who walked on twice at major colleges and started immediately over other guys. You can make a good argument that he was ready from day one. As a Jets fan, I was hoping they would hold onto Teddy Bridgewater and let Darnold come in later in the season. Nothing that happened in preseason should have changed that; Teddy was the better quarterback, not that much better, but still better. If the Jets had started Bridgewater, it's possible they are 3-0 right now.
The thing is, neither the Jets nor the Browns are playing for this year so much. The Jets want to be competitive and win, but they're fine missing the playoffs as long as Darnold improves. He needs to not make a play like his first interception last night, where he threw out of desperation when he did not have to. Also, if he gets benched for McCown, it could impact him later on.
When Bill Walsh drafted Joe Montana, he sat him for the first year and then rotated starts between DeBerg and Montana. That seems an underrated approach that worked out well in the end.

15 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

Of the 21 QB's from 2008-2017 who started the 1st game of their rookie year about 70% turned out to be at least above replacement level. Of the 70 or so who attempted their first pass (too hard for me to figure out 1st start on PFR) after game 1 of rookie year, I count 2 for sure decent QB's (Bridgewater & Cousins) and 5 to be determined (Mahomes, Foles, Keenum, Bortles & Garopolo ). OF those 70 only 7 threw there first pass in year 2+ and the only possible decent one is Keenum. So it seems that if rookie QB's don't start right away they probably won't be any good. But this is a different era, so you might be correct about Rodgers

4 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

"Had the Jets been down 24-17, then I could see an argument for punting from the 25 with three timeouts left rather than put the game on Darnold to convert a fourth-and-10. However, it was 21-17 and the Jets needed a touchdown no matter what."

Given the phrasing of the last sentence, I think you meant "Had the Jets been down 20-17".

8 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

I think the idea is that if the Jets don't convert, CLE gets the ball back, runs 3 times, then (worst case scenario) gets a FG, the Jets would still need a TD being down 24-17 after a CLE FG. If CLE gets a first down, Jets lose, no matter where CLE has the ball. If the Jets punt (down 4 or 7), then CLE goes 3-and-out, the Jets would have a possible punt return and a chance to win/tie (which is basically what happened after the 4th down conversion and subsequent INT).
In an alternate world where the Jets are down a TD, then fail on 4th down from the 25, CLE has a realistic chance to either 1--run out the clock if they pick up a 1st down, or 2--make the Jets burn their TO's, then attempt a FG on 4th down. If CLE converts, Jets are down 10, game over. Even if CLE misses the FG, the Jets get the ball back around the same yard line, but with less time and no TO's--and that would be the best-case scenario. So--best chance in this alternate world scenario is punt it back to CLE, so that if CLE doesn't convert the first down, they can't attempt a FG--they would have to punt it back. And let's face it--Hue Jackson didn't go for it on 4th and short on the Jets' side of the field in real life--he certainly wouldn't go for a 4th and inches in his own end had the Jets punted in this alternate world.

To reply to the last sentence of comment #5 below--I have no problem with punting it there versus going for it--the Browns defense is their best unit, and the Jets offense isn't their best unit. Also, b/c of the distance to go, it is reasonably defensible. If it's 4th and more than 2, I think we would all punt--make the rookie drive the length of the field in under a minute with no TO's. If it is 4th and 1 or 4th and inches, I think most everyone would (and SHOULD) go for it.

20 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

The way I read it was given that down 21-17 the Jets had to have a touchdown regardless, so they should have gone for it. But being down 24-17 *also* means that the Jets had to have a touchdown. So he seemed to be saying that a punt was acceptable ONLY if the Jets needed a field goal.

5 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

I'm another who doesn't have a problem with Mayfield or most other rookies sitting a couple games. Unless you're a Manning or Luck, chances are you didn't get to be on the sidelines during an NFL game and see the speed of the game and the other nuances between the college and pro game. You can simulate it in preseason and practice, but it's different during the regular season.

I do think that after two games of ineffective play from Taylor, it was time to at least try Mayfield. Taylor could use the weather as an excuse in the season opener, but he was perfectly awful in their second. I'm not sure if anyone on the planet understands Hue Jackson's reasons for not starting Mayfield last night. It's probably the same logic he used to punt with about a minute left rather than go for it on fourth down and seal the game.

7 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

"Obviously the first question after last night's game is would the Browns be 3-0 had Mayfield started the season?"

Shouldn't the question be: 'Would the Browns be 3-0 had Greg Joseph started the season?'

10 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

I questioned Jackson's decision to punt in the 3rd down 14-3 on New York's 45. The punt was downed on the 12 for just 32 yards of field position. It worked out for them since the Jets' Anderson fumbled (after getting a first down) but you can't count on fumbles working out like that. In a game where through 3 1/2 quarters you have only 3 points on the board I don't think punting was the right call. Give your QB a chance to pick up the 4 yards and you're automatically in field goal range at least.

18 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

I remember Eli having that syndrome for years, too. He was ineffective in the regular offense, but late and close he was quite good, because he really really good in the hurry up. Eventually they switched to more of a hurry-up offense and he was solid for a few years.

14 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

Most of the media (ESPN, Gang Green Nation, maybe the New York papers, etc.) are selling this as a massively embarrassing loss for the Jets. I don't think it will look like that by the end of the year; with Mayfield, the Browns will end up at least 6-10, with most of their losses respectable. They might even squeak into 9-7 or better. I'm glad Mayfield's in, and the thought that the Browns messed up with their first pick should be put to bed now, or soon; we'll see what he does to the Raiders. I'm not happy this win came against my favorite team, but I'm thinking people will forget it soon, at least as soon as the eleventh of November, when the Jets give the Bills their only victory of 2018.

19 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

"with Mayfield, the Browns will end up at least 6-10, with most of their losses respectable. They might even squeak into 9-7 or better."
Your optimism for Cleveland is pretty strong. They just one their most winnable game, at home, by a 1-score margin. Their remaining home games are: Ravens, Chargers, Chiefs, Falcons, Panthers, Bengals.
Their road games are: Raiders, Bucs, Steelers, Bengals, Texans, Broncos, Ravens.

Sure, they could be 3-0 with average or better kicking; if they were, I'd argue that 8-8 may be within the realm of possibility. And that defense looks legitimately good. But I think 6 wins is the optimistic high for the 2018 Browns.
3 games. It takes 3 games of tape for opposing defenses to figure out a QB's tendencies. Let's see how well Mayfield is doing by Week 7.
(FWIW, I do think the Browns may finally have a legitimate long-term QB, as long as they know how to nurture and develop him, rather than toss him through the man-sized Play-Doh Fun Factory that Hue Jackson apparently had installed when he was hired).

36 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

Jim Mora-isms aside about where the Browns will finish...

ah, yes, the old schedule game, the same one that was used to predict that the Jets would be the ones who would go oh-fur going the 2017 season.

This Jets team is much more talented than the team that drastically exceeded expectations last year, and the Raiders and Ravens "could" end up being messes, to say nothing of the Texans' surprising struggles or the Steelers possibly continuing to unravel, etc.

I think a lot of it is IMHO Bowles is a well-above-average coach and is worth multiple wins by himself.

29 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

" are selling this as a massively embarrassing loss for the Jets. I don't think it will look like that by the end of the year; with Mayfield, the Browns will end up at least 6-10, with most of their losses respectable. They might even squeak into 9-7 or better. I'm glad Mayfield's in, and the thought that the Browns messed up with their first pick should be put to bed now, or soon"

Well, it's not that they lost but how they lost...

38 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

The difference is not as big as you might infer from Mehlage's "most" quantifier, though - 62.4%-56.6%

The 06-14 time range given, though, came before perhaps the most embarrassing TNF home loss of all time - the 2015 Browns-Ravens "kick-six."

That road win by the injury-decimated Ravens, who were essentially fielding an expansion team with Matt Schaub under center, should count as multiple wins and make up that 5.8% difference by itself. :-P

17 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

Warren Moon started 94 games in the CFL. His first NFL start was in his 7th professional season.
Jim Kelly started 36 games in the USFL. His first NFL start was in his 3rd professional season.
Kurt Warner started 42 games in the Arena football league and 10 games in NFL Europe, after having been cut as an NFL rookie. His first NFL start was in his 7th professional season.
Steve Young started 22 games in the USFL before going to Tampa. His first NFL start was in his 3rd professional season, if you could call the mid-80s Bucs an NFL team.

25 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

The thing about this data that I'd like to use as a basis for comparison:

Of first-round QBs who flamed out, when did they start their first game?

The data we're given only tells us that great QBs tend to start games early in their career. That's well and good, but all it says is that great QBs tend to get early starts. If we don't have a comparison against bad QBs who flamed out–i.e. the Johnny Manziels and JaMarcus Russells of the game–it can't be definitively argued that "starting a QB early is a good thing." It might just be that in the modern NFL, first-round QBs tend to start at some point in their first season.

Continuing on this train of thought with a few facts:

1: John Elway and Robert Staubach started the first game of their rookie season and went on to long and storied careers.
2: Steve Young and Aaron Rodgers had to sit on the bench behind great quarterbacks before they became great.
3: Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell started the first game of their rookie season and both flamed out quickly.

Given these three facts in isolation from each other, you can draw a conclusion from each.

Conclusion one: QBs who start the first game of their rookie season go on to long and storied careers.
Conclusion two: QBs who sit behind great QBs become great QBs themselves.
Conclusion three: QBs who start the first game of their rookie season will flame out quickly.

And now, the counterarguments:

Counterargument 1: Conclusion three defies the hypothesis of conclusion one.
Counterargument 2: Bryan Hoyer sat behind Tom Brady. Brock Osweiler sat behind Peyton Manning. I'm sure you can find plenty of other examples.
Counterargument 3: Conclusion one defies the hypothesis of conclusion three.

None of this is meant to suggest that you shouldn't throw a rookie in there or that you shouldn't let the rookie sit and learn. The point is more that while the data presented attempt to suggest that starting rookies is the best course of action, it only looks at successful QBs and ignores unsuccessful rookies. It might be that rookies just get starts early on nowadays and there's no correlation; that rookies who start earlier generally do better; or that rookies who sit actually do better. Either way, the data don't do much to prove the argument.

tl;dr: I wrote a long, rambling post about how the data given doesn't actually prove the article's ending argument.

28 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

JaMarcus didn't appear until Game 12 and didn't start until Game 16 in 2007. That was a big story that year because Brady Quinn also didn't throw his first pass until Week 17, and didn't start until midway thru his second season.

I'd have included the busts (as well as every R1 QB in the FO era) if this was an article specifically about the topic instead of a game recap I wrote before going to sleep this morning, but I'll say this...

I think a bust is a bust is a bust. It doesn't matter if they started Game 1 or Game 33, it just wouldn't have worked out. We have enough data points off the top of our heads to know that not every bust was an early starter. If that was the case, then that would be worth exploring for sure (ditto if they all sat), but we know it's not true. Maybe the most worthless R1 QB since the merger, Rich Campbell, never started a game for the Packers in four seasons despite being a No. 6 pick. On the flip side, one of the worst value picks ever (Ryan Leaf) was out there Week 1.

So if we were to find -- not saying we have -- that there's no correlation between when a QB first starts and how his career goes, then it'd still be true that you can't do any harm starting him right away. I like to see a good ROI as quickly as possible. It could even be a huge benefit with the way in this passer-friendly era how some rookies have really taken off. I also think getting the growing pains out of the way is very important. I don't think Carson Wentz has the 2017 he did if he didn't have the 2016 first. People on the other side of the debate would say he'd have the 2017 he did if he sat during 2016 to learn. I'll never believe that, but I guess neither of us can ever know for sure who is right.

It's also a multi-layered problem because of the different eras. There was a time when you could sit a rookie just because that's how the league operated. Peyton Manning starting in Week 1 was a real outlier for NFL history until 2008. Then it transitioned into a brief time where you couldn't really afford to wait because these guys (especially JaMarcus/Ryan/Stafford/Bradford) were taking up huge cap space right away. Then in 2011 we had the new CBA and rookie QBs were cheap once again, so maybe you could wait again. However, teams like Seattle and Philly showed you can stack a roster with a cheap QB, so it's best to win a SB when he's on his rookie contract before he signs that second massive one. Rams and Bears (Mack deal) are trying to follow suit there with Goff and Trubisky. Dallas is really blowing it with Dak.

With many of the "late bloomers," I think there's survival bias going on there. A lot of guys deemed good enough through practices and preseason to make a roster for several years, but many of them (like Tyrod in BAL) weren't drafted to be a starter any time soon in the first place. So they end up sitting behind someone well established for a few years before taking over. That doesn't apply to Mayfield at all, or even Josh Rosen and Josh Allen for that matter. I think any mentions of Young and Rodgers are pointless because of how rare those situations are. You have two of the most talented QBs ever and they were behind two of the greatest QBs ever. I mean you're realistically talking about four of the top 10 QBs of all time. The average situation doesn't even come close to approaching that. I'm just saying things like Mike Glennon isn't worth delaying Trubisky for, or if Paxton Lynch can't beat out Trevor Siemian (twice), then that's a really bad sign for his future. I had the table to show the latter in last year's book and we know how that turned out for Denver.

30 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

You were the one who chose to make a table comparing Mayfield to HOF QBs. You can't turn around and complain about having to account for guys who were behind their HOFer on the depth chart. (This happened to Rivers and Eli Manning, too)

34 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

'if Paxton Lynch can't beat out Trevor Siemian (twice), then that's a really bad sign for his future'

This is the more important point. Not starting the rookie over the competent journeyman immediately isn't holding back anyone's development. Otherwise
Carson Palmer would have worked out worse than Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith. What matters is whether the young player can beat out the journeyman
once he's given a chance.

I might add that Ben Rothlisberger and Chad Pennington worked out ok for their teams even though they didn't start right away.

40 Re: Clutch Encounters: NYJ-CLE

I hate replying to a days-old thread, but I have to share this. If you want to read about how bad a pick Rich Campbell was and how dysfunctional the Packers front office was (before Bob Harlan reorganized the front office and kicked the board of directors out of the draft room), check out this short article about the Campbell draft decision.