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A heart condition discovered at the combine has put the Michigan lineman's career in limbo, but Hurst had the best film of any defensive tackle in this year's draft class.

26 Jan 2007

Scramble for the Ball: Condition Miami

by Bill Barnwell & Ian Dembsky

(Ed. note: We're suspending the "no Brady/Manning talk" rule in this thread, since that is the subject of much of the article. We are not responsible for the lunacy that is sure to follow.)

Bill: My faith in the media has been shaken, Ian. Take the play of each of the quarterbacks in the Colts-Patriots game from Sunday and reverse it. Imagine that it was Brady who threw the early interception, organized the comeback, and that it was Manning who threw the pick on his final drive with a chance to win the game. Wouldn't that make more sense?

Theoretically, the role of the media in sports is to report on the events that have occurred and, with an educated pen that has access to and understands things on a different level than the layman, provides a context for and interprets the results of a contest. The role, from what I'm able to tell, should not to be to point out bits that would be obvious from a cursory analysis of the box score and offer their opinion in as loud as a manner as possible.

How much of Tom Brady's skill in the clutch has been ascribed to him by journalists? How much of that is because the story of a good-to-very good quarterback mixing some luck (the fumble luck against the Chargers, John Kasay's out-of-bounds kickoff in the Super Bowl) with effective performances in a very small sample size has been told previously?

And likewise, why has Manning's story become, so blatantly, the guy whose all-world skills go away in the clutch? Maybe it's because his defense is worse. You think? You can make points about Manning's salary cap hit and how that hurts the Colts ability to sign players, and it's relevant, but it's not the whole story -- and Brady isn't surviving on chump change, either. Is Manning the third generation of quarterback to get that story told about him? Manning, Marino, Tarkenton. Was there a guy who "just couldn't win the big games" before Fran Tarkenton?

Has Tom Brady lost his clutch ability? He's lost two playoff games! And, on the other hand, has Peyton Manning found his by overcoming the Pats? Does he need to beat the Bears to solidify it?

I'd like to propose an alternate idea. Maybe, all along, it wasn't any magic beans that Tom Brady had or inferiorities that Peyton Manning suffered from. Maybe it was just the media interpreting the results of five minutes or ten minutes of football incorrectly.

A lot of the criticism of sabermetric analysis revolves around the idea that sabermetrics and sabermetricians don't really care about the game, that they reduce the players to paper and are math nerds who don't really love the game and don't want it to be fun. Some of this criticism is from fellow fans, and some of it is from the more traditional media types (I won't name anyone; all I will say is that his name rhymes with Baron Van Raschke). The thing about sabermetrics and about quantitative analysis is that it adjusts for context, looks at performance in a truer, more objective light, and explains what will happen most of the time. Some of the most exhilarating moments of being a fan of any sport occur when things happen that no one could expect -- the famous "Explain how Willie Mays caught that ball, then" criticism -- even sabermetricians.

What the larger media does, in trying to explain these moments, is ascribe simple qualities to players that aren't so simple. Tom Brady's clutch, Peyton Manning's not. David Ortiz is clutch, Alex Rodriguez is not. Sabermetricians offer up a different answer: Tom Brady is a very good player who happened to be in more possible "clutch" situations. Once he was there, he was assisted by some things that are quantifiable as lucky and random, and then from there, anything can happen in a small sample size. One drive out of 170 in a season. Five at-bats out of 700. They don't tell us anything. They're exhilarating, glorious, magical, or miserable and unbearable to think about the next day.

In reality, Peyton Manning isn't any more "clutch" today than he was yesterday, the day or weekend before, a year ago, or when he was eight years old. Tom Brady's not any worse, either. They're simple stories for situations that, in some cases, require a much deeper analysis not feasible on short deadlines; in other cases, though, they're stories created to sell newspapers when the answer is much more simple and wouldn't offer any "insight."

Sometimes, it's just chance and luck.

Ian: Your point is well taken, but I do think it's tough to say that the concept of "clutch" doesn't exist. It's kind of like "being in the zone." Teams hire psychologists to try and figure out what exactly puts a player "in the zone," hoping to keep him there. Remember Michael Jordan's three-point barrage, followed by him shrugging his shoulders as if to say "I don't know why, but I simply can't miss!" These mental things do happen, but at this point, no one really knows how or why. I suppose that a way to define clutch is to say that added pressure on a certain person increases his chances of being in the zone. Quantifiable? Heck no. But do these attributes really exist? I'd venture to say "yes."

One quarterback who needn't be in the zone to carry his team is Rex Grossman. All he has to do, really, is not screw up. He played well for essentially one drive last Sunday, but it's all his team needed to put away the Saints' momentum and their chances of reaching the Super Bowl.

It's truly astounding how erratically Rex plays. His coaches specifically put short passes in the playbook early to ease him into the game action, but he tends to airmail those passes anyways. What I want to know is, how come we're not hearing more talk about Bernard Berrian? The guy is the unsung MVP of this Bears offense. He's got blazing speed and the hands to make you pay if you don't respect his ability to go long. He also makes nice cuts downfield, turning deep coverage into an "easy" 15-yard gain, Reggie Wayne style. Have you noticed that the vast majority of Rex's accurate passes are thrown in Berrian's direction? It's because he knows he's got a reliable stud out there who'll create separation, and thus reduce the defenses chances of swooping in for a pick. Every time a pass is completed to Muhammad, it's usually in relatively tight coverage, and the throw isn't terribly accurate either. Receiver separation is a quarterback's best friend.

One team I would like to give a lot of credit to over the weekend is both officiating crews. There was very little to complain about in either game; it seems that the vast majority of the time they got things right. And in the wake of the Colts' thrilling victory over New England, we're not discussing ridiculous officiating calls. We're discussing how the players on the field performed, which is what this is all about.

Now that I've been nice to all you officials out there, can I make one teeny request? When a player appears to fumble the football, can you guys make up your freakin' minds about what you think happened? One truly disturbing trend in football is that officials never seem to blow the whistle at the end of plays anymore. How many times have we seen a player go clearly down, but the whistle doesn't blow, and when a defender knocks the ball out of the ball carriers hands when he's already on the ground, he goes off running with it in case it's a fumble. Only, it obviously wasn't, but the official didn't bother to blow his whistle to call the play dead. It's strange; the new rule about a fumble after the whistle being recoverable if it's clear who got it should make the officials feel better about blowing the whistle than in the past. Now, even a whistle that was blown incorrectly has the chance to be overturned properly. When a play is over, blow the whistle!

Bill: I'm thinking about the Super Bowl and I'm not really sure if this is a real good matchup for Manning and the Colts offense. The Bears secondary is pretty deep -- in Ricky Manning, they have one of the better (if bitter) nickel backs in the league, and while Marvin Harrison can beat Nathan Vasher, it's not as if Vasher is chopped Roc or anything. In the middle of the field, Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher can handle Dallas Clark -- Indianapolis is going to have to try really hard to get Clark up against Hunter Hillenmeyer. Alternately, I could see Chicago using five defensive backs in their base defense a lot of the time as they did last week against Reggie Bush.

Ian: When the Bears offense gets on the field, the first thing they should do is not bother with the flare patterns to a fullback, or a quick hitter to the tight end. Rex can't throw them, so don't bother. The Colts are likely to stack up against the run, however, as they usually do. Early on, for reasons I've discussed above, they need to establish Bernard Berrian. Hit him for a few decent gainers, or go long if you wish. Let the Colts know that you're willing to stretch the field, if they're gonna stack the line. Once they help out on Berrian, you've either got Muhammad and Desmond Clark with room to run, or you've got Bob Sanders defending the pass instead of the run. That's when you start pounding with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, and when you'll truly be in control.

For the Colts defense, you need to disrupt Berrian's timing by being physical with him up near the line, and giving safety help deep. Take your chances with Rex throwing to Muhammad and Clark early. Stuff the run, stuff Berrian, and you'll have Grossman and the rest of the Bears offense exactly where you want them.

Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.

Keep Choppin' Wood Award

Paging Reche Caldwell ... Paging Reche Caldwell ... This is a pretty obvious choice. Reche's first drop was horrible, but he got bailed out by Jabar Gaffney's amazing catch in the back of the end zone (and for those of you wondering, it was completely clear that his heels never touched the out-of-bounds line). The second catch cost the Patriots dearly. The way the defender was sprinting to Caldwell because of the lack of coverage would have made it easy for Reche to cut back to the inside and cruise in for a touchdown. Instead, a pathetically dropped pass killed the Patriots' momentum at the time and led to Indy's winning points at the hands of Joseph Addai. Caldwell is, without a doubt, this week's Keep Choppin Wood Award winner.

Playoff Fantasy Draft Update

2007 Football Outsiders Playoff Fantasy Teams
  JASON 125 RUSSELL 170 TIM 189
QB Garcia, PHI 28 Brees, NO 35 Rivers, SD 7
RB Tomlinson, SD 30 Lewis, BAL 7 Westbrook, PHI 44
RB Barber, NYG 14 Jones, CHI 42 Addai, IND 32
WR Harrison, IND 12 Muhammad, CHI 5 Colston, NO 15
WR Jackson, SD 4 Horn, NO 0 Stallworth, PHI 26
WR Berrian, CHI 30 Mason, BAL 1 Branch, SEA 8
TE Smith, PHI 2 Clark, IND 27 Heap, BAL 0
K Kaeding, SD 3 Vinatieri, IND 48 Gostkowski, NE 38
DEF Philadelphia 2 San Diego 5 New England 19
  AARON 87 ALEX 182 BILL 129
QB McNair, BAL 2 Manning, IND 40 Brady, NE 46
RB Dillon, NE 20 Alexander, SEA 29 Johnson, KC 5
RB McAllister, NO 31 Bush, NO 33 Maroney, NE 7
WR Owens, DAL 2 Wayne, IND 20 Clayton, BAL 7
WR Glenn, DAL 4 Brown, PHI 14 McCardell, SD 0
WR Henderson, NO 8 Caldwell, NE 23 Burress, NYG 20
TE Gates, SD 6 Stevens, SEA 20 Watson, NE 6
K Carney, NO 11 Stover, BAL 10 Gould, CHI 25
DEF Baltimore 3 New Orleans -7 Chicago 13

There look to be two possible winners in the "Best of the Rest" competition among the readers, who posted their teams in the discussion thread of the original draft article.

Geoff (comment 27) has 102 points, but his only remaining players are Cedric Benson and Desmond Clark. However, Andrew/A.B. (comment 18) has 99 points, with Rex Grossman, Benson, Clark, Mark Bradley, and Indianapolis defense all left. So he's the probable winner.

Next week, Scramble returns with the Annual Prop Bet Extravaganza!

Posted by: Bill Barnwell and Ian Dembsky on 26 Jan 2007

245 comments, Last at 08 Feb 2007, 1:12am by Jim G


by Peter (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 12:48pm

Just remember that we were one completion on 3rd & 4, or perhaps the lack of that idiotic 12 men in the huddle call away from 2 weeks of hearing how Tom Brady is Mr. Clutch and Peyton Manning went 3 and out during the biggest drive of the game. Instead, Sanders makes the play and the rest is history.

by CA (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 1:04pm

Bravo, Bill! Excellent opening on the media and "clutchness." Well argued, well written, and, most importantly, right on. I'll be passing that around to friends.

by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 1:19pm

Well written argument Bill. Makes you think.

I'll also mention something I read (here or somewhere else, I dont remember). This was the first time Brady had to get a TD to seal the deal in the playoffs, not just a FG. It is quite a bit more difficult to get into the end zone than to just try to get within 35 yards of it.

by adwred (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 1:22pm

"The thing about sabermetrics and about quantitative analysis is that it adjusts for context, looks at performance in a truer, more objective light, and explains what will happen most of the time."

Maybe you could say "explains what happened most of the time", but suggesting predictive powers in such a way is too much of a leap.

by Sergio (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 1:28pm

re: #1

I'm so not in the mood to go searching the PBP now, but I'm sure you could make the same case for previous Pats-Colts encounters, except switching sides.

In fact, you could probably make the same case for ANY close game...

by Bill Barnwell :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 1:33pm

I should also note that the point of what I wrote WASN'T Brady-Manning. It's the media and how it frames all players. Not that will stop some people, but just FYI.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 1:34pm

Maybe you could say “explains what happened most of the time�, but suggesting predictive powers in such a way is too much of a leap.

Why? Retrodiction (which is what you're saying) is when you build a metric out of a data set and compare it to the individual events in the data set. Prediction is when you build a metric out of a data set and compare it to events not in that data set.

Most quantitative measurements of baseball/football are tuned to maximize predictivity, not retrodictivity.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 1:36pm

"Manning, Marino, Tarkenton. Was there a guy who “just couldn’t win the big games� before Fran Tarkenton?"

Y.A. Tittle lost three straight Championship games--don't know if the conversation of the day was "He can't win the big one," though.

Re: Sabermetrics comments

It's a basic element of most human thought to break things down into simple dichotomies; that' why we need real analysis to show that simple dichotomies are usually false.

However, I still think there's an element that statistical analysis cannot get. It's easy for statistical analysts to look at Namath's numbers and say he wasn't a good QB--but many of these analysts did not see Namath in his prime, follow what he meant to his team, or see his performances in their real-life context.

Just as any dichotomy has falsity to it, a debate between sabermetrics and conventional analysis is faulty, too--we don't have to pick a side, and there's value to each view.

"These mental things do happen, but at this point, no one really knows how or why. I suppose that a way to define clutch is to say that added pressure on a certain person increases his chances of being in the zone. Quantifiable? Heck no. But do these attributes really exist? I’d venture to say “yes.�"

Ian makes exactly an argument that I've made (though slightly differently)--there are things to don't fit into a quanifiable statistical system, and recognizing they exist doesn't mean you have to find a way to fit them into a quantifiable statistical system.

by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 1:37pm


Your big words make my brain hurt.

by Bill Barnwell :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 1:40pm

8 - I think there certainly are things that exist that aren't quantifiable (certainly in the relative infancy of advanced football analysis and FO).

I just think that being "clutch" isn't one of them.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 1:46pm

I find it interesting when the concept of clutch is questioned in sports, because in life, most of us recognize that our minds and bodies work differently in situations of different types of pressure. We also recognize that different people handle situations of pressure differently than others.

Are there any of us who haven't experienced this? Clutch may be overblown and misinterpreted by the media, but the concept that some people handle pressure better than others seems fairly indisputable.

by Sergio (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 1:47pm

re: 6

And in that regard, I'd put forth the Chris Chambers file. Gotta love the guy's athletic ability, but the media focused on it (and a particular game against Buffalo in which he played great, but also benefitted from a lot of ill-advised prevent defense) so much, to the point he was considered at some point a great receiver... for what, exactly? Yes, the previous regime down in Miami was wrong in extending his contract (and his status, really) to that of a #1 receiver; I also think he's being misused. He could be a great slot receiver... if he just got the chance. Unfortunately, he might never get it, because he might never again believe he's not a #1...

re: 7

I remember Aaron writing (PFP 2006) about how DVOA 5.0 proved itself better, when compared to the previous iterations, in matching up with previous seasons.

Maybe the ultimate goal of DVOA is predictivity, but from what I've read (not only on PFP, but on several DVOA articles) it always looks for better retrodictivity.

Also, is ANYONE going to tell us anything about "the great PBP transcribing project"? Seriously, guys, let's get to it!

by dsom (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 1:49pm

Bill, as a Football fan I evolved from rooting for a specific team to rooting for a specific players (even if they change teams) to supporting whoever is 'lucky' any given Sunday. This 'luck' is the most beautiful aspect of NFL. It always strikes to right the wrong call, punish obnoxious player, reward hard-working palyers. I do not see it in any other sport (not even in collage football).

by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 1:49pm

Regarding "clutch", I firmly agree with something someone (Aaron, I think?) said a couple of weeks ago. A "clutch" player is not one that gets better in close or critical situations. A clutch player is one who has the ability to continue to perform at their normal level in spite of being in close or critical situations.

So Adam Vinateri is clutch. Brady is clutch. And yes, even Manning is clutch. He's had a couple of bad games in the playoffs (NE in 2003, Pittsburgh last year, vs KC this year), but every QB has a couple of bad games, and sometimes they inevitably come in the playoffs. Sometimes, your teammates pick you up (as happened this year in KC and Baltimore), and sometimes they don't. My impression from watching him in a limited number of occasions is that he doesn't play any worse when the pressure is on, making him "clutch".

Of course, by this definition, the majority of players are "clutch", and it's only the "chokers"--the players whose play measurably declines in important situations (hello, Mike Vanderjadt) that are not clutch.

Brady has another interesting characteristic that I've noticed over the years, that might attribute to his "clutch" reputation, but certainly is not a good thing. He gets sloppy when his team is way ahead. It seem whenever the Patriots have a big lead, Brady starts doing foolish things, or gets more aggressive and starts missing recievers. It happened last Sunday. It happened versus the Jets this year in the first game they played, and versus Detroit. It happened versus Miami the year that Brady gave up the game by throwing an INT from his butt. Maybe one reason why Brady is in more 'clutch' situations is that he relaxes too much when way ahead. Didn't Aaron run a blog entry once that showed that Brady's DVOA was much higher when the game was within a TD either way then when one team or the other was blowing the other out?

by Sergio (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 1:54pm

re: 8

What are his stats, compared to his peers? Did he had bad (or average) stats for his time? I'm seriously asking - I have no idea of his numbers.

I do agree that statistical analysis (Wiki tells me Sabermetric doesn't apply to football, and I believe Wiki over all of you hooligans) is best used in conjuction with other kinds of analysis. Just as you don't base your scientific conclusions on a single experiment, you always need support/backup...

by B (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:00pm

For the Sabermatics vs conventional analysis, I've think the beast way to explain it is Sabermatics isn't meant to replace subjective analysis with statistics, it's meant to replace bad statistics with good ones.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:03pm

Re: Namath
Here are his stats:

They aren't that good even compared to contemporaries (though was the first to throw for 4,000 yards), but writers who covered him with the Jets use all sorts of words to describe im that statistical analysts would hold in contempt.

by Charles the Philly Homer (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:07pm

I will never buy that a player is "clutch." Yes, our minds and bodies act much differently in situations of extreme duress - all of our minds.

A field goal can turn into a wild shank with a slight turn in the foot on contact. A pass can become an interception with an infintesimal movement of the wrist or graze of a finger, or a brief misjudgement of large bodies moving at high speeds. The margin between "clutch" and "choke" is so very small, all things considered. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning both experienced the pressure and fear; you can't tell me that Brady's success in pressure situations is easily explained by some supernatural psychological gift or the absence of natural human emotions of fear. Tom Brady simply had the good fortune of a series of fortunate events in pressure situations and Peyton did not. As of last week, we found out that good fortune does not necessarily tie itself inextricably to an individual or team.

What creates "clutch" is the small sample size and nothing more. "Clutch" is success in a highly complex activity in an extraordinary situation. Life doesn't offer us a regression analysis of our abilities, unfortunately, and that's why some people get the label. Then all the media does is report the results as they are, attach a common-sense explanation like "Peyton gets nervous like you do when something important is happening, and he blows it every time," and give people damaging labels for the rest of their natural-born lives.

Ain't sports grand?

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:08pm

Pacifist Viking (#11):

The big issue that I have with "clutch" (and other 'pressure' comments) is that our normal experience is with the 'average' person - i.e., people in the bell curve. In other words, you expect to meet very few people who can handle pressure, and very few people who utterly collapse under pressure.

I don't think professional sports follows a bell curve in a lot of statistics: I'm sure if you looked at the distribution of 40-yard-dash times, for instance, it probably would look like a bell curve that got smashed against a wall. There's only so fast you can get, obviously. You're already selecting for great players.

So we tend to look for rare "clutch" players, when the truth is that probably the majority of the players are "clutch" players, and only a few collapse under pressure. But our minds, wanting there to be only a few, select out just the few that pop up from the pack due to random blips.

by Bill Barnwell :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:15pm

#17 - You're illustrating my point for me.

Namath had a solid game in the Super Bowl. And he DID predict the victory.

What if he did that now, after 100 people have done it? Would it be the same thing? Would he be as valuable to his team?

What if he had won the big one at the end of his career, not towards the beginning? Would he have had such things written about him by the media? I don't think so. That's my point.

As for your comment in #11, I think we do, certainly. But is it controllable? No. It happens randomly. What's to say that it can't happen in the first quarter, the third quarter, or a meaningless game in Week 6? And why are skill position players the only people who enter into this "clutch" zone? Can an offensive lineman be "clutch"? A defensive tackle? Do you ever hear them talked about as clutch? No.

I think there's sound reasoning behind your argument, but I also think that it's a much more complex issue than how it's written.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:15pm

I'm a little disturbed when people complain about the "small sample size" of players' playoff performances when, after all, championships are determined by a small sample size. From a statistical system perspective, it's a small sample size, but clearly it's a small sample size that's more important than other small sample sizes.

Though I do think the athletes that make it into pro sports are the ones that, in general, are able to perform under pressure, since there were certainly a lot of pressure situations that they succeeded through to get to the pros.

How much of this is different in different sports? I know baseball stat guys don't buy clutch much at all, and football guys have a lot of skepticism about it. But I haven't heard a lot of people at FO talk about basketball. In basketball, things are very different. The situations in which to make a game-winning shot are fundamentally different than other game situations (limited time, defenses know this, and they usually know who's going to try shoot). In basketball, a much more individual sport than football, a sense of "clutch" makes a lot more sense. It's still a game of inches, but it's a game in which an individual player has much more freedom to "force" his own performance. Perhaps my willingness to accept the concept of clutch is because I come from a background of basketball (my dad was a coach, I grew up with the game) and it doesn't seem like a lot of other commenters do.

by MCS (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:16pm

Better yet is this guy


In '61 he lost to the Packers in the "Packerland-Famous" Tittletown game. '62 lost to the Packers again. '63 lost to the Bears.

His stats were impressive for the era. His teams couldn't win the big one. No, I don't have the PBP data.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:19pm

I just brought Namath up as an example. I would like to go back and find what was written about him in the 60s before he won a Super Bowl to see what was written about him.

I think that all athletes/people can enter this clutch zone, and if anything, the media/fans are at fault for putting it all on a QB. As anybody who would read this site knows, a QB doesn't win a game, he's just the most important player among 45 in helping his team win the game. QB's get too much blame for it (Marvin Harrison's playoff numbers make him look much less clutch than Peyton Manning, and we don't really hear that).

Basically, I accept your contempt of the media treatment of "clutch," and I accept that randomness and luck (as in life) have much to do with it, and I don't believe the concept of clutch belongs in a statistical system, even as I still believe at some level clutch exists.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:21pm

The situations in which to make a game-winning shot are fundamentally different than other game situations (limited time, defenses know this, and they usually know who’s going to try shoot)

That's different - you're talking about someone who excels in a situation where the game is altered. Football's the same way, actually - running a two-minute drill is different than running a normal offense.

Baseball's not the same - in baseball, the game doesn't really change much in an endgame situation for a hitter if a team's down 10 or a team's down 1.

In those cases, you're attributing something to "better under pressure" (clutch) when it would probably be easier explained by "better in an endgame scenario."

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:24pm

Yes, the two-minute drill is a lot different, with different expectations from offense and defense (I've argued this before on Free Darko). And yes, in basketball, with the situation different, it is the scorers who can created their own shots who end up being the better performer (and not surprisingly, usually they're the players that are better for the entire 48 minutes). But there's still similarity, and when shooting a basketball, there are so many things in ones' form that must be perfect and are very easy to screw up in a pressure situation. And in basketball, when shooting, what your mind is doing has a lot to do with it--if you're thinking about it too much, there are problems. I don't think it's just an endgame scenario that's different, but something mental that is different. Having played a lot of basketball it seems this way to me.

by terryh (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:25pm

Re: 11

True enough--for most people. I would think that for those in ultra-competitive positions (athletes, entertainers, etc.) the "chokers" would never make it to the highest level to begin with. For most of us, "choking" on the job isn't terminal because there aren't thousands of eager people willing to take our place at any given moment.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:33pm

#25: Well, basketball actually does offer a baseball analog, if I had thought about it - free throw shooting. The easiest way to test the "clutch" hypothesis is to look and see if there are players that are statistically better at free-throw shooting for a game-winning point than in normal situations. You then try to see if those players continue to be better outside of the data set you used to find them.

If there aren't any players like that, then it seems odd to say that pressure control plays a role in one case, but not others - especially when performance in an endgame scenario can be explained via changes in the game rather than pressure control.

That's the big problem with "clutch": it's just Occam's Razor. There's no need to invoke a magic extra variable if it's not needed, even if you believe it should be there. The fact is, it might be there, but it might be such a minor effect on everything that it just doesn't matter.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:36pm

It's a reasonable question--and one that deserves further study--to what extent are professional athletes fundamentally different than everybody else? Clearly physically they are, but is there something psychologically different?

They're human beings of course--do they just have the same foibles and virtures as all humans, just on a grander scale? Or do they have or lack something different?

Think of Greek Tragedy. The tragic figure could never be a common man--he was a king or some other great figure, and that's where the tragedy came. However, this great figure's tragic flaw was supposed to show all of us something about ourselves. It wasn't assumed that as king there was something fundamentally different about him as a human being (well, there was, but not in this sense)--it was thought that he had human frailty, but on a grander scale.

I would like further exploration of the psychology of pro athletes, rather than just assuming they're able to withstand pressure better than the rest of us (as I assume myself).

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:39pm

82games.com on free throw clutch:

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:40pm

Oh, and #21: The reason that small sample size matters in a 'clutch' discussion is that there's no real merit to giving someone a quality like 'clutch' if it appears and disappears like magic, with no consistency.

It's kindof like playoff records: Bill Cowher goes from having 13 years of "bad playoff coach" to "one of the greatest coaches in our generation" due to 1 year. Scramble his career around, and suddenly that "bad playoff coach" designation never would've appeared.

Likewise, right now, Tom Brady and the Patriots just aren't clutch. Oh, but before, they were. Scramble their seasons around, and no one ever talks about the magic clutch Tom Brady.

If "clutch" can be here one year, gone the next, there's no real point to it.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:43pm

Evidently, FT% in basketball tells us clutch does exist to an extent.

Further, from 82games.com:

"Indeed, clutch playoff shooting shows some extra drama -- doing the same exercise of calculating how many clutch FT's each player should have made based on their non-clutch playoff shooting, it turns out the league should have shot .776 but hit only .642!! That's a huge -13.6% change under pressure!"

by Jake (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:45pm

I think it would be hard to scatter three Super Bowl wins in six years and not have positive superlatives applied to the winning QB.

The Cowher point is well taken, though.

by W Shedd (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:47pm

Dumbest article I've seen on this website in a long, long time. No numbers, no stats, just a couple of goobers and some opinions.

Here are the clutch numbers, as I recall from earlier in the season. I am going by memory - I'll leave it to those whose WEBSITE IS SUPPOSEDLY DEVOTED TO STATISTICAL ANAYSIS to track down the real numbers and start an intelligent discussion.

Brady had won something on the order of 76 of his first 100 starts (the numbers have improved since then, despite the playoff loss). Of those victories, there were something like 23 victories where his team (Patriots) was behind entering the 4th quarter - or almost 1/3 of his victories being come-from-behind 4th quarter wins.

Now, instead of just blathering on about how bad the media is, while engaging in the same knee-jerk, unsubstantiated reaction as the aforementioned bad media - how about doing some research and number crunching boys, to - you know - add what we call FACTS to the discussion. Novel idea, I know.

I would expect to see these numbers dissected and compared to other QBs. Should also see how many losses a QB had where his team was ahead late in the game. The time frame can be changed, perhaps to victories in final 2 minutes, or what have you. And I would expect that some of the discussion would have to center on a teams success in that situation, perhaps regardless of who the QB is (as not all victories are strictly a function of the QB play).

In any case, the last thing I expect to see from this website is yak-yak-yak with no facts-facts-facts.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:48pm

#29: Yah, they're not correcting for sample size or looking for predictivity, though. Cassell, for instance, at 42 of 44, is consistent with his normal free-throw shooting percentage 5% of the time. There's way more than 20 players there, so obviously, you expect guys like that (Note that the biggest outliers are the ones with the smallest sample size, for the most part).

No one on that list is statistically very far from their normal percentage. It's all 5%, 6% - things you would completely expect. If you did a distribution, it would look exactly like you're just graphing a binomial variate, I imagine.

(Interestingly, the low-end guys are a bit more off the curve - 1%, 2%, etc. So if anything - and it really isn't anything - there's more evidence for bad clutch performance, rather than good clutch performance.)

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:51pm

#31: Like I said, they're not checking to see if that would happen just due to the fact that a random weighted coin wouldn't produce the same results. It likely would.

Percentages aren't exact. Saying that someone shoots "95.5%" when they made 42 out of 44 shots isn't really correct. You couldn't've even measured anything between 93.3% and 95.5%, and 95.5% and 97.7%, for one.

by Blair (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:55pm

Re: 16

I think the beast way to describe sabermetrics vs. conventional analysis is ROOAAAARRRR!!!!!!!

by NF (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:55pm

"What I want to know is, how come we’re not hearing more talk about Bernard Berrian? The guy is the unsung MVP of this Bears offense."

I thought the MVP of the Bears offense was Devin Hester.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:55pm

You would expect droppoff to be greater than improvement--the league average for FT% is in the .700s, so as the article says, it's harder to do better than it is to do worse. When you're already making most of your shots, it's not easy to improve.

In the article's text, it says that leaguewide, clutch FT% goes down 2.3% in the regular season. Even with a large sample size, that's not terribly significant. In the playoffs, with an admittedly smaller sample size, it goes down 13.6%.

There is something to this. Yes, I think it suggest that there's more of a "choke" scenario than a "clutch" one--but that still shows that the players react differently to pressure. As I suggested, this might be more prevalent in basketball--no matter how great the athlete, FTs are a matter of form and mental concentration.

You said, "The easiest way to test the “clutch� hypothesis is to look and see if there are players that are statistically better at free-throw shooting for a game-winning point than in normal situations. You then try to see if those players continue to be better outside of the data set you used to find them." It looks like the first part is covered, but I don't know about the second part--yet. There is variance between shooting FTs in pressure situations and non-pressure situations.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:05pm

It looks like the first part is covered,

No, it's not: hitting 42 out of 44 free throw shots when you normally hit 86.3% of them is not statistically more. Given that there are around 60 guys in that list, you'd expect somewhere around 3 of them to be in the "outside of 5%" range. There's 1. You'd expect around 3 of them to be in the "low end" within 5%. There's 4.

It's completely consistent with flipping a random weighted coin. There's absolutely no difference between those distributions. It's all explained by statistics.

by Jake (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:09pm

#38 - The problem with the aggregate data is that it could be explained by (a) players performing differently in the playoffs; or (b) different players performing in the playoffs (I assume that (c) random chance is ruled out by the 13.6% drop).

(b) makes sense, too--teams may well foul more often, and more often target bad foul shooters, in the playoffs.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:14pm

No, look at those that get WORSE rather than those that get better.

Paul Pierce has 129 samples of clutch free throws and thousands of non-clutch free throws in the sample size, and he makes 12.3% less free throws in the clutch situations.

There needs to be further work (comparing to other random sets to see if there's a significant difference), and I'm not citing this evidence as "See! I'm right, clutch exists!" I'm citing it to say that there is some evidence it exists, that I can at least look at this and reasonably believe it exists.

Also, what do you mean by "outside of 5%" range? There are 5 players that have a 5% difference improvement, and 21 that have a 5% difference decline.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:14pm

Actually, let me correct that: there's no evidence there that anyone shoots better in "clutch" situations than in "normal" situations. It looks completely random. There's little evidence that anyone shoots worse. There's maybe one player who's far off the curve: Pierce - there's about a 1-in-2000 chance of getting that result with random flipping. But he's the only one there, and again, that's on the "negative" side. So the next thing to do would be to look at a subsequent year, and see if Pierce also stands out again.

by Ian Dembsky (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:18pm

For those people who think that clutch doesn't exist, that it's simply variations on a very small sample size, I say "phooey!" Are you telling me you've never known anyone who either strives under pressure, or anyone who crumbles under it? It could be someone who does poorly on big tests in school, or someone who can saty calm in a business situation when everything's on the line. It exists, and manifests itself in sports when the clock nears all zeroes.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:20pm

#41: If you flip a coin that lands "heads" 86.3% of the time 44 times, 5% of the time you'll get 42 heads. Given the fact that there are 60 players there, you'd expect to get 3 5% outliers or so.

If you flip a coin 40 times, you don't get 20 heads and 20 tails. You get somewhere between 12 and 28 heads 99% of the time.

by Ian Dembsky (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:21pm

Re #33: Bill and I need to clarify this every once in awhile... Scramble for the Ball is not number heavy like the rest of FootballOutsiders. We're not a column devoted to statistical analysis; we're devoted mostly to fantasy football, gambling, and our personal football commentary. In other words, we're devoted to "yak-yak-yak", as you so eloquently put it. So, you're 100% correct. If you're only at this site for the number-related analysis, feel free to skip Scramble in your weekly dose of FBO. Thanks.

by underthebus (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:23pm

Put me in the Pacifist Viking camp. But in either case it does seem like the media is rather indiscriminate about who they term as not clutch.

Like Matt Hasslebeck, why isn't he considered not clutch? He's had some pretty devastating playoff losses. Anyone remember the "We want the ball and we're going to score!".

by Tal (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:29pm

"Theoretically, the role of the media in sports is to report on the events that have occurred and, with an educated pen that has access to and understands things on a different level than the layman, provides a context for and interprets the results of a contest."

I don't agree. Their assignment each week is to elevate unknowns to the status of heroes, to exaggerate the facts so that they look poetic... a la Florio, to state that every single play is the greatest... play... ever. You certainly could argue that it's a wrong thing to do, but you can't deny that it has greatly helped the game of football to become as popular as it is right now.

So why do writers prefer to point out OBVIOUS bits? Because, thus, they can concentrate on exaggerating and glorifying them. Find me a columnist's opinion about a game without reading a detailed description of what happened in it. It's not just saying, "Brady again brought his team back in the playoffs with only two minutes remaining". Writers feel compelled to describe exactly how it happened, assuming, I believe, that nobody watched the game. Into those descriptions, they place pre-assorted phrases like "He put the ball in a place where only his receiver could catch it" to explain things that, well, just didn't happen. These pre-assorted phrases rise the players to the status of heroes, and, well, heroes do not make mistakes.

Writers NEED to glorify moments, just like in history the winners' version is brutally exaggerated on the good things and the losers are transformed into a bunch of evil guys who acted merely on the devil's behalf. Please don't forget that, as fast as writers are to glorify some players, they're even faster crucifying other ones. Rex Grossman is a great example of this. During the regular season, first, when people didn't know about Berrian's ability to gain unholy separation and opposing D's were stacking eight in the box, he was elevated to heroe. Later, when it was discovered how bad he handled the blitz, he was virtually declared dead and every columnist in the world wanted him backing up Griese. The playoffs come and his team goes to the Super Bowl, and suddenly, it doesn't matter that he's still playing horribly: now he's Clutch Rex.

I'm sorry, Bill, but if you're expecting them now to change this and really learn something about football and educate their pens... well, put in Dr. House's memorable words, I'd tell you that dogs shouldn't lick themselves, and they still do. What we CAN do about it is having a place as great as FO to do the real job: analyze games and come up with real discussions. Sock puppets can hype up the game, while we watch and understand it.

by bronc6 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:30pm

There was actually one horrid call that in all likelihood cost the patriots the game..
that call being the defensive pass interference drawn by reggie wayne in the end zone on 3rd down..face guarding is not illegal..and the nfl has admitted the officials made a mistake.

that call doesnt get made and the game doesnt end up tied 21-21.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:34pm

#38, #40: Oh, I forgot to point out, as well: you actually can't do what they did regarding the league-wide shooting bit. They averaged all of the "clutch free throw percentages" and "regular free throw percentages" - you can't really do that, because each of the percentages has different error. Just averaging them blindly means that the average is going to be pulled by the small-numbers outliers.

Basically, while it looks like that 2.3% might be significant (on 5000 attempts), it's not - the error is much, much bigger on that "0.776" number than on the "0.753."

Think of it this way - imagine he didn't put a cutoff at 30 free throw attempts, and someone only got 1. That person can only have a 100% or 0% free throw average. In a sample of, say, 200 people, he'll yank the average 0.5% up or 0.5% down for absolutely no reason whatsoever, as his 1 attempt is statistically unimportant compared to the others.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:35pm

#48: Where'd you see that the NFL admitted it was wrong?

by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:40pm


Do three things and you're right on:
1. Turn capslock off.
2. Correctly spell "analysis."
3. Replace "statistical" with "football."

Aaron's stats are the most popular feature on this site, but they're not the only way we analyze football around here. You can analyze football with stats, you can analyze football by breaking down game tape, you can analyze football by cracking jokes about the absurdities that come out of the announcers' mouths, etc. If the only type of analysis you like is the kind that uses stats, that's fine, and we've got great stats here. But stats in and of themselves aren't the sole purpose of the site. The purpose of the site is to look at football in a unique way. Scramble is one of the many features that does that.

by MRH (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:44pm

Re #45, quoting Mr. Dickens, the first speaker is Marley's ghost:
"What evidence would you have of my reality, beyond that of your senses?"

"I don't know," said Scrooge.

"Why do you doubt your senses?"

"Because," said Scrooge, "a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"

I'm not sure I believe in "clutch" as the media commonly ascribes it. If it does exist though, it should be able to be documented objectively and most "documentation" of "clutch" is purely subjective opinion by biased observers.

I do believe that confidence affects performancein the ways that Ian describes it in his comment. Is that "clutch"? Or is that something that affects performance in every situation but is only noticed in pressure situations?

I also believe that confidence, especially in a perceived leader (like a qb), affects everyone around the leader and their confidence affects their performance. There is probably some analogy here to a "placebo effect", which can be a measurable physical effect purely from a psychological belief.

It is also possible that "clutch" reflects more focused effort - that when a person is focused, that person does perform better by coming closer to their optimal performance - that in fact, "clutch" is really a reflection of performing at less than their best most of the time (as one poster suggested about Brady's stats in blowouts).

Finally, "clutch" could be related to physical factors like adrenaline, which makes performance possible that is impossible in its absence.

I'd like to believe in "clutch", I'd just like to see it proven objectively.

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:50pm

Re: 48

The Wayne PI call occurred on 2nd & 7, not 3rd down.

The biggest call of the game that nobody has written one word about was the Pats up 21-3, inside the Colts 30, they pick up a 3rd & 5 or something, but Troy Brown gets called for OPI away from the play (he basically set a pick and made it far too obvious). It was the right call, but it's not one you see a lot of at the NFL or college level.

by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:52pm

50: I saw something on PFT about it, maybe that is his source.

by Goathead (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:53pm

Re: The Media, I've yet to see a single reporter commenting on the Pats/Belichick mismanaging the clock during the last 2 minutes. Yet if Andy Reid had made the same mistake, I'm sure we'd be hearing about how he always screws up clock management.

by Marko (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 3:54pm

"#48: Where’d you see that the NFL admitted it was wrong?"

Click on my name for a link. Read the third question and answer.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 4:10pm

#56: Yeah, I'd like to see a better (more official) source than that. That's really surprising though, since the NFL doesn't usually allow officials to comment on things like that off the cuff.

Not that I don't believe it, mind you. That's just the first time I've ever heard someone quote a league official criticizing the on-the-field call by name. (It should be noted that he's the only one reporting that, so I'm not sure if the source he's quoting is even allowed to make those judgements.)

by db (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 4:12pm

You are wrong about defining "clutch". Check Lazerus on fox and he does an excellent job of not only defining it but quantifying it as well. I have wondered what his rankings would look like blended with your own.

by Insancipitory (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 4:16pm

46, and he did score. The "we" he was talking about was him and his old buddy Al Harris.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 4:16pm

I was going to "comment" (read: berate) the idiot troll talking about what FO should and shouldn't be about, but Ian and MDS covered that ground much better that I would have anyway. But since when has that ever stopped me?

I love when people start complaining, but the more you read what they're writing, the more obvious it becomes that they have absofreakinglutely no idea what they're talking about.

Hey Shedd, how about before you make another post you take your own advise and do a little research?

by b-man (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 4:17pm

How can you possibly say that Brady was not clutch on that final drive? He was only running the play that they had been practicing for weeks and ran successfully against SD the previous week. Only this time Troy Brown failed to strip the ball from Sanders to gain the first down. Troy should be ashamed of himself and is possibly the most un-clutch sports professional in any sport.

by Ian Dembsky (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 4:25pm

Hahaha... Major props to b-man for #61. Damn good point.

by WWKOD (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 4:36pm

Ricky Manning Jr isn't bitter, he's a violent sociopath. There's a crucial distinction to be made there.

by GlennW (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 4:44pm

> "That’s just the first time I’ve ever heard someone quote a league official criticizing the on-the-field call by name. (It should be noted that he’s the only one reporting that, so I’m not sure if the source he’s quoting is even allowed to make those judgements.)"

Agreed; as far as we know it's only one man's opinion, and as far as I'm concerned unless the statement is coming directly from VP of Officiating Mike Pereira, it's not "official". However, as we talked about elsewhere, this opinion on the call is accurate-- this was an incorrect (if not horrible) pass interference call. Noticeably, Pereira didn't address the call in his NFL Network segment, but I've noticed in the past that he doesn't like to deal with pass interference in general, given that it's probably the most subjective call in football.

In an "NFL Replay" game insert, Ellis Hobbs also described his involvement in the play exactly as I saw it-- paraphrased, I had my back turned, was playing Wayne's eyes, and batted the ball away, but never touched the guy.

by bsr (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 4:55pm

Has Tom Brady lost his clutch ability? He’s lost two playoff games! And, on the other hand, has Peyton Manning found his by overcoming the Pats?

Being "clutch" or performing under pressure, which is probably a better description, isn't about being perfect. Tom Brady, it is obvious, has that quality. That doesn't mean he is going to do it every single time and anyone eluding to that is simply being foolish.

As for Manning, no he was not "clutch" in the past. The pressure did seem to get to him. Earlier in the year, however, when the pats first play the colts I did notice something different in him. He seemed somehow about to handle things better when things went wrong. He was becoming clutch. This culminated in the AFC championship game where he was making throws that he never would have in the past. Throws with pressure in his face. Smart throws where he allowed his fellow players to make plays. Anyone that thinks that he is the same quarterback he was three or four years ago is short changing him. He has improved and he has become "clutch".

As for the notion of whether clutch is improving play in pressure situations or not making mistakes in pressure situations, I think it is a bit of both. The old addage, not losing your head when those about you are losing theirs comes to mind. For one it means that you keep calm and can approach things the same way you always have. But it also means stepping up, being a leader and ensuring that those around you do what they are supposed to be doing.

by GBS too (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 5:09pm

The game had several problems with the officiating, not just the phantom Hobb's PI call. A Colts defender essentially tackled Caldwell in the endzone, but drew no flag (obviously Bill Polian didn't intend in his annual plea for officials to call pass intereference that such things should apply to *his* team). On the next Patriot's possession, another Colts defender blatantly grabbed Daniel Graham from behind well before the arrival of the ball. Contact is allowed within five yards, but not, to my knowledge, grabbing from behind in order to prevent the receiver from playing the ball. The Troy Brown call was more questionable than correct. Certainly there was a collision, but it was so far from the ball I really can't believe it was a pick. Who precisely initiated contact? It's hard to say.

Still, all of this stuff is water under a bridge. The Colts won; the Patriots lost. Maybe, though, one good thing can come out of this officals' mess - perhaps we'll never have to hear Bill Polian complain again about 2003. This year was payback with a vengeance .... Here's hoping, but I doubt it somehow.

by mb (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 5:12pm

DB: The clutch rankings on foxsports are basically an amalgamation of the 2 minute drill and the 4th quarter with some other stuff (some of which is kind of similar to DVOA, like % of yds towards 1st Downs, plus conventional things like comp. pct. and yds/att) but they don't take score into account. Also the guy admits every week that various things skew the rankings because of the small sample size, which of course happens sometimes with DVOA also.

"Clutch" seems like it would be almost impossible to define in football, where on every single play there are many things happening and all of them are intrinsically linked. For a QB to lead a great 4th quarter comeback he needs help from many places; his linemen must protect him, the OC must effectively playcall (unless he's Manning and he's calling the plays himself), his receivers must get open, the opposing defense has to collapse since they presumably played well enough to build up and hold a lead, and on and on. As Bill noted, do you ever hear about a clutch block by Jonathan Ogden? Undoubtedly some people perform better under pressure than others, but every professional athlete is under pressure on every single play of every game. Whenever I hear about "clutch" performances, one thing I always wonder is why a TD scored in the last minutes of the game is more important than one scored on the opening drive of the 1st half. The same thing is true in baseball, where David Ortiz has a garnered a reputation for hitting GW HRs, but his team would also win if he hit those home runs in the 4th inning.

I think the definition of clutch as someone who can continue to perform at a steady, even keel at all times is closer to the truth than anything, but even that is lacking. Clutch is an invention of the sports media more than anything and I don't begrudge it. I enjoy great comebacks as much as the next guy, but I think that sports journalists want to craft a mythology interwoven with epic heights and valleys and peopled by heroes and goats and to do that they stretch the truth, although it does get insufferable when those embellishments are incessantly pounded into my skull when it comes to, for example, Manning and Brady, especially when hordes of hacks desperate to meet deadlines churn out the same stale slop for the millionth time.

by Eddo (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 5:26pm

67: As Bill noted, do you ever hear about a clutch block by Jonathan Ogden?
Jonathan Ogden throw a clutch block? As if. He is sooooo totally not clutch it is not even funny.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 5:37pm

40: "teams may well foul more often, and more often target bad foul shooters, in the playoffs."

Though the offenses target getting the ball to the good shooters; I'm not sure to what degree this balances out.

52: "If it does exist though, it should be able to be documented objectively"

that assumes that everything in life can be documented objectively. I know mathematicians would like to think so, but it simply isn't the case.

65: What a lot of people noticed in the past about Manning and pressure is that against a pass rush, he just wilts. He wouldn't stand in the pocket or scramble, he'd just go down. What I've noticed, and what other commentators have noticed, is that in 2006 Manning seems to handle a pass rush differently--he'll move, he'll stand and wait, but he won't just fold over.

Pat: When talking about clutch, my guess is the sample size will always be too small for people to be convinced completely (particular statistical analysts). My goal in an argument or discussion is never to make people think what I think, but just to make people think that what I think is not entirely unreasonable. the FT% stats may not convince you, and that's fine; but it gives some evidence that pressure leads to choking.

by Ben (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 5:40pm


That quote isn't entirely correct. 'Not playing the ball' is part of the rules. The instance here would fall under the following rule (Section 8.2.5, Defensive Pass Interference)

"(e) Cutting off the path of a receiver by making contact with him without playing the ball."

Now the question of whether this happened or not is certainly valid, I'd have to go back and look at the play, but the not playing the ball part does matter.

by stan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 5:45pm

I do think there is something about being clutch. However, what the media has described as clutch has almost nothing to do with it. The crux of this article was that the media does an absolutely horrible job of accurately conveying what has happened in the game. Their use of "clutch" is simply one example.

What I find amazing is how stupid the media can be. Unfortunately, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are almost perfect examples of the two sides of the media idiocy coin. According to the media, "Manning has never won a big game", "Manning always chokes in the playoffs" and "Tom Brady always plays great in the playoffs".

The problem with these themes is that they are totall crap. And when one of these guys plays contrary to type which is quite often, it just disappears down the media memory rathole. Listening to Chris Collinsworth doing the Colts-Chiefs, you'd think Manning had never once played a good playoff game in his life (instead, he's put up the two best playoff games ever played by an NFL QB plus another that's top ten). Anyone who actually paid any attention knows that Manning played pretty well against KC.

As bad as Manning was in the 2003 AFC title game, Tom Brady played worse. Despite airtight protection the whole game, he couldn't get it done. The numerous bad passes he threw included 3 thrown right at Colt defenders which they dropped (but each of the passes was a far bigger mistake than any Manning threw). At the end of the game, Brady's near fumble was one of the most incredibly stupid plays in NFL playoff history. The media never noticed. It didn't fit their pre-ordained mold.

Can you believe there were writers who wrote about how great Brady played vs. SD this year?! One even wrote that his play was "flawless" against the Colts right up until that interception at the end! These are people who aren't paying any attention to what the hell is actually happening on the field.

The whole "never won a big game" theme is where you really see how bad the media is. If the Colts lose to the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs, the media theme is "Manning loses big game". If the Colts win in the first round of the playoffs, it doesn't count as a big game. With that kind of scorekeeping, is it any wonder that we have such disdain for these clowns?

The problem with media is not that they use "clutch" incorrectly. The problem is that they construct these crazy myths and stick to them regardless of the evidence. Some clearly do it out of bad faith. Most are just too stupid to pay attention.

by Old Whippersnapper (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 5:55pm

#33: "Dumbest article I’ve seen on this website in a long, long time. No numbers, no stats, just a couple of goobers and some opinions."

Sounds like someone's a little grumpy that his untouchable hero is being called out a bit... hey that's sports. This is nothing more than the ol' "what have you done lately" thing in action.

Want statistics? Go quantify all the times Brady has had to drive for winning TDs in the playoffs, not just field goals. Just to confirm the results empirically, note that he also threw a pick the previous week in a similar situation, vs. San Diego.

Want some more opinions? Brady partially gets off the hook because of his public image (his looks, what actress or model he's dating, and all those other things the man-crushed Patriots fan loves to brag about so much). The media simply CANNOT have their golden boy held up to too much criticism.

by Greg B. (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 5:57pm

"Clutch" may or may not exist, but what people forget is that before 2001 the Patriots were a cursed franchise. Brady broke the curse.

And don't tell me curses don't exist. I'm a Cubs fan, and curses most certainly do exist, or God is very, very cruel.

by stan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:01pm

In order to move away from Brady or Manning examples of the media adopting a theme regardless of the facts, let's look at Joe Montana. He is glorified for "the catch" game, but he really didn't play all that well. The throw to Clark was not a good throw. Two plays earlier, (from around the 10) he had Freddy Solomon wide open in the end zone. Despite a really easy pass, he threw it 10 feet over his head. If Clark doesn't bail him out with a great catch, Montana is the guy who choked away two chances at the winning TD.

The year that Theismann took the Redskins to the Super Bowl, Montana absolutely sucked in the NFC title game. He was bouncing throws and overthrowing passes the way Brady was against SD. He was awful. Good pass pro, just bad pass after bad pass after bad pass. What's clutch about that?

I'm not saying Montana wasn't a great player. He was. Certainly far, far better than Brady has been to this point in his career. I'm just saying that the media created a theme for Montana and all the evidence which didn't accord with the theme has simply disappeared.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:02pm

Let's be honest, though: "the media" can't win. I suspect that if a lot of members of the media brought out the criticisms, some FO writers and commenters would be criticizing "the media" for being so fickle and short-sighted, and make fun of it for turning on their beloved. I don't think any of us will ever be satisfied with the sports media, and at this point most of us are so cynical of it that whatever it does we'll make fun of it.

by mb (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:02pm

68: I can't tell, are you kidding or serious?

Pacifist Viking: "That assumes everything in life can be documented objectively."

Well obviously that's not true because nothing is totally 100% objective but I think that's a semantical argument when it comes to statistics. If you believe that there are unquantifiable elements then no numbers are going to convince you otherwise as by their very definition those elements are intangible. That's taking the argument in a metaphysical direction and there's nothing wrong with that but it's a different argument.

BTW, since you brought up Freedarko I'd like to point out that FO and FD are pretty much polar opposites. Obviously they cover two different sports with dissimilar charcters but in addition FO is devoted to measuring the game by all which is quantifiable and using those measurements to analyze and predict. FD is devoted almost entirely to the intangible side of basketball, its' psychology and style, things that cannot be translated onto a spreadsheet. Both approaches are valid and offer different paradigms and I think they're both great, but it seems like you're kind of inserting a FD discussion onto an FO thread.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:04pm

74: I was just thinking of Montana in relation to Brady. If we went back to 85, 86, and 87, would we find articles criticizing Montana's lack of clutch ability? Once a guy has established his reputation as clutch, it becomes fairly unshakable. As one commenter said, a player being "clutch" doesn't mean he's going to come through every time and magically pull wins out of nowhere.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:09pm

76: I agree, FO and FD are opposites, and I read and love them both. I think there's validity in both sides.

And I wasn't actually inserting a FD argument into FO; I was bringing up an argument I made at FD once that wasn't really a FD type argument.

But regarding the intangible/metaphysical side, you're right--but I'm saying it's OK to go to that different type of argument/thought. Maybe a place for statistical analysis is not that place, however. Even if clutch does not fit into a statistical system, it may in fact exist and might be worth talking about. And it seems OK to discuss that here (see Ian's comment #43). If our goal is to better understand the sport, that doesn't mean relying solely on numbers.

by Eddo (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:10pm

76: Kidding, don't worry. I have nothing against Jonathan Ogden.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:15pm

Scratch that--I recognize that FO isn't usually the place for those intangible arguments. However, when an article begins by specifically talking about the nature of "clutch," then it seems reasonable to bring different perspectives on it to the comments.

by Mikey Benny (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:15pm

#30: You do realize that Page 2 article was written completely tongue-in-cheek, right?

by stan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:19pm


Another example would be Ray Lewis. "Best LB is football". Maybe once, but not for a long time.

Brett Favre isn't a good QB anymore. But he could play like crap for another 5 years and there are some media whackos who would still be talking about how great he is playing.

Steve McNair -- can anyone believe how often some talking head talks about him as a future hall of famer? A great defense, solid kicking game and a good running game carried him to a Super Bowl (where he butchered the two minute drill that left them a yard short at the end). In 2003, the best pass pro you may ever see and a solid receiver corps led by Derrick Mason helped lead the league in passer rating, but anyone who watched that season saw him consistently fail to play well to win the games they needed to win the division.

Is that enough to get in the hall of fame? Yet, somehow he's been labeled an outstanding QB without ever having played very well.

The two minute drill thing is another great example. How often have we seen a QB screw up repeatedly, waste time like crazy, only to salvage the score on the last play? (Can you say Byron Leftwich?) But the media theme is that he played great in bringing the team to victory in the last two minutes. Having a WR bail you out with a great catch to overcome your brain farts is not the same as running clock offense like Johnny Unitas.

by bsr (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:25pm

Can you believe there were writers who wrote about how great Brady played vs. SD this year?! One even wrote that his play was “flawless� against the Colts right up until that interception at the end! These are people who aren’t paying any attention to what the hell is actually happening on the field.

It also goes both way. Manning had a horrific first half and some of his series in the second half were equally as bad. No QB plays perfectly in any game but that is not the standard of good or even great play.

by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:31pm

“(e) Cutting off the path of a receiver by making contact with him without playing the ball.�

That doesn't apply because Hobbs wasn't cutting off the receiver's path (he was cutting off the ball's path) and there was no contact [observed by the official].

by Goathead (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:35pm

But there are some QBs who didn't have to win in the playoffs/SB to be considered true greats, and who didn't have their clutchness questioned. Interestingly, Marino was revered without having to win the big game. It seems like HE always got credit for being awesome on flawed teams. Same with Dan Fouts. Anyone here old enough to remember Bert Jones? (OK his teams did suck, bad example perhaps). Seems to me like Manning has been somehow held to be more responsible for the whole team than a lot of QBs, not sure why...

by stan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:35pm

77, P Viking,

I don't think that anyone expects a guy to pull it off every time or lose his "clutch" label. And I agree that there is such a thing as clutch. Most of the debunking of "clutch" has been done in baseball and hitting is just so dependent on luck that I think it would be impossible to use as an example.

That said, I played with too many guys in football, hoops and baseball in HS and college and baseball as a pro not to have seen clutch. Some guys want the ball in crunch time. Some don't. Some panic. Some get more focused.

The problem with QBs, football and "clutch" is that the media doesn't discriminate between the noteworthy and the not worthy. Example -- SD and NE at the end of the 2d Q. Chargers went brain dead and went to prevent defense. Pats drove down and scored. Brady being clutch? Not unless you can show me the great throws to tightly covered receivers with pressure in his face. It was just a case of SD making a stupid strategic decision.

by Mikey Benny (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:36pm

Steve McNair — can anyone believe how often some talking head talks about him as a future hall of famer? A great defense, solid kicking game and a good running game carried him to a Super Bowl (where he butchered the two minute drill that left them a yard short at the end).

Which Super Bowl were you watching? That two-minute drill by McNair was one of the greatest individual efforts you will ever see. McNair's certainly not a HOFer, but that was an incredible drive that fell just short.

Ian & Bill: great job, intelligent discussion of "clutch". MDS, thanks for sticking up for the writers of the article. Pat, please cool it. You seem to worship the statistics that fit what you already believe to be true, then simply discount all other evidence, all the while demeaning those who disagree. No one likes a know-it-all (a little advice from one know-it-all to another).

by Goathead (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:38pm

bsr: If Harrison doesn't let a Manning pass go thru his hands and off his facemask perhaps Manning doesn't have a "horrific" half? Plus, the last drive of the 1st half was a thing of beauty and there was a DPI that should have been called over-ruled in the end zone. Take away that 'clutch' :) last drive and perhaps the colts lose the game.

Manning threw one 'horrific' pass, but all in all what happened the 1st half was a team problem, not his.

by Tball (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:41pm

Citing luck as the source of clutchness is as empty as citing clutch behavior. Indy had a lucky opportunity to beat Pittsburg in a game it had no business winning last year, but couldn't get it done. The Indy-NE game had plays on both sides of the field that could be called lucky (heck, OL on both sides scoring TDs).

During the game, some stat flashed that Brady had led more 4th quarter comebacks since 2001 than any other QB. Another stat suggested the Patriots led the league in points scored in the final two minutes of halves. Brady started his playoff career 10-0 and had to engineer winning drives in the waning minutes of the Tuck Bowl and the 01 Super Bowl. In the first half of '06, David Ortiz had a shocking number of walkoff RBI. Yes circumstances had to align for them to achieve in the way they achieved and these stats are more fluky than predictive. But the fact is when the opportunity presented itself at the end of games, Brady has performed at an unusually high level. The media did not arbitrarily label Brady as clutch. He has performed very well in meaningful moments of meaningful games.

I don't think calling Brady clutch becomes a problem until you start comparing him to Manning. Manning is statistically one of the best QBs ever. His performance leads his teams to wins and his team is built to make him a statistically more successful QB (the money players are on the field when he takes the snap). The Colt strategy of building a team runs contrary to the Patriots, who have more of their money on the field when Brady is on the sidelines, particularly when you discount the QB's paycheck. Manning also came into this post season with a 3-6 record in the playoffs.

Maybe if Brady had been on the Colts the last 5 years throwing to All-Pro receivers and handing off to an All-Pro running back, maybe he puts up significantly better passing stats. Maybe if Manning is on the Patriots the last five years, maybe he has more jewelry and recognition for clutch, but never sniffs a league MVP because his starting receivers include 7th round picks and street free agents, as is the right half of his O-line. It is an empty exercise to play "what if" with football accolades, where a QB's performance depends on his coaches, his RBs, his WRs, and his o-line as well as his defense. Manning has been one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL and Brady has been one of the most clutch players in the history of the NFL. Lets enjoy them for what they've been rather than what they might've been under different circumstances.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:42pm

86: That's what I mean. The media shouldn't suddenly turn on Brady for some poor playoff performances, just like they shouldn't have turned on Montana for few poor playoff performances (if they did or didn't, I don't know). Once a player proves himself consistently, he should really have to suck for a while to get trashed. (however, analysis of a particular performance should always attempt objectivity and perspective--if a player sucked in a particular game, he deserves criticism, of course).

87: Agree on McNair. He constantly avoided sacks on that last drive. Most other QBs wouldn't have come up short of the goal line with no time left because most other QBs would have had their team in a 4th and 20 well before that play.

by bsr (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:42pm

#85 - Marino always was and continues to be lambasted for not winning it all. Thats where the comparisons of Manning to Marino have come from. He did not receive any sort of free pass. I will say this though. Other then offensive line, Marino had little to no talent on the teams, especially the offensive skills positions. Probably the best "passer".

by jack (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:42pm

85: Bert Jones is a great example. An acknowledged great qb, but beat to death behind a terrible line on a terrible team. Archie Manning, of course, is another example.

by bsr (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:46pm

SD and NE at the end of the 2d Q. Chargers went brain dead and went to prevent defense. Pats drove down and scored. Brady being clutch? Not unless you can show me the great throws to tightly covered receivers with pressure in his face. It was just a case of SD making a stupid strategic decision.

The actual TD throw on that drive came after being flushed out of the end zone and a perfect pass. Your being less then objective if you can't admit that Brady makes good throws.

by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:47pm

As I think Jim Klobuchar said of Tarkenton, it wasn't that he couldn't win "the big game": he won all sorts of big games just to get to the Super Bowl three times. The same goes for Marino--he so consistently performed at a high level with games on the line that it seems odd to hold it against him that he was never on a championship team. He was always ranked high in fourth quarter comebacks--it's just that too often in the playoffs the Dolphins were far overmatched and he never even had a chance at a comeback.

by Goathead (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:47pm

Archie Manning was no Bert Jones! We can start an irrational Manning-Jones debate :-)

by bsr (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:50pm

#88 - No, alot of what happened in the first half fell directly on him. He made poor decisions. He continually tried to force it to his WRs when the underneath stuff was open. He also made several bad throws. And I am not even claiming he had a bad game. He adjusted, he improved, he came through in the clutch. Overall his good outwiegehed his bad and that is all you can ever ask for.

by turbohappy (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 6:55pm

I think the people complaining about the refs forget there were several times when it seemed like PI should have been called against the Pats where it wasn't as well - they just happened in the first half.

by stan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 7:03pm


Wow! With that performance, you could write for one of the NE papers. Or go on ESPN. It's tough to include so many cliches and so much conventional wisdom in one post.

It read like Sean Salisbury on his worst day reading material written by Tom Curran.

by db (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 7:07pm

Re: 67
I believe that it is, red zone, 2 minute drill, 3rd down conversion, 4th quarter and drives when you are behind by less than seven (catch up) and ahead by less than 7 (put aways). Manning was #1 in catch ups, Huard was #1 in put aways. Also, is the opposite of "clutch" "choke"?

by PFC1 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 7:09pm

RE 97:

Very true. There were at least two times where the Patriot DBs had their hands firmly on the Colts' receiver's arms holding them down so that the receiver could not get their hands up into position to catch the ball. Each time there was no call. Overall, the officiating was pretty fair in terms of not being biased in favor of one team over the other, even if the calls were not 100% accurate.

by bsr (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 7:11pm

#97 - Which plays?

#98 - I thought it was an actually balanced post. I think you meant to say that it wasn't written by an obvious blatant manning homer.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 7:14pm

Pacifist Viking (#69):

When talking about clutch, my guess is the sample size will always be too small for people to be convinced completely (particular statistical analysts).

Isn't that just a little bit convenient? I mean, yeah, there's a reduction in data set, but there should be at least one sport that shows some effect. I mean, statisticians were able to determine that field goal percentage goes down somewhat when "icing" the kicker. Minor effects can be seen.

but it gives some evidence that pressure leads to choking.

Really, no, it doesn't. There's one singular person in that data set that's abnormal. One person in an entire league doesn't exactly convince me that pressure leads to choking to any significant degree. At least, not anywhere near the amount media gives it as an explanation.

by PFC1 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 7:14pm

RE 101:

The play immediately preceeding the DPI call against the DB covering Wayne in the end zone (I can't remember if it was the one that was waived off or not, but that narrows it down to one of two possible plays), the DB held the left arm of Dallas Clark, but there was no call.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 7:16pm

Once a player proves himself consistently, he should really have to suck for a while to get trashed

Shouldn't he have to suck (well, suck under pressure) for exactly the same amount of time that he proved himself to be consistent over? In other words, Brady's got one more year?

by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 7:20pm

74 - The year that Theismann took the Redskins to the Super Bowl, Montana absolutely sucked in the NFC title game. He was bouncing throws and overthrowing passes the way Brady was against SD. He was awful. Good pass pro, just bad pass after bad pass after bad pass. What’s clutch about that?

Montana threw for almost 200 yards and 3 TDs in the 4th quarter in that game to rally the 49ers from a 21-0 deficit, which almost anyone would consider clutch.

by Peter (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 7:24pm

I am not sure exactly how to define "clutch" or the "It" factor commonly associated with championship level quarterbacks. And it is unfair to boil down a quarterback's legacy to just one game or a series of games. But history remembers QB's not just through statistics, but performances in Championship games that the QB wins. No one remembers Warren Moon's great games against Buffalo and Denver, just that the Oilers blew big leads. No one remembers Steve McNair's miraculous play to set up 1st and goal in the SB, only that Dyson fell one yard short. And 20 years from now, no one will remember Big Ben's horrendous performance in SB XL, just that he was a winning quarterback. Manning now has one of those performances.

I use that to reference the real "clutch-less" qb, Dan Marino. Without research, can anyone point to a big performance Marino had in a major postseason game? It was not as if Marino was in a tough conference, the AFC won Super Bowls in only 3 of his 17 seasons. After his third seasion, when most qb's should be entering their primes, Marino made the play-offs 7 times, going 5-7. Only once did his team get to the title game, an embarrassing HOME loss to Buffalo. Is the difference between his regular season and post season stats explainable by the Phins facing better teams, or is there another factor? Even if all 7 losses came to better opponents, its difficult for me to believe that a truly great qb would not be able to overcome the odds and get to at least one more conference title game.

by t.d. (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 7:25pm

elway was always the guy who couldn't win the big one, the tortured one. marino's teams were only championship level, if i remember correctly, from about '83-'86. after that, any time they might have won they'd have been huge underdogs. the supporting cast will always play a huge role in this. it seems like more of a story because of the element of drama rather than any actual validity of the argument. go peyton!

by Kellerman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 7:33pm

re: Manning's similarity to old QB's and their perceived clutchness:

IF the Colts win this Superbowl, the guy most similar to him would probably be Elway. EVERYBODY said "that guy can't win the big one, even though he's usually so clutch!"

As for the similar guys pre-Tarkenton, Tittle fits the bill if Manning never wins the SB. Tittle had some truly outstanding regular season statistical performances on teams that came up short in the postseason. If Manning wins the SB, then the most similar old 60's codger would be Jack Kemp. Great for the Chargers in the early 60's, kept losing in the playoffs, moved to Buffalo, SD won the championship after he left with old man Tobin Rote and young punk John Hadl sharing time. Kemp eventually got his championship in Buffalo.

Bert Jones is an interesting cat, 3 straight division titles, 3 straight losses in the first round (2 badly and 1 37-31 in OT) followed by several years of severe beatings on a bad team. Kind of a proto-Marino, actually.

Broadway Joe was Broadway Joe before he ever took the Jets to the playoffs, but it was for his lifestyle moreso than for his play. He was a shooting star who burned out early (bad knees, mostly).

Montana DID seem to lose some of his "clutchness" by getting hammered 3 straight years in the playoffs, but recovered it all and then some in SB XXIII.

In closing, I'll come up with a comp for Brady as well from days gone by. Roger Staubach is a guy whose name you never seem to hear anymore, but was always known for being Mr. Clutch and an all-american boy. He also replaced a veteran QB (Craig Morton) who had previously failed to win the big one for his team, including a bad SB loss, and lead the team to glory in his first year with the job.

by Kellerman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 7:39pm

re 106:

Marino played two good games in '84 to get to the Super Bowl (his second season and statistically best) and rallied his team from 21-3 to beat the Browns 24-21 in 1985 to advance to the conference championship.
Later on, his (playoff) teams' philosophy changed to being more heavily dependant on the running game and defense than solely on his throwing, but you're right that he didn't put up great playoff performances much after '85.

by thad (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 7:56pm

Stan, WTF are you talking about.
Montana has gone on and on about that stupid play for 25 years now.
According to him thats how it was practiced.
If you watch it again Walls (24) has no chance.
Sometimes espn shows it as a classic game.
Bill Walsh has said the same thing.

oh and by stupid play I mean I was a Cowboy fan watching it at the time.

by mb (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 8:05pm

db: If you correct about the set of stats measured in the foxsports "clutch" ratings then I am mistaken.

However, I'm still not comfortable rating QBs on their "clutchness" based on their individual stats, at least with where statistical analysis of football is right now. As I said earlier, how can you differentiate between the QB's reads and throws, the WRs' route running and catches, the line's pass pro, and the play of the defense? Even when actually watching games it's hard to assign value to those things because without extensive film study the average fan only sees a fraction of what's actually happening; even with endless film study it's an imperfect science. Basically talking about "clutch" in football (and that means of course QBs, kickers and pretty much no one else) is far messier than baseball, where you can dissuade such a notion easily because hitting is an individual act and so dependant on chance.

by mb (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 8:14pm

Thad: Stan is saying that's it ludicrous to judge Montana postively or negatively by one fairly poor throw that his receiver bailed him out in with a great catch. He's using it as example to illustrate how sports journalists and the public incorrectly bestow labels like "clutch" onto players. He even went out of his way to mention how great Montana* was. The point history often judges players unfairly based on single moments in time outside the context of their entire careers and refuses to relinquish its' initial judgements even when those players prove otherwise.

*While reading the Blind Side I was pretty shocked to see how much of an impact Bill Walsh's system had on all the QBs who played in it, not just Montana and Young. I was born in 84 so I missed all the great 49ers teams of the 80s but it was pretty fascinating reading about the coach/QB dynamic and how guys like Bradshaw were outraged when Walsh wanted to replace Montana with Steve Young.

by Rick (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 8:24pm

You guys have really been obsessed this season with the "contrarian" idea that Brady isn't as clutch as his reputation would have you believe while Peyton Manning isn't as big of a choker as his reputation would have you believe.

Brady did lead last minute scoring drives in two Super Bowls and the famous "tuck" game, right? Wasn't that clutch? If not, why not?

This kind of shallow analysis that says "well, it was only one drive out of 170" kind of misses the point. None of those drives were simply average drives with average pressure levels. It's like they say - everybody hits 50 yard FGs in practice.

As for Peyton Manning, this is what Wikipedia has to say:
"In the 2002 postseason, facing a higher-seeded 9-7 Jets team on the road, Manning threw two interceptions and had a career low 31.2 passer rating. The next year, he faced New England in the 2003 AFC Championship Game and threw four interceptions with a passer rating of 35.5. A year later, he faced the Patriots again, and the Colts scored three offensive points."

It's well documented in human psychology that first impressions become disproportionately emphasized in one's opinion about a person. The first impressions of Tom Brady in the media and the public were a player who just kept winning football games. His team won all their games in his first three postseasons! No other QB in history can say that. (Well, at least not in the Super Bowl era.)

In contrast, Peyton Manning's teams famously tanked in his first few years, and he was notorious for throwing a lot of picks. All of these things really happened!

It is true that Peyton Manning has picked up his game in the past two years. It's also true that he's still thrown a lot of picks this offseason, including two more passes to Ty Law and one to Assante Samuel. He should get credit for playing two quality quarters out of twelve thus far - let's keep this in perspective!

As for Brady, he's had a few moments of brilliance this off-season - most notably the last-minute drive in the first half of the Charger game. But no, he wasn't as impressive this year as he was in the first three post-seasons. And, quite frankly, a lot of us suspect some kind of injury must have been involved. He was missing wide-open receivers in game after game, and that was not something he had ever done in previous seasons.

So, say what you will about "clutch" performance. I think it's a bit too easy to dismiss its importance. It's a bit too easy to say "small sample size" and dismiss a clutch outcome as the result of luck as opposed to steady nerves. So let's not get too into patting ourselves on the back for contrarianism.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 8:53pm

Brady did lead last minute scoring drives in two Super Bowls and the famous “tuck� game, right? Wasn’t that clutch?

Brady also threw game-killing interceptions in the playoffs in the last two years. Isn't that choking? Why not?

by TracingError (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 9:02pm

"And likewise, why has Manning’s story become, so blatantly, the guy whose all-world skills go away in the clutch? Maybe it’s because his defense is worse. You think? You can make points about Manning’s salary cap hit and how that hurts the Colts ability to sign players, and it’s relevant, but it’s not the whole story — and Brady isn’t surviving on chump change, either. Is Manning the third generation of quarterback to get that story told about him? Manning, Marino, Tarkenton."

If you mean to suggest that defense was Tarkenton's problem, I beg to differ.
1973: D is #2 in points allowed. Vikes lose 24-7 in super bowl.
1974: D is #3, Vikes lose 16-6 in SB.
1975: D is #3, Vikes lose 17-14 in div. round.
1976: D is #2, Vikes lose 32-14 in SB
1977: D is #13, Vikes lose 23-6 in Championship game
That looks to me like 5 straight years the offense didn't get it done, though admittedly I neither watched the games nore looked at stats or accounts. Still, those are some pretty strong defenses Tarkenton had going for him.

by thad (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 9:04pm

re 112
No, Stan is saying it was a bad throw, I am saying it was very good.

by Rick (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 9:09pm

#113: It's somewhat shocking to see something you would never say with your name attached to it. Perhaps we can be Good Rick and Bad Rick.

I'm definitely Good Rick because I've seen those drives from 2001 recently and I wouldn't go out of my way to call them "clutch". They were more like checking down to the wide open back or TE under the coverage. Again and again and again and again.

But to each their own.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 9:16pm

#117: Dude, no way. It's gotta be Good Rick and Evil Rick.

And you totally want to be Evil Rick.

by Rick (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 9:23pm


by EVIL Rick (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 9:25pm

#113: It’s somewhat shocking to see something you would never say with your name attached to it. Perhaps we can be Good Rick and EVIL Rick.

I’m definitely EVIL Rick because I’ve seen those drives from 2001 recently and I wouldn’t go out of my way to call them “clutch�. They were more like checking down to the wide open back or TE under the coverage. Again and again and again and again.

But to each their own.

by David (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 9:25pm

"One team I would like to give a lot of credit to over the weekend is both officiating crews. There was very little to complain about in either game; it seems that the vast majority of the time they got things right."

Um, what about the "fumble" on the kickoff return by the Saints in the first quarter? You know, the one where the player was down by contact, then the ball was stripped, and the ruling on the field was upheld despite all logic?

by CA (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 9:50pm

Re: 87

Pat, please do not cool it. Regardless of whether I agree with you, I know you'll always have something insightful to say.

by galen (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 10:08pm


Is stan a troll?

Not a Pats fan here. I’ve probably seen 4-6 Pats games / yr the last several years, and (prior to this year) have been completely blown away at how accurate he was. If you’re used to watching NFC East QBs and then you tune in to a Pats game, you just have one of those “V-8″ moments where you go, “Oh… Right! That’s what an NFL quarterback is supposed to look like!�

:: Carlos — 1/18/2007 @ 7:27 pm

>.I don't value other peoples opinions because
>the vast majority of the time they are ill-informed,
>and lack any thought or logic behind them - is not my problem
>nor does it fall under the scope of manners. It does however fall
>under the scope of politically incorrect, and if anything that must
>mean I'm more right than I thought.

1) You have just defined the very meaning and the psychology of a troll better
than anything I have read online in the last ten years.

2) If you place no value on other peoples' opinions, then you cannot possibly
derive anything from your company on this group, since it is contingent upon
that premise. Nothing anyone here says can mean anything to you since you do
not value their opinions.

As stated: a troll who only comes in to cause furors and annoy people for his
own amusement without any interest in a real conversation.

Hey, Jay...can somebody introduce this guy to the workings of a moderated

He may not like it much, but the thing about not valuing other peoples'
opinions is that it gives them the right not to value yours

that is courtesy of JMSNEWS

Does that answer your question Carlos?

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 10:17pm

#122: Ha! I didn't even read that. I usually completely gloss over criticisms like that. Although it's amusing to think of a church with giant numbers or something. It should be noted that he's saying that I'm worshipping the binomial distribution. :)

It should be noted I'm not against the whole idea of "clutch" or anything. I can't stand it when people say "you can't just up and say it's small sample size." Yes, in fact, you can. That's the entire point of statistics. You wouldn't believe the arguments that people have in sciences trying to figure out whether or not small-number effects are significant. And they almost always turn out not to be.

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 10:22pm

Question to all:

Are we even having this Brady/Manning discussion if the Tuck Game ended the way it should have? With Brady fumbling the ball away at the end of the game (how clutch of him). That one PLAY would drop his postseason record from 12-2 to 9-3 with 2 Super Bowl wins. My guess is that this topic becomes a lot less heated if that's the situation.

This game with the Colts was only the second postseason game I can remember where the offense needed to really win it for them because the defense was D-O-N-E in the 2nd half (the first being the Carolina Super Bowl) and Brady didn't get it done despite the incredible effort of the special teams to set him up. He has been truly blessed his entire career with a great defense, a great special teams, and arguably the best head coach in NFL history.

by stan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 10:53pm


The DB is not anywhere close to making the play. The ball is caught by fingernails. He could have thrown it much, much lower and completed it. Remember, it was 4th down. It was NOT a case of "throw it where only my guy can get it and if he can't, we get a FG".

He has to throw a catchable ball, even if he risks an INT.

by Subrata Sircar (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 10:58pm

Insofar as Baseball Prospectus has a groupthink position on this issue, it is summarized thusly:

"Clutch performances exist. Clutch players don't."

I have seen it postulated that this is for two reasons:
1. In baseball, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that the same guy who hits .500 in the playoffs one year and wins the final game "single-handedly" is just as likely to have hit .250 and ground out weakly to the shortstop the year before. In other words, a player's clutch performances - almost no matter how you measure them - don't correlate from year to year, and certainly not over a long career.

2. In baseball, as in most professional sports, anyone who "chokes" with the game on the line gets weeded out well before they hit the big stage. Professional atheletes are selected for their skills/talents *and the ability to consistently use them* at every level, multiple times - while we all know people who want the ball with the game on the line, damn near everyone in the pros IS that guy. And so's the guy across the line, and everyone standing next to him. The guys who vapor-lock never got drafted, or never cracked the starting lineup in college.

Professional atheletes are the very, very small end of a very big bell curve. All the "common experience" arguments for their confidence, or lack thereof, don't necessarily hold water - in a lot of ways, they're really not like us.

by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 11:01pm


stan is obnoxious, overbearing and irrationally defensive about Peyton Manning. That does not make him a troll. Chasing him from one thread to another and posting quotes over a week old in an attempt to start a flame war, however..........


It may defy perception or common sense, but the "tuck rule", as has been pointed out several times, WAS called correctly. You may not like the rule, but it was the rule, and it was called as written. And, as anyone on the boards can tell you, I'm not a Patriots fan, so please leave the reflex "homer" response alone. The Tuck Game did end the way it should have; calling it a fumble would have been the wrong call.

by bsr (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 11:42pm

#114 - Read my post #65. Being clutch does not equate to being perfect. If that were the case nobody would be clutch. If Heath Evens isn't on the field then it was quite possible that is a three and out is Peyton's last posession of this year. It wasn't however, and he ended up getting one more chance to do something. So was Peyton clutch or lucky? I would say he was clutch. I guess you would say he was lucky?

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 11:47pm

#114 - Read my post #65. Being clutch does not equate to being perfect. If that were the case nobody would be clutch.

So when do you lose "clutch"? Shouldn't you lose "clutch" when you "choke" in as many situations as you've "clutched" in before?

Isn't it about 'high stakes', though? So when Brady "chokes" in as many high stakes games as he "clutched" in before, doesn't that make him "clutch-neutral"?

by bugs meany (not verified) :: Fri, 01/26/2007 - 11:59pm

If "clutchness" exists, it must be some distinguishable characteristic, like being right-handed or able to lick your own elbows. Right? Right.

Therefore, a hypothetical: say you have two kickers, both of whom have had careers identical to Adam Vinateri circa 2004: good accuracy, two Superbowl wins off last-minute field goals.

Now say only one of these guys is "clutch", and the other is simply an accurate kicker who got lucky at the right time. What would you test for to tell which kicker is which?

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 12:09am

Re: 125

I'm aware that the technical ruling on the field was correct, but everyone who watched that game knows Brady fumbled the ball. He got away with it on a pretty obscure technicality. He gets inordinately awarded for "winning" that game, when by his intents he should have lost it. The point is that if the call on the field that evening isn't overturned, I don't believe we are engaging in this entire Manning/Brady debate.

by M113 (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 1:34am

I think the effect of the "media" is way overblown here. I don't know anyone in my regular life who thinks Brady is an infallible god and Manning is an awful choker..And I live in the Boston area....Most people genuinely understand that they are both excellent QBs and for the past few years NE has had the better all around team. The stereotype that you are railing against isn't really so widespread.

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 2:12am

Take a dozen exactly equivalent Joe Montana clones. Let's say that on average, a typical Joe Montana clone wins two Super Bowls during his career.

It's very unlikely that each of them wins exactly two, though. What's more likely is that one of them wins four or five, while a couple never win, despite being awesome. Something like 5, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 0, 0, 0 is a typical distribution. A lot of people would try to retroactively ascribe some quality to the one that wins five Super Bowls, and say that the ones that never win don't have that quality. (Montana Clone #7 just wins, baby!)

Now suppose "clutch" exists. Let's add a clutch Montana clone to the mix. The clutch one averages four Super Bowl wins instead of two per career, despite having the same regular season stats as his nonclutch counterparts. Now we have thirteen quarterbacks. Let's say that in this experiment, the thirteen quarterbacks get 5, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1, 1, 0, and 0 championships. Which is the clutch one? Maybe it's the five win guy. Maybe one of the four win guys. Maybe the clutch player had an unlucky career, and through no fault of his own won only two Super Bowls despite being clutch. You don't really know, do you?

Clutch is something that people invent retroactively to explain results. It doesn't predict results, simply because we don't have enough data to figure it out.

If Brady and Manning both had 1000 year careers, and by the end of them, Brady had 256 rings and Manning had 103, that would mean something. We don't have that kind of data.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 4:06am

Bert Jones a proto-Marino? I don't know.... was Marino prone to tantrums on field? He surely had better touch on his balls (ahem), and never had a pro-bowl RB like Mitchell. Jones hawked soap (Irish Spring? Ivory? I forget) and Marino sold Isotoners with a semi-sports-related commercial theme. Score one for Danny.

The Colts had a pretty complete team in Jones's years (not sure about the OL--IIRC, LG Mike Barnes was a human offsides machine), their downfall was their conference--Steelers and Raiders and not much chance for air. Not unlike the Colts of 2003-2005, come to think of it.... (I mean that regarding the better teams in their conf beating them inthe playoffs, not about being a complete team). During Marino's years (when he had a better cast around him), were there truly dominant AFC powerhouses? I'm thinking Oakland and Denver had some solid years there. It was largely an NFC dominance era, wasn't it? As a Colt fan, I was more or less in hibernation and denial those years.

by Bill (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 4:47am

I think there are a few separate issues here.

1) Does "clutch" exist?

2) What is "clutch"?

3) Is it permanent? Temporary?

4) What makes a player clutch? Can he go from being un-clutch to clutch or vice versa?

I think a lot of the focus is on 1 when the more interesting issues, I think, are 2-4. I knew when writing the piece that I wanted to express my opinion about 1 but I didn't want it to be the focal point.

And just to throw in my own opinion, I don't think Pat or Pacifist Viking should change one bit -- I'm a big fan of them both. Now #33 on the other hand...

by Jason (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 7:32am

"1. In baseball, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that the same guy who hits .500 in the playoffs one year and wins the final game “single-handedly� is just as likely to have hit .250 and ground out weakly to the shortstop the year before. In other words, a player’s clutch performances - almost no matter how you measure them - don’t correlate from year to year, and certainly not over a long career."

I don't see this as an argument that clutch does not exist but that rather humans change. A player can be clutch one year then for a variety of other reasons not be the next year (injuries, older age, etc) Lack of clutchness one year in no way indicates the lack of a player being clutch in a particular year or whatever. Humans change so it is unreasonable to expect their "clutchness level" to remain constant throughout their lives.

-I think the best examples of Choke are seen in the famous meltdowns of Jana Novatna (Wimbledon) and Greg Norman. Both blew gigantic leads in Major moments that I would likely bet they never did in lesser events. It was apparant even watching them what was going on. Conversely it is hard to believe that a "choke" facotr exists but that on the opposite side there is not a "clutch ability"

-I'd also define "clutch" as outperforming one's regular performance. If a .200 hitter hits .300 during the playoffs he could be clutch whereas a .400 hitter hitting only .300 would be choking. In my opinion, Clutch performers are ones who have their best statistical games and/or outperform their regular performances in the playoffs/championships. For example Steve YOung throwing 6 TDS in the SB far exceeded his regular or even very good performances. Likewise Dwyane Wade averaging almost 40 points per game vs Dallas after averaging like 27 during the regular season greatly exceeded his typical performance

by Bad Rick (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 8:35am

re: 120
OK, you can be Evil Rick and I'll be Bad Rick. If another Rick shows up he can be Ugly Rick.

by Not saying (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 10:29am

Re: 137 I don’t see this as an argument that clutch does not exist but that rather humans change.

That's why the argument goes that “Clutch performances exist. Clutch players don’t.� The person who performed well one year is not a "clutch player", he just had a "clutch performance".

Re: Novatna and Norman

It's a lot easier to separate out those performances in individual sports. You can see what they are doing independent of anyone else's actions (especially in golf). In football, you're completely dependant on your teammates. In baseball, you might not get the chance to be "clutch", e.g. you don't come to bat in the 9th down one, or you come to bat down 2 with 2 outs, hit a home run and the next guy gets out.

I’d also define “clutch� as outperforming one’s regular performance.

I like Aaron's definition better: someone whose performance doesn't go down in pressure situations. I don't think hitting .300 should ever be considered choking or clutch, especially in one series. The other examples you gave are far too dependant on the defences those players faced.

by goathead (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 10:48am

Bert Jones had a good team around him for 3 years, then it fell apart (in particular the O Line). After that he was a human sack target, and wound up just getting physically destroyed. Before the team fell apart, his passing was astonishing. OK, I was young during those years, but in my (albeit fuzzy) recollection, he did have a knack for the game winning drive. During his MVP year he pretty much played as well as any QB I've ever seen. Here's a guy who on a good team might have been a legend, but he got so physically destroyed that Elway refused to be a Colt. Had Elway gone to the Colts it wouldn't surprise me if he'd survived about 3 year in the NFL.

by Jason (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 11:02am

"That’s why the argument goes that “Clutch performances exist. Clutch players don’t.� The person who performed well one year is not a “clutch player�, he just had a “clutch performance"

To me a "clutch performance" describes 1 game. If a player during a year repeatedly excels in the biggest/most important moments then that moves beyond "clutch performance" into "clutch player"

by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 11:43am

re 113: You really shouldnt use wikipedia to try to "prove" your points.

by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 12:24pm

Brady also threw game-killing interceptions in the playoffs in the last two years. Isn’t that choking? Why not?

Denver, yes, but he had a great game against Indy. Not as good as Manning, but good. What was his QB rating?

by Travis (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 12:32pm

#126 The DB is not anywhere close to making the play. The ball is caught by fingernails. He could have thrown it much, much lower and completed it. Remember, it was 4th down. It was NOT a case of “throw it where only my guy can get it and if he can’t, we get a FG�.

"The Catch" came on 3rd and 3, not 4th down.

I can't wait for stan's next argument against Joe Montana's greatness. Was the pass to John Taylor too close to the back of the end zone?

by Not saying (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 12:51pm

Re: 141 To me a “clutch performance� describes 1 game.

I think the main argument is about the playoffs. In baseball, for example, hitting well for two weeks (or 4 days, if it's just one series) is enough to earn you the label of "clutch", but it's really a matter of a "clutch performance". You had the opportunities and, for at that time, you took advantage of them. Being a "clutch player" would involve having some magic beans that enable you to take advantage of those situations year after year.

by Kellerman (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 12:55pm

Bobman, I agree that no player is a perfect comp for any other player, but I think the similarities are there for Jones and Marino in a gestalt perspective. Looking back it's clear Marino wound up with a far better career than Jones, but was that just a product of the Colts' total failure to reload in the late 70's and early 80's as opposed to the Dolphins' less steep decline of the late 80s? From the perspective of 1983-85, a strong case could've been made that Marino was having a career very much in the mold of Bert Jones and I think even more so when you extend it to 1989 as the Dolphins endured their 4th straight non-winning and non-playoff season which was a longer drought than any experienced in the team's history up to that point. In fact, they only had one losing season between 1969 and 1986 (6-8 in 1976, which was also the Colts' peak under Jones at 11-3). In 1990, of course the Dolphins turned it around to 12-4 with guys like Richmond Webb and Sammie Smith. Those early 90's also happened to coincide with the Bills' peak, of course. Also, remember that Jones' biggest years came immediately before the introduction of the 16-game schedule and the liberalization of the passing rules, which would make his best years look a little more like Marino's. Incidentally, if people don't understand the impact of those rules, just compare Bradshaw and the Steeler offense pre-1978 and post-1977.

Actually I forgot all about those classy Bert Jones soap commercials. I do remember the cover of SI in 1982 showing a grinning Bert snuggling up with Georgia Frontiere captioned "Georgia gets her man!" The story of the Rams and their 15 straight years of changing starting QB's is a story for another day.

by kal (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 2:20pm

#143: His rating was 79.5 - and that was against the Colts D. Admittedly it was a lot better than his rating against them in the regular season, but his stats - 21/34 for 232, 1 TD, 1 INT - aren't exactly mindboggling.

And DPAR had him around 4, IIRC. Manning, by comparison, was around 15.

by goathead (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 2:44pm

Kellerman: I remember that SI cover! Sadly for Georgia, her man was already broken...

by Carlos (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 3:06pm

Tell Jana Novatna that there's no such thing as "clutch."

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great article about the difference between choking (Novatna) and panicking (JFK Jr).


by mb (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 3:19pm

Jason: That's exactly the point. How can you define "clutch" if it varies from year to year and even game to game? Sure, you could just say that all athletes have a "clutchness factor" that goes up and down, the same way I could claim that "invisible evil trolls" have been stopping Alex Rodriguez from hitting well in the postseason the last couple years. You can't disprove my claim just like I can't disprove yours; you can certainly claim that it's a ridiculous idea but I can say the same of the widespread notion that some athletes are somehow more "clutch" than others.

Like some other people have said, I'm not totally against the idea of clutch players but it bothers me that fans and journalists latch on to results that may be largely influenced by luck, the play of teammates/opponents, officiating, opportunity and a host of other factors and decree that one player is more "clutch" than another without actually examinining that claim. I still think the closest definition of clutch for me is the ability to perform steadily under pressure (or, if you prefer the ability to not "choke").

Also for the several commentators who've been insinuating that saying that Montana's throw on the Catch was a bad one is somehow denigrating Montana; get over it. He was a great HOF QB who made many great throws in his career. That particular throw wasn't up to his usual standards and Dwight Clark bailed him out with a great catch.

by stan (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 3:44pm

Random points:

"butchering" a two minute offense doesn't mean that the QB didn't make some plays. It means that he screwed up the clock management. McNair in the Super Bowl screwed up clock management. He didn't come up a yard short, he ran out of time because he wasted precious time earlier in the drive. In addition, an absolute requirement on that last play is to throw the ball past the goal line. You simply cannot take a chance on coming up short. He came up short because he made a really, really bad decision. Yet, in the context of the article under discussion in this thread, he wasn't criticized in the least by the media for all the mistakes he made in crunch time.

More definitional misunderstanding -- being the QB when your team scores late in the game to win does not equate to great QB play. That is probably the biggest mistake made by a lazy media. If your pass protection is excellent, your receivers wide open and you complete easy throws down the field against a prevent defense, I don't consider that to be noteworthy. It's just not that hard for any decent QB.

Good example would be the Colts vs. Denver this year. Colt fans might want to say that the Broncos coaches said they didn't blitz Peyton because he's the best in the league against the blitz. That may speak to Manning's overall excellence, but it doesn't address the fact that the Broncos didn't put up much resistance on the last drive. Peyton had good pass pro, his receivers were wide open and he made the easy throws. It just wasn't a special "game-winning drive". And let's face it, a lot of such drives aren't. It also isn't "great" play if the QB throws a jump ball amongst 3 defenders and the WR makes a spectacular catch.

The whole "clutch" argument is really about greatness. I would argue that a big part of "greatness" is consistency, i.e. playing at an extraordinarily high level every play, every game. Isn't that the measure of a real pro? Of course, the media is too bored and too stupid to pay attention that long. So they tend to focus on the last thing they see.

Great play by a QB is when the pass pro is breaking down or a blitzer is coming in his face unblocked. It is the throw into a tiny crease in the zone or to a receiver who is blanketed by coverage. Let's face it, QB play is dependent on the other 10 on the offense and the 11 on defense.

Was Bart Starr really great? For most of his career, he had vastly superior talent around him every game he played. I would expect that just about any reasonably decent QB would have put up the numbers he did and led teams to the titles he did. Same with Terry Bradshaw. Although I only saw Starr when I was a kid, I KNOW that Bradshaw was vastly overrated. He actually lost his starting job for 5 games (I believe in one of those Super Bowl years) to a talent named Jefferson Street Joe Gilliam (and demanded to be traded). If Bradshaw had played for the Giants during the 70s, he'd be remembered as a guy who never got close to getting it done.

In the end, it's about context. How good is the pass pro? Are the receivers open? Is the running game a threat? Anyone who has ever watched the Colts play has to be shocked and amazed that Glenn and Saturday are going to the Pro Bowl. They are really average players. But the media look to the stats and make conclusions without bothering to actually look at the film.

Pats fans love to disparage their offensive line and receivers. But when I watch I see good pass pro and open receivers (e.g. the last 3 quarters of the SD game, I thought the O-line was fantastic against a great pass rush without going max protect). The receivers were wide open all day.

[I don't want to make this Brady vs. Manning, but they seem to be the examples everyone watched recently.] The Indy-Balt game is a good counter-example. The Colts' pass pro was so bad against the Ravens that they had to use 7 blockers in pass pro -- and even then they had people all over Manning. The problem with that was that the Colts only had 3 receivers in the pattern. On TV, all we can see in the secondary is what we see on replays, but it was pretty obvious that the Colts were struggling to get anyone open in the 2d half. Manning found himself in the same situation as the 2003 and 2004 playoffs with NE (when his 6 blockers couldn't handle 3 pass rushers, and the 8 defenders were smothering his 4 receivers).

The stupid and the lazy just look at the numbers and say the QB sucked. But we all know better. Pats fans will remember when Brady threw 4 INTs vs. KC during the 2005 reg season. Every Pats fan and every NE writer made it a point to emphasize that Tom was victimized by poor pass pro because of injuries in the O-line. This is absolutely legit! (although Colt fans wonder why the media only seems to be cognizant of the effect of bad pass pro when it causes the media's golden boy to have a bad game).

I am on my soapbox because this just isn't that hard to see. We should hold the media to a higher standard. The crap that passes for analysis is just so bad that they should all be embarassed.

Of course, this may well be why so many of us come to FO.

by stan (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 4:07pm

How 'bout a good example without citing Brady or Manning? I don't get to see the Jets very often, but I thought that Chad Pennington deserved tremendous credit for the year he had. He didn't have a lot of talent around him. The defense knows that he can't throw deep with his shoulder. He knows he has to have a wider opening to throw into because he can't put any zip on the ball. His running game consists of a different nobody of the week.

I haven't seen many of their games this year. But of what I saw and what the Jets got done this year, I have to think he accomplished a tremendous amount with all kinds of limitations.

If we evaluate QB play in context with the talent around him, isn't Pennington someone who might deserve more credit than the media has given him?

Any thoughts?

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 4:19pm

Re: 151

Pat fans do downgrade the talent around Brady. Excellent point regarding the Pat O-line in the San Diego game. After the 1st quarter, the O-line adjusted and Brady had all day to throw. The line did a fantastic job picking up the Charger stunts and blitzes. Brady has always moved exceptionally well in the pocket, but he almost always has a pocket in which to move. I don't know if it's the coaching or the players or an equal combination of each, but the Pat O-line seems vastly underrated.

by Peter Libero (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 4:31pm

Hm, an interesting discussion here. I think we've all been familiar with people who have come up big in situations where it matters most, and people who seem to collapse when the pressure is on. That leads us to apply the same traits to professional athletes when they are in the same situations, even if they're not necessarily comparable.

I took a basic social psychology class a year ago, and learned a little tidbit called "social facilitation" that may help a little bit with this. Basically, researchers learned a long time ago that simple tasks were performed better when in a competitive situation. The initial experiment was in bike racing, and then was repeated by small children winding fishing reels. When the task is considered simple to complete, competition and observation drives people to perform at a higher level.

If the task is complex, on the other hand, the person is usually inhibited by the competitive situation. This effect is magnified in people that care more about the opinions of others.

Obviously this doesn't exactly conform to our discussion, because players are being watched all the time, even in practice. I think it's not hard to imagine that the effect would be magnified by more critical and more numerous observers, as would be the case in the playoffs. Also, at the ends of games, people's interest is at its peak... you don't get up to get another beer with 3 minutes to go.

We might also consider how the situation that players are put into would affect their ability to respond to the observer effect. As an example, Brady is considered to be something of a product of Belichick's gameplanning, while Manning calls his own plays and makes all kinds of adjustments. For Manning, playing quarterback is about as complicated as anything can be, while it's comparatively simpler for Brady. Maybe their personalities could also have some effect. Food for thought, anyway.

To answer Bill's questions in my opinion:
1) Does “clutch� exist?

2) What is “clutch�?
In my opinion acting as you normally would under extreme pressure. That's probably as much as you're going to get out of professional athletes, because they play at the highest possible level all the time normally. I do believe it's very easy to do WORSE, however. So maybe I don't think "clutch" exists so much as "choking."

3) Is it permanent? Temporary?
Neither, entirely.

4) What makes a player clutch? Can he go from being un-clutch to clutch or vice versa?
I think clutchness is a personality trait, but those can certainly change over the years. It's easy to imagine a young quarterback being scared of the bright lights and falling apart, and then learning to be more assured in those situations. Likewise, someone can lose their confidence and become more vulnerable to pressure, and fail. So yes, you can move from cluch to un-clutch and vice versa, although mostly I think it's from choker to non-choker.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 6:06pm

I'm not even going to pretend that I've read all the posts, so apologies if I repeat things others have said.

I don't claim to have the final word on the whole Manning versus Brady "clutch" debate, but I am surprised that those writing in support of Manning often act like this debate comes out of nowhere.

Manning's passer rating in the playoffs is more than 10 points lower than his regular season rating. Dan Marino's is just under 8 points lower. Joe Montana and Tom Brady both have postseason ratings slightly higher than their regular season ratings.

As others have said, "clutch" doesn't mean you're always going to win; not clutch doesn't mean you're always going to lose. It means that on average your performances are not significantly different in elimination games versus non-elimination games. Brady and Montana satify this criterion; Manning and Marino do not.

Now, I know this argument is simplistic and there are arguments against it (including whether or not QB rating is the best measure etc. etc), but I just think there are lots of posts here picking out one play here or another play there in order to comment on the issue of clutch. When overall postseason performance is considered, however, there is some evidence to suggest that Manning and Marino's play drops off whilst Brady and Montana's do not.

by Danny (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 6:10pm

Having an MS (and soon to be PhD) in sport psychology, I agree with Ian that there is such a thing as "clutch." However, being in the zone is not the issue. Players can be in the zone in the 1st quarter, and I'm sure we all agree that "clutch" performances occur at the end of games, not the beginning. From a psychological perspective, clutch performance is when a player has the ability to cope effectively with increased stress levels caused by a) the importance of the situation, b) the ever-decreasing amount of time left in the game, and c) a player's predisposition to feel performance anxiety. As you see, part of it is personality, and part is situational.

There's a long line of literature in sport psych studying the performance coping strategies of athletes. Interestingly, there's not nearly as much known about how these coping strategies relate to performance. In the same vein, I think a limitation of sabremetrics is that it doesn't link the quantitaive analysis of performance with the psychological variables that can explain significant amounts of variation in that performance.

Now...to Brady and Manning. I don't think Brady became "un-clutch" last weekend, nor do I think Manning became "clutch." However, I do think there's no question Manning's PERFORMANCE AT THE END OF THE GAME was clutch, while Brady's was not. My point here is that I think the situation ruled the day. Manning coped with the end-of-game pressure better on that day than Brady did, with the cause most likely being both mental and physical. Given enough time and access, both sport psychologists and sabremetricians could find a better answer than simply "it's the media's fault."

by stan (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 6:42pm


Is Marvin Harrison clutch? If Marvin plays poorly in the playoffs, what impact does that have on his team? On Manning? How about E. James? The O-line? Therein lies the problem with using statistics to determine "clutch" or even evaluate playoff performance. What if the "choke" is the fault of someone else on the offense?

An example given earlier was the KC game the Colts played this month. The conventional wisdom was that Manning played badly because of 3 picks. But there is evidence that 2 of the picks were Marvin's fault (I have no idea). If that is true, then he played an outstanding game (30-38) despite having a defensive gameplan that was willing to be gashed by the run in order to do everything possible to stop the pass. What does passer rating tell us? Nothing.

Another example -- 2003 AFC title game. Brady throws 3 passes right at Colt defenders, but all are dropped. Perhaps we can say the Colt DBs choked, but Brady's rating was certainly helped. In the same game, Ty Law made great plays on several INTs. Perhaps he was just clutch, but Manning's rating certainly suffered.

It seems kind of silly for a QB's "clutch/choke" determination to be, in actuality, totally dependent on whether DBs hold or drop a handful of passes. Yet, we know that several INTs can devastate a passer rating.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 7:11pm

re 157: I agree that the issue of clutch is clowded in team sports, because a guy's performance can be hurt by teamates who aren't clutch or helped by teammates who are. But if Manning's postseason numbers suffer because his teammates aren't clutch, or Brady's are helped by throwing against DBs who aren't, then that still acknowledges the existence of clutch as a concept, right?

My point was that I don't know how much sense it makes to focus on specific games or specific plays (which is what you've done). Brady's rating in his 14 playoff appearances is not noticeably different to his regular season rating. Mannings rating in 12 playoff games is.

Is 12/14 games enough games to allow all good and bad luck (like dropped passes or INTs) to cancel out? I don't know. But rightly or wrongly, it is those statistical differences which lead to debate about how a player performs under pressure.

by stan (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 7:24pm


I think you have to go look at the film. Did Brady really play as poorly in the KC game as the stats say? Or do you blame the O-line? In Marino's only Super Bowl, his O-line was completely dominated by the defense. His fault?

If the Pat coaches had not adjusted the pass pro in the SD game, the Chargers would have killed Brady. What would a choke job by the Pats' coaches have done to his rating?

by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 8:20pm

I think Laurence Maroney plays worse in pressure situations, and Dominic Rhodes plays better. Beyond that, who knows?

by Rick (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 9:06pm

"Clutch" is an odd thing. Is it "clutch" when a QB has a comeback drive for a FG against an obviously inferior team they should be beating badly? Is it "clutch" when a QB gets the team to the 1 yard line with :03 left, down 4 points to a much superior team, but can't get it in the endzone? One, you would say, is clutch, and one isn't. I'd say neither is or both are. The first one shouldn't have been clutch because the game should've been put away earlier and a FG drive for a win isn't really that tough. The second should be clutch because the QB kept the team in the game the whole way but just couldn't pull it out in a very tough end game situation, but did a VERY admirable job.

Sadly, we define the term in simple terms of winning. If you managed to win a close one, you're "clutch", regardless of competition and situation. If you don't win, you aren't "clutch".

And the concept of "winning the big one" making the name for a player is a terrible metric, at best. Jack Welch once posited that he likes companies who are consistently in the top 3 of their industry. That's because they can get to the top easily and have shown they have good leadership. But being #1, while important, is less important than the consistency of being at the top regularly in order to REACH the very top.

If every team had a Tom Brady (assuming he has magical "clutch" powers and wins the big one), then Tom Brady would suck. Because you could have 32 Tom Bradys, but 31 of them wouldn't win.

That's where the numbers guys are important. Because you can't factor in luck, but as Branch Rickey said, "Luck is the residue of good planning." I'd say Brady's luck is in decline as his top level management and skill players are leaving/in decline and teams adjust. Manning's may be peaking, as it should have been expected to at some point in the last 8 years.
The numbers showed that, at some point, Manning was likely to be in this situation (the Super Bowl). He's simply fulfilled his destiny. And whether he wins it or not, his place in history is set. You don't need the Lombardi trophy to be "the greatest"...it is a form of affirmation, however.

by Rick (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 9:11pm

I also forgot to mention, playoffs are HEAVILY prepared for events. A GREAT player has his greatness minimized as the opposition breaks down his play in great detail, as a means of diminishing his greatness and finding a way to win the game. Now a GREAT player would find a way to win...but he can't win every game where the opposition has prepared well. As I stated previously "Luck is the residue of good planning." This implies the opposition, if they put in endless hours breaking down the stats and the tape, should find the ball bouncing their way more than the GREAT one's way.

That doesn't mean the GREAT one isn't great...he just ran into a brick wall...which will happen frequently as the teams he plays improve dramatically (as in the playoffs).

by mb (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 10:22pm

Ryan Mc: I know you acknowledged it but passer rating is in my opinion a pretty flawed and misleading stat. Also if a player's performance is affected by the play of teammates/opponents how can you distinguish their contributions? Can assign a % value of a play to a QBs coverage read and throw or to a LT's block of a Dwight Freeney or Shawne Merriman? Noting that a QBs performance is affected by many things outside his control doesn't support or disprove the concept of clutch.

Danny: Has sports psychology managed to identify a "clutch" part of a player's makeup? I think the real value would be in being able to successfully predict more often than not which players will more consistently perform at a higher level under extreme pressure. Anyone can point to Manning's game winning drive and say that was "clutch" and that Brady's INT wasn't. I think sports psychology is fascinating for a variety of reasons and I think it would be very useful to GMs and scouts if such a predictive power using psychology could be developed but from what you said I don't think it has been yet.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this great discussion and added your various insights.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 10:38pm

re 159: but again, my point is to not debate single games or individual plays.

Even if I were to give you Marino's Superbowl loss as his O-line's fault, what about his other 17 playoff games? Marino has a QB rating of 77 in the postseason in his career, and that disappointing figure isn't solely related to one game against the 49ers.

If Marino's other playoff performances were on average at least as good as his regular season play then his rating in the postseason wouldn't be substantially lower than his reg season rating (which it is) just because of one game in which his O-line had issues.

As others have pointed out, Joe Montana had some very tough games in the playoffs too. However, when one considers his postseason play in its entirety, we see that there was no dropoff in his performance compared to regular season.

And if we're saying that Marino is being hurt because his teammates ALWAYS choked in the postseason, that's kind of hard to believe considering how many different years and how many different teammates that encompasses.

My point is I'm taking Manning/Brady/Montana/Marino's entire careers, not just looking at one game and calling clutch or not-clutch based on that.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Sat, 01/27/2007 - 10:46pm

re 163: I think there's two issues here, though. One is: does "clutch" exist? The second is: if it does, can we actually tell who is and who isn't in a team game where an individual's performance is so connected with others?

While I have made some comments for/against certain players, I do agree it may be hard to pin the label of clutch or not on individual players in a team sport. However, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist, so...

Let's consider individual sports. Anybody want to argue that Tiger Woods is clutch and Greg Norman was not?

by Pat (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 12:07am

Denver, yes, but he had a great game against Indy. Not as good as Manning, but good. What was his QB rating?

So what? People routinely say Manning choked in 2004, when really, the only reason they're saying that is because of the interceptions near the end. Brady threw a game-ending interception. He needed to perform, or the team would lose. He didn't. They lost. Isn't that exactly what "choking" is?

I don’t see this as an argument that clutch does not exist but that rather humans change. A player can be clutch one year then for a variety of other reasons not be the next year


That's why no one would ever do it that way. The way you'd show that "clutch" does or doesn't exist is by randomly selecting half the games in the year, identifying the "clutch" players by whatever method you want, and then applying that same method on the non-selected games in the year.

Do that, and you get the same result in baseball: players that were "clutch" in half the data set are no more likely to be "clutch" in the other half.

Can't argue "people change" in that one.

by Pat (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 12:08am


You know, the whole argument would be a lot more interesting if there were one sport where there were "clutch" players, and you could show it statistically. Just one. Any one. I don't care which one.

I'm really surprised no one else finds that incredibly damning evidence as well.

by Sergio (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 1:13am

re: 167

Would golf count as a sport?

I ask in regards to the argument, as well as a general question... :P

by Pat (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 1:25am

I really don't know how you'd show it in golf, though. It's not like the free-throw or baseball examples, where it's an isolated repeatable instance.

by ElTiante (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 2:27am

The thing that separates statisticians from talking heads: Significant sample sizes. Scientists and mathematicians know that superstitions can form with just a few intances of reinforcement (for example, Manning choked in 3 playoff games, therefore, he is a choker).
So if you ever want to compare clutch vs. nonclutch players, you should admit that it can be done only when the sample size is significant.
More interestingly, what determines that? Is a late INT a sign of choking? Or is it a well calculated and necessary gamble that didn't pan out? The best way to answer that is to wait and see if the pattern repeats itself (Can you say "Drew Bledsoe"?) more often than the positive result does.
Tom Brady, in my opinion, has enough "clutch" successes to be called "clutch." Manning probably needs a few more positive results to establish a safe ratio of positive results to negative results in big games.
As a qualifier to all this, the QB is often hostage to the coaching staff. Negative results might have more to do with schemes the coaches come up with (or fail to come up with) than QB execution. In nearly all the important NE/IND games, the team that abandoned the run early is the team that lost. NE abandoned the run and wore down its own defense. In earlier contests, the Colts repeatedly chose not to run when NE had dime coverage and dared them to.
Sorry for the length.

by Greg (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 5:00am

In baseball, as in most professional sports, anyone who “chokes� with the game on the line gets weeded out well before they hit the big stage. Professional atheletes are selected for their skills/talents *and the ability to consistently use them* at every level, multiple times - while we all know people who want the ball with the game on the line, damn near everyone in the pros IS that guy. And so’s the guy across the line, and everyone standing next to him. The guys who vapor-lock never got drafted, or never cracked the starting lineup in college.

Professional atheletes are the very, very small end of a very big bell curve. All the “common experience� arguments for their confidence, or lack thereof, don’t necessarily hold water - in a lot of ways, they’re really not like us.

The problem is, the more relevant bell curve for a professional athlete is that of athleticism - there are a limited number of world class athletes in the world, there's no reason to expect that physical talent in any way correlates with psychological toughness or an ability to perform under pressure, and 95% of the weeding out that occurs is on the basis of physical talent, not psychological make-up. Even at the NCAA level, NFL caliber players are often able to dominate their opponents on physical ability alone. It's hard to argue that someone like Ryan Leaf wasn't drafted because of sheer physical talent, or that someone like Jeff Garcia wasn't drafted because of a lack thereof.

by Greg (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 5:15am

Pat fans do downgrade the talent around Brady. Excellent point regarding the Pat O-line in the San Diego game. After the 1st quarter, the O-line adjusted and Brady had all day to throw. The line did a fantastic job picking up the Charger stunts and blitzes. Brady has always moved exceptionally well in the pocket, but he almost always has a pocket in which to move. I don’t know if it’s the coaching or the players or an equal combination of each, but the Pat O-line seems vastly underrated.

Koppen and Neal are generally acknowledged as among the best in the NFL at their respective positions, and Light isn't far behind. They're not talked about as one of the great lines in the NFL, true, but I wouldn't call them "vastly underrated".

by Greg (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 5:26am


How do we determine what counts as a "significant sample size"? A long baseball career might yield hundreds of situations in which "clutch" performance could be tested - though I'd argue when you account for other factors such as pitching matchups, injuries, etc., the number of truly untainted samples would drop considerably - but in football it's almost impossible, with only 16 games in the regular season and at most 4 in the post-season every year. Even a highly successful quarterback like Brady, at the midway point of his career, has only played in 13 playoff games. Potential confounding factors are even more pronounced in football, so the number of meaningful iterations is even lower than that. The realities of the game make it very difficult to gather meaningful statistical evidence that clutch performance exists in football, but that doesn't mean that it's irrational to believe that it exists.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 6:53am

Stan, I know this is a favorite topic of yours and you are officially OFF Howard Mudd's Christmas card list, but who votes for the Pro Bowl? Used to be just players and now it's (IIRC) weighted 1/3 fans, 1/3 players and 1/3 coaches, right? And how many fans do you think just vote for the superstars and go their merry way, or vote for their entire teams? My guess is most. Then the Tarik Glenn and Jeff Saturday Pro Bowl votes come largely from the guys who should know what the hell they're doing.

Disclaimer: We both acknowledge that Manning's release and pocket presence and unheralded mobility (as well as his receivers) make the low sack total what it is, and that his ability to decipher blitzes result in more completions than sacks on those occasions, plus the passing game's success helps the run game. But these guys are not media creations--they're blue-collar, lunch-bucket O linemen in a successful system, and they are certainly part of the success (Can a 1st rounder be called blue collar? Maybe not).

While their RBs have had low power ratings, they have the top success rate three years running. It ain't all Manning. And some people credit the historic high success rate but traditional lack of long runs by Indy backs as indication that the line/system gets the yardage and the RB just happens to carry the ball.

For the record, I thought Diem should have gone to the Pro Bowl last year, not Glenn. Plus, I will never forgive Glenn for his twitch at the Pitt goal line in the playoffs that cost them a touchdown after a 95 yard drive. Arrrrgh!

by James C (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 1:33pm

I am very suprised to look at a long thread on FO about 'clutchness' and whether or not it exists - 170+ posts - and almost every single one of you are burbling on and on about quarterbacks. As though no one else is involved in playing the game to win. Did you all forget to take your anti talking-head medication today? If Brady plays well in the clutch it probably has far more to do with having a team around him that is well coached to avoid mistakes and execute well under pressure than just being one guy with special 'cojones'.

People are arguing about how relevant the small sample size is, well it will be even smaller if you exclude 98% of the players who take part in games.

If you take the question away from QBs then I would nominate Reggie White as the most clutch player I ever saw. The amount of times he seemed to make the biggest play of the game as the fourth quarter was winding down was uncanny. How much of this is due to the fact that he was just much better than the tackle he was facing and had probably worn the poor bugger out after 55mins of the game? Or how much of it is due to Leroy Butler reading the play well and moving over in coverage to take away the QB's first read, allowing White time to get there.
As the ancient Chinese proverb states, "In football all things are linked."

by mb (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 3:12pm

James C: Dude I don't blame you for not enthusiastically poring over 170+ posts but many of us have been arguing endlessly that it's not possible or at least very, very difficult to distinguish a QB's play from that of his teammates. I actually specifically asked why no one ever mentions Jonathan Ogden and his clutch blocks. For that matter, why can't long snappers and holders get some clutch love, darnit? Alright, I've been up for a zillion hours trying to work on a paper and I must now digress and cease from thinking about this issue anymore.

by James C (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 3:32pm


OK so I didn't read all of the posts and I hearby apologise to anyone attempting to reduce the emphasis on quarterbacks in the converation. Sorry. I guess I just expected a little more sense from FO (you rarely find it anywhere else on football websites).

Incidentally I firmly believe in 'clutchness'. If you want to see it quite commonly displayed the best game to see it in is cricket. My reason for this is the length of time that any pressure applied on a team has to cause mistakes and play on the mind of the team playing form behind. You can watch as some guys buckle down and rely on their technique and self belief and others simply seem to crumble as the enormity of the task in front of them simply overwhelms them.

by Pat (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 3:58pm

How do we determine what counts as a “significant sample size�?

I believe there's an entire branch of mathematics dedicated to that question. I believe it's called "statistics."

The sample size you need is depends on how big you think the effect is. If Brady was just a god-awful quarterback during the majority of the games in the NFL, and yet in the fourth quarter, just out and became the best quarterback in the league, yeah, you wouldn't need many samples to show that. Probably 5-10 would do fine.

Problem is that the majority of players that people attribute "clutch" to don't suck. They're normally very good. So, you'd need a large number of samples to show that.

If you want to see it quite commonly displayed the best game to see it in is cricket.

Proof? Or just belief? Lots of games look like they have "clutch" players, but when you actually work out the numbers, it's just a small sample size fooling you. See the basketball free throw example above.

by James C (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 4:31pm

Er Pat where did I say anything was proved? I think I said it was my belief.

The essence of my point is that the length of time involved has a huge effect on how the game is played (games can last five days and still be drawn). Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned it as it is a fairly complicated game and I don't really have the time or space to fully explain the reasons for what I said - seriously it is as complicated a game as football, maybe more so as it still has some wierd idiosyncrasies.

by zzyzx (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 4:44pm

One thing about baseball that makes it really hard to judge who is clutch and who isn't is that the batter doesn't have that much control over the success of his hit.

He can hit the ball hard or not hard, but the difference between a hard hit ball being a game winning hit and a game ending double play is solely on the defense.

A quarterback can control if the ball is thrown accurately or not, a field goal kicker has complete control over his kick (barring a bad snap or a block), but a hitter has limited control of the action of the ball.

by Peter Libero (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 5:51pm

179: Well you didn't actually say either way, so Pat was making sure you weren't saying you had a statistical basis for it. Also, you shouldn't act condescending and say things like "I expected a little more sense from FO" if you don't read the comments and don't know that you're actually being redundant.

Also, I think it's easy to say why the offensive line and defense doesn't typically get credit for "clutchness." For offensive linemen, you are expected to succeed the VAST majority of the time. Much like Sam Cassell can't be very clutch because he almost never misses anyway, Jonathan Ogden is EXPECTED to block the defensive end. He can miss, and thus "choke," but it's hard for him to be clutch in doing it. Same thing for defense... most drives fail, and one player has relatively little impact on any given play (the corner on a WR who doesn't get thrown to, or the safety in a deep zone on a run play, or whatever).

180: That's not entirely true. Good hitters can direct the ball into gaps to some extent. Obviously not the degree of a quarterback throwing the ball, but it's not just completely random based on contact (there would be a lot fewer "good" hitters if that were true). It also doesn't really matter.... everyone fails most of the time, that's true, but that wouldn't prevent a clutch factor from making a difference in making contact.

by Rick (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 6:22pm

I don't really believe the "clutch" concept is a real thing that players can demonstrate and quantify. If all you do is put it down to the big game qualifier, then the sample size is too small. How many "clutch" players make the big game? Very few. Except those that are the most "clutch", by theory, since they would come through most frequently. As a result, you're really just referring, ultimately, to consistency. Yet, that's all covered in the math.

"Choke", on the other hand, is DEFINITELY something you can identify. That would be a player, who, while otherwise consistent, suddenly plays well below his skill level in a difficult situation. HOWEVER, if all you do is use the big game scenario as the basis, then you've again made the sample size too small. You have to review the entire course of play. As a result, "choke" would imply an inconsistent player who usually shows a very high level of play, but has moments of particularly poor play, particularly in game deciding situations.

This, of course, is still something that you can review even if the player has a great team surrounding him, because his poor play would be the item that makes the difference in an otherwise "clutch" situation.

To the high level skill player, the "clutch" situation is "just another play" that his consistent good play will make look successful. To the choke artist, it's a high pressure situation that he has not prepared himself for, mentally.

by Otis the Pug (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 6:42pm

I think we should borrow from The Colbert Report, and begin discussing whether or not someone has the element of 'Clutchiness'. We can discuss if the statement 'Brady has the right amount of Clutchiness' has the proper amount of Truthiness to it.

by turbohappy (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 10:36pm

I thought the discussion on the Colbert report was mostly about how Brady is more handsome ;o)

by Pat (not verified) :: Sun, 01/28/2007 - 11:53pm

Er Pat where did I say anything was proved? I think I said it was my belief.

Yeah, I was just asking if there was proof somewhere. The problem is that virtually every sport has guys who "look" like they're clutch. It's the media effect, coupled with selective memory.

by Daniel (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 2:46am

I have heard it said that luck is chance taken personally. i believe that 'clutch' is performance taken personally. If you are a fan of a particular team or player you want to explain their successes not only in mundane statistical analysis, but add in a supernatural factor that cannot be easily quantified. Fans of 'QB 1' want him to be 'clutch' because it adds to a collected mythology of his greatness. Basing an argument solely on statistics, Manning is the superior player to Brady. He throws for more yards, more TDs, and rushes for more TDs on average. And both can be said to contribute greatly to the successes of their teams. If you argue, as I believe, that Championships are team accomplishments and shouldn't be used as a measuring stick for individual performance then Brady doesn't come into the discussion of all-time greats either. But Championships do matter, and because the Patriots have been wildly successful, Brady becomes 'the next Joe Montana.' And without overwhelming statistical evidence to push, things like 'being clutch' grow in importance. Unless a player's performance drastically improves in high pressure situations, how can you quantify being 'clutch?'

by EnglishBob (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 4:58am

The best example of clutch vs choke that I've seen in sports is from penalty taking in football- Some players are awful, despite reportedly being good in training, at scoring penalties. Others seem to be unbothered by the pressure of it. Some players flatly refuse to take penalties despite being technically good- what better description of a choker can you find then that?
I've seen it playing team sports too and would wager that the debate as to whether clutch/ choke play exists would be answered "of course" by the vast majority of anyone who's played team sports competitively.

by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 6:03am

155: "Joe Montana and Tom Brady both have postseason ratings slightly higher than their regular season ratings."

Well, Montana does....but not Brady.

by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 6:07am

Oh, and the NFL has officially stated that the pass interference by Hobbs was a correct call.


by harry (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 8:46am

So Brady is a good-to-very good quarterback ? See, this is why even a lot of the more reasonable Pats fans are starting to have issues with this site. Brady is a great quarterback, and clearly a hall of fame quarterback. For that matter so is Manning, clearly. And Manning may be better, but that doesn't make Brady only "very good", just as Elway and Marino were still great QBs even in if Montana was "better." Just because the media make up stories about who is "clutch" and who isn't, and genuflect at the altar of Brady, that doesn't mean you look smart by bending over backwards to be a contrarian. Even in an off year for him Brady in the playoffs looked a lot better than the two "all-pros" who are not Manning.

by EnglishBob (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 9:16am

FO anti Pats bias strikes again (ho ho)!

by Ilanin (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 9:34am

187 - the problem with that is that the small sample size is exacerbated even more by penalties being a rare occurrence and shootouts (so that multiple players take penalties) even more so. Whilst it doesn't seem like it to any Englishman (we've now gone out of, what, five, six European Championships/World Cups since 1990 on shootouts?) I think that one is just small sample size.

Cricket is a pain to analyse statistically, at least First-Class Cricket, because identical performances can be good or bad depending on the match situation (as in (American) Football), because it has significant environmental effects, and because it is hard to work out what the sampling unit actuall is (innings? ball? over?). I've been considering various methods of analysis for some time and still haven't come up with anything.

Limited Overs cricket is much easier. How about this: "A batsman is clutch if they score at a (statistically significant) higher average or strike rate, without the other statistic suffering, during the last fifteen overs of the second innings of a close game (defined as a margin of victory of less than 20 runs or less than two wickets); a bowler is clutch if they have a (statistically significant) better economy or strike rate in the same time."

Of course, I have nowhere near enough time to trawl through records and look for clutch players.

by Bjorn (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 11:16am

I think the question is not if choke/clutch exists but if it is significant on the NFL level. Players who truely choke either don't get that far or manage to work most of the choke out of themselves by experience.

That is also a big factor I think, experience. I would bet that most people including top athletes perform worse under pressure unless they have prior experience.

I think this is a big factor when it comes to penalty shootouts, usualy you don't have 5+ players that take penalties normally availible. It's one thing to do what you normaly do during each game and perform as well or even better when the game is on the line. It's an entirely different thing to do something that you normally don't do at all and go out and perform in a clutch situation.

I think the perfect example is David Beckham. I think the general consensus is that he is choke or at least not clutch when it comes to penalties. But on the other hand most people would aggree that he probably is clutch when it comes to free kicks, something that takes similiar technical skills but is in fact much harder. Now neither might be significant in the statistical sense but you can easily see by his body language that one makes him very uncomfortable and one does not. The difference is that while he's probably been the one taking free kicks on his teams all his career he normally never shoots penalties.

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 11:17am

#192: I think you'd be surprised how many instances you'd need for something to be "statistically significant". For something like a 10% effect, you typically need something like 150 measurements.

by Bill Barnwell :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 11:20am

Brady's DVOA:

2006 11th
2005 4th
2004 2nd
2003 14th
2002 19th
2001 17th

That's four good years and two very good ones. Hence, good to very good.

Brady will be a Hall of Famer because of his playoff clutchness - what I wrote chalks that up to sample size.

As for Brady looking good in the playoffs - maybe you saw a different Chargers game than I did. He did play well against the 18th and 21st ranked pass defenses in football.

by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 11:25am

190: "Even in an off year for him Brady in the playoffs looked a lot better than the two “all-pros� who are not Manning."

I can only assume that you mean Rivers and Brees? If so, sure he looked better than Rivers (a first year starter)...but did he look a lot better than Brees? Really? Are you sure?

5TD's, 4INT's, 2 fumbles, 4 sacks, 76.5 rating....that isnt even as good as Tony Romo.

Sure, Brady will get into the Hall...but is it really for what he did? or for what his TEAM did? Could the same be said about Manning? Food for thought.

by Ilanin (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 11:30am

194 - Wisden Cricinfo lists 50 players with more than 200 limited overs international appearances which would be an easy place to start. There are also full statistics (I believe) available for at least half a decade (and probably more) of British and Australian domestic cricket. I would estimate that the population of cricketers with more than 150 limited overs games played at List A level is in excess of 500 and quite possibly in excess of 1,000; the problem, of course, is having the time to track down all of the records and analyse them.

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 11:51am

#197: Yeah, but that's just individual events. You need 150 clutch events for any given player. And, like I said, that's for a 10% effect, which is pretty big. Smaller than that and it gets really, really big.

by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 12:08pm

195: Are you counting Brady's years as 14th, 19th and 17th as good years? Or are you saying he's had 4 good years (14th, 11th, 2nd, 4th), two of which were very good (2nd + 4th)? I ask because I would have thought that 14th, 17th and 19th would be average to mediocre years, not good ones.

197: If you would need 150 clutch events for any given player then would that not mean that such a data set is non-existent? Just asking.

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 12:16pm

If you would need 150 clutch events for any given player then would that not mean that such a data set is non-existent? Just asking.

Pretty much, yeah.

by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 12:37pm

Talk about "stop us before we do it again!" Spin it any way you want, homeys, but for a site that has waged a nonstop (and obviously phony) war on the drug of the Brady-Manning debate, this thing is pure coke for crackheads. And FO is the Pusher Man.

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 1:09pm

Re: 196

Brady will be in the Hall of Fame because he was the QB for 3 Super Bowl winning teams. Off the top of my head I can't think of any QB who has won 2 or more Super Bowls that isn't in the Hall (Starr, Griese--ugh, Bradshaw, Montana, Aikman, and Elway). If he had lost those 3 games, he wouldn't make the Hall. It's as simple as that.

by Joe (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 1:22pm

Haven't posted here much; first time into this thread.

185: Someone mentioned free throws in basketball as something that could be examined for clutch, and I could see that as being a fair way to figure out if "clutch" exists in another sport.

Free throws are standardized, because there are no defenders having an impact on the play. One could quantify the criticality of various basketball situations (Baseball Prospectus has a stat called LEVERAGE that they use to quantify the criticality of reliever usage), and one could then see if there are specific changes for specific players and the overall average for the league.

That would be my suggestion for attempting to prove that "clutch" existed at all. I don't know if someone has done that test yet.

And, as for players' statistics declining in the playoffs (specifically QB Rating), one could attribute that to the quality of the competition moreso than any change in the individual player. One would naturally expect players' statistics to be worse in the playoffs than over a 16-game regular season with at least a few games against vastly inferior competition.

by Kellerman (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 1:30pm

re 151:
"Great play by a QB is when the pass pro is breaking down or a blitzer is coming in his face unblocked. It is the throw into a tiny crease in the zone or to a receiver who is blanketed by coverage. Let’s face it, QB play is dependent on the other 10 on the offense and the 11 on defense."

I would like to agree with your last sentence as being true for every player on the field. However, I take exception to your definition of great quarterback play. In my opinion, truly great quarterback play is probably mostly invisible to the outside observer, and even to many/most of the other participants. Great quarterback play would consist of the proper preparation and the ability to put the team in the correct play, and the other players in the right position so that the play appears to be an easy gain, or excelllent protection or throws are made to wide-open receivers. Recognizing the defense and their pass-rush scheme should result in a play with no protection breakdown and a blitzer right oin his face. (Obviously, I recognize that players fall down, trip, make mistakes, or just plain get physically dominated on the line. All these can be limited by proper preparation) The throw into a tight seam or to a blanketed receiver is quite often, if not more, evidence of bad play or judgment. It's just like in basketball, just because the shot went in, it doesn't make it a good shot. Now that very few QB's are expected (permitted?) to call plays, or even to audible to the entire playbook, some of what separates a great QB is missing. I wish there was some way to use FO or conventional stats to account for a Quarterback's knowledge of the offense and playcalling skill. This is why I will always have a soft spot in my heart for those players who are responsible for making the correct calls under center, along the line, and the defensive backfield. I guess this is also an element of the sabermetrician's admonition that no set of statistics is a substitute for one's own judgment gained through experience and observation, but instead is a tool in aiding the understanding of that observation and experience.

by Jordan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 1:35pm

I think the definition most people attribute to "clutch" is incorrect. To me clutch means when you're in high pressure situations you don't perform better or worse, you perform the same as you do in low pressure situations. Not clutch means that in those same high pressure situations your performance goes down.

by ArizonaCardinalsFan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 1:36pm

To determine "clutchness", you have to be able to take either QB out of context, which is impossible...Dallas Clark made some great catches, Reche Caldwell had some agonizing pass drops. Clutch plays involve more than just the QB, and this is after all a team sport. Next we can discuss the concepts of "overachieving", "playing within yourself", and "coaching not to lose". Geez.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 1:38pm

Re 14:
You might be talking about the FOX blog post in my name.

Aaron Schatz: Thanks for the excellent question, Mactbone. It turns out that you are absolutely correct. When I measure scoring gap, I generally use 8 points as the guideline, since that's the maximum score you can get on just one drive. Here are Grossman's stats when the Bears are up by 9+ points, losing by 9+ points, or within 8 points either way.

Lose >8: -17.0 DPAR, -70.7% DVOA, 4.3 ypa, 4 INT
Within 8: 1.8 DPAR, -10.6% DVOA, 5.9 ypa, 7 INT
Win >8: 39.3 DPAR, 82.2% DVOA, 9.4 ypa, 0 INT

Wow, that would concern me if I was a Bears fan. Evil Rex seems to come out whenever the Bears are losing, and they're more likely to fall behind a good team they'll meet in the playoffs than they are to fall behind some team like Detroit.

How does this compare to other quarterbacks? I ran two other random guys with somewhat similar total value this year:

Here's Tom Brady:

Lose >8: 10.2 DPAR, 22.4% DVOA, 5.5 ypa, 0 INT
Within 8: 15.4 DPAR, 5.0% DVOA, 6.5 ypa, 8 INT
Win >8: 18.5 DPAR, 36.3% DVOA, 6.1 ypa, 1 INT

Brady seems to play looser in close games -- more yards, more turnovers -- but better overall when he either is coming back from behind or has a nice lead. Here's Steve McNair:

Lose >8: -0.2 DPAR, -14.0% DVOA, 6.5 ypa, 3 INT
Within 8: 11.8 DPAR, 2.0% DVOA, 5.7 ypa, 5 INT
Win >8: 5.0 DPAR, 2.8% DVOA, 5.0 ypa, 1 INT

I have no idea if this is actually a real trend that represents the Chicago offensive style, or Grossman himself, or if it is just random chance. One of the projects I hope to do for next year's book is a study of which "splits" represent actual skills and which are basically just random from year to year.

I wonder if Grossman's splits are still that crazy with another month of data.

by Peter Libero (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 1:42pm

201: You win the award for best use of "pushaman" in a FO forum, 2007, no matter what comes later. I salute you, sir.

by bbbthad (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 3:13pm

Plunkett and morrall
Have two rings

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 3:36pm

Plunkett I forgot and is an exception. Morrall lost III, won V, and although played much of the 72 season for Griese didn't step foot on the field I believe in Super Bowl VII. I was speaking of starting QBs in case that wasn't clear.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 3:54pm

I actually have read every post here (well, the parts of each post before my brain started to bleed, anyway), but I wanted to avoid getting dragged into this. But as 201 pointed out, it's impossible to resist.

I can't get too technical with the statistical stuff, but it's obvious even anecdotally how small sample size affects this issue, and how fickle the question can be. Example one: was Elway "clutch" in the late 80's? Depends who you ask, doesn't it? As a Browns fan... you know what, I don't even want to talk about it. But to the NFC or casual (SB-only) fan? All they would see is him "choking" on the biggest stage - Elway just can't win the big one! What a choker! Never mind that he was the second-biggest reason they even made it there (the biggest, of course, was the good fortune of always facing a Cleveland team in the playoffs). So his "clutchness" depends almost entirely on where you draw the line on what to count as clutch.

Second example: Montana. For all the talk about his "clutchness" now, does anyone else remember when it was questioned whether he was a choker - despite already winning two Super Bowls! Remember, they completely bombed out at home in 87 against the Vikings, and when Montana was hurt in 88, there was open questioning of whether they should bother putting him back in (granted, the backup was Steve freaking Young, but still). After all, his only real "clutch" performance was seven years before, the 84 team was so loaded they could've won with almost anyone at QB, the past few years had been unspectacular, and they had a hotshot youngster ready to take his place. It's hard to conceive of now, after that last-minute SB-winning drive, but there were plenty of fans and media beforehand who thought SF should've been looking to unload him and move on. Relevance to this thread? Who's to say this won't happen to Brady? Sure, right now he's unassailable and clutch, but if they lose in the playoffs the next 4 years, especially if they bomb against an inferior team, does anyone think the fans and media won't turn on him, too? Articles asking whether he's "lost it", open pleas to trade him and go with the backup World League import. Given the crazy way we define this stuff, why not?

Before I get back to work, I have just a question about the existence of "clutch" itself. Regardless of whether we can show it statistically, is there any reason not to think it exists? We know (through whatever combination of nature/nurture) that some players will be faster than others. Some will be stronger, or more durable. Some will be able to read a defense better. Some will have a better temperament for communicating with and leading teammates. Why would we not think that there are some players who, for whatever reason, are better able to handle stress? Concentrate despite incredible noise and distractions? Handle increased adrenaline levels? Overcome fatigue that can hinder late-game performance? Much of what would go into "clutchness" could be purely physical advantages over other players - why wouldn't this exist?

Yes, it would be great if we could prove statistically what we intuitively think is likely. But if the only issue is that we can't prove it because we don't have enough samples, does that disprove it? I mean, if roughly 150 samples are needed, then to see clutch performance in a baseball player in a year, he'd need to come up in that situation virtually every game! If we spread it out over multiple years, you run into career arc issues (i.e. maybe he's "clutch" at 37, but his skills have deteriorated to where it doesn't really matter). And what happens when two "clutch" players face off? If Mariano Rivera strikes out David Ortiz in the 9th, does that suddenly make Ortiz more of a choker? If a clutch-neutral player gets a game-winning hit off of Byung-Hyun Kim, does that count?

And that brings me to the end of this incoherent, pointless post. Sorry if you read this far.

by James C (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 3:55pm

197 Ilanin

Just as an example of a guy who clutch could apply to, take Michael Bevan in ODIs. That guy wasn't good enough to establish a test career, but might have been the best closer in one dayers in history.

by daddymag (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 4:02pm

I won't debate "clutch", I'm going to make an observation about football in general. You know how everyone said they could see Bill Cowher looked like the fire was gone this season? Here's what I honestly think. After the Steelers won last season, I really felt like he thought, after all those years, all the times you came close, all the things you did to prepare and work and be the best, this time we did nothing any different, but everything came together and it just went our way.

Team sport. 53 guys. Lots of variables. Sometimes things just go your way. Sometimes it happens more than once.

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 4:26pm

Why would we not think that there are some players who, for whatever reason, are better able to handle stress?

As has been said before, the reasoning against "clutch" is simple: you're already selecting out guys who fall apart under stress. So, essentially everyone in professional sports already is as clutch as you can get. There may be a few chokers left here and there. But in general, we don't call them chokers. We call them "bad".

by Matt (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 4:33pm

Is this the first time cricket has been discussed at FO? Or is there an "irrational Michael Bevan arguments" thread that I've just missed on prior visits?

by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 5:07pm

No there have been a couple of cricket posts, usually comparing Don Bradman to other all time great sportsmen.

It should probably be the last though, as understandably it's a bit of a sticky wicket for fans of the leather and willow around here.

by DGL (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 5:09pm

There is such a thing as clutch, but it's disappearing as fewer and fewer people know how to operate a manual transmission.

by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 5:20pm

Morraall was replaced by Unitas in III, despite playing for most of the year. He replaced Unitas in V, when Unitas was knocked out by George Andrie of Dallas, and outplayed Craig Morton (such as that was).

He played starting in game 4 of the unbeaten season, and was replaced by Griese at halftime of the AFC title game in Pittsburgh. Griese led the comeback against the Steelers, and played the entire game in the Super Bowl.

by Bill Barnwell :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 6:23pm

I have tried to further the cricket discussion without creating a thread for it.

by Ralph (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 7:19pm

I have a serious question.

Has Brady ever led his team to a winning TD as opposed to moving his team a few yards so a HOF kicker could put the winning points on the board?

by Goathead (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 7:39pm

220: This is why I was sad when BB botched the end game clock management. I was very interested to see how Brady would handle needing a TD to win, and it would have been even more interesting if he'd had an extra 30 second or so.

I've never seen him do this in the playoffs, had he pulled it off it would have shut up a lot of his detractors (me included).

by PFC1 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 7:43pm

Okay, I didn't want to do this, but the "blokes" from "across the pond" have brought up football penality kicks. For a statistical analysis of penalty kicks in football (that's "soccer," to the rest of my fellow American compatriot mates,) check this out:


This is probably the best statistical analysis I have seen that comes close to answering the question. Basically, they have found that top flight players' decision making generally conforms with game theory predictions of the optimal choices. I guess this may suggest that all top flight players are clutch, which is to say none are.

Appologies from a soccer and Colts fan, with a background in Economics from Indy. (Go Colts.)

by Kellerman (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 7:47pm

210: Staubach also has two SB victories as a starting QB. (See what I mean about nobody talking about him much anymore?) If this discussion was expanded to backups too, Steve Young has 3 and a lot of guys like Mike Kruczek have 2 (I don't advocate expanding it BTW, unless it's for guys like Morrall who played as many or more snaps during the season as the SB starter). Heck , even Bernie Kosar has one.

214: The point about stress tolerance being weeded out before reaching the pros applies just as much to physical characteristics such as speed, strength, size, pain tolerance and intelligence. How many amputees are in the NFL? How many slow guys? Fat guys? Weak guys? Women? Those commercials about "You wouldn't make it in the NFL!" are funny, because they're true.

We know there are physical differences between the players because we can measure it. So why wouldn't there be differences in ability to handle stress? Just because we can't measure it to your satisfaction (nor mine) does not mean it doesn't exist.

by Not saying (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 8:06pm

Re: 220

Yes. Someone looked it up a week or so ago. If you're too lazy to check for yourself, I'm not going to do it for you.

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 01/29/2007 - 8:23pm

We know there are physical differences between the players because we can measure it. So why wouldn’t there be differences in ability to handle stress?

You're misunderstanding slightly - the idea isn't that stress isn't a real effect. It very likely is. The suggestion is that the distribution wouldn't be what you expect.

It's similar to the idea of looking at the 40-time distributions in the NFL. Everyone's already fast, and you can't get much faster than a ~4.3 time. There will be people who are slower, but basically no one faster, because you just can't get faster. And because you're selecting for speed, you're going to have a lot of guys around 4.4, 4.3.

(I'd say "basketball height distributions" but basketball heights aren't running up against human limits yet.)

So the reason why "clutch" wouldn't show up is because most NFL players already aren't affected by pressure, and you can't get "more unaffected by pressure" than "not affected at all."

Or it could just be because the effect's too small to see. The effect certainly isn't as large as people make it out to be.

by mb (not verified) :: Tue, 01/30/2007 - 6:38am

I sleep and go to do work and real life stuff for a couple of days and when I come back this thread has like 50 more posts! Personally I blame the NFL for for tossing in a week in football-less limbo before the SB; incidentally I also blame the NFL for inspiring college football to inexplicably move its' BCS title game to some random day in January so there will be as little national interest in it as possible. Anyways, couple things.

First off I find it pretty darned funny that this "clutch" existence/not discussion has progressed to such an abstract level. We probably could have all saved ourselves a lot of trouble by agreeing right off the bat that nearly everyone intuitively believes in clutch performances and the possibility of clutch players but that it's nearly impossible to prove due to the paucity of the data available. This thread was a lot more fun though.

Pat: Thank you for, as always, acerbically yet definitively championing the cause of intense math and stating point blank that this argument can never really be resolved due to lack of data.

llanin and all Brits/cricket fans: Cricket has always baffled me, which is particularly odd because I'm a huge baseball fan. You'd think two sports involving bats, outs, and pitched balls would correlate somehow but I remain clueless about bowlers and wickets. Actually llanin's description reminded me (for any fellow Futurama fans) of Fry trying to understand Blernsball and Leela telling him every word he said except "blern" is total gibberish; I'm sure that cricket is somehow awesome but I fear I will never care enough to figure out just how, the same way I could never convince any foreigner that baseball isn't mindnumbingly boring.

by Doug (not verified) :: Tue, 01/30/2007 - 10:09am

Somebody metioned something that somebody else (maybe Aaron) had said a while back about "clutch" not being the ability to raise your game in tight spots but to not crack under the pressure. If that's true, wouldn't consistency be the objective and quantifiable measurement of clutch?

Example: Tom Brady's completion percentage is x. For Tom Brady to be "clutch" his completion percentage under two minutes needs to be equal to or greater than x.

That kind of thing.

And maybe somebody already said this, but there was no way I was reading every post.

by Greg (not verified) :: Tue, 01/30/2007 - 10:15am


As I said upthread, isn't it true that size/speed/athleticism is the most relevant metric on which NFL players are selected, not psychological characteristics? Guys who are perceived as headcases and/or "not clutch" sometimes drop a couple slots in the draft, but sometimes they don't. Quite a few highly drafted players wash out because they don't have the psychological make-up to play pro football (Ryan Leaf, Lawrence Phillips, Todd Marinovich, Ricky Williams, etc.), but you rarely see highly drafted prospects wash out because of a lack of physical talent - because players who aren't big/fast enough don't even get drafted.

Re: what you said earlier about statistics - I'm not a statistician by training, but familiar enough with the basic concepts of the field, having social sciences which require familiarity with it. My question to you, as someone with more expertise in the field, is if it's even possible to get a sufficient sample size to test any given variable in a sport with so many confounding factors and so few iterations of "clutch" situations. My scientific instinct is to say "absolutely not" - but you're the statistician, so I assume if there is a way you'd know it.

by Travis (not verified) :: Tue, 01/30/2007 - 12:32pm

Has Brady ever led his team to a winning TD as opposed to moving his team a few yards so a HOF kicker could put the winning points on the board?

Not quite the same question asked before, but here was my post detailing the times Brady led the Patriots to the go-ahead points when trailing on the last drive of regulation:

As far as I could tell (some of these, strictly speaking, might not have been the Patriots' last drive of regulation):
San Diego, 2001: Down 26-19, Brady throws the tying TD pass with 36 seconds left (Patriots would win in OT).
Buffalo, 2001: Down 9-6, Brady drives the Pats to the tying FG with 2:45 left (Patriots would win in OT).
Oakland, playoffs 2001: Down 13-10, Brady drives the Pats to the tying FG (Patriots would win in OT). (Two negatives: The FG was a 45-yarder in the snow, at the very edge of Vinatieri's range, and the drive featured the infamous Tuck).
Chicago, 2002: Down 30-25, Brady throws the winning TD pass with 21 seconds left.
Miami, 2002: Down 24-21, Brady drives the Pats to the tying FG with 1:09 left (drive went all of 9 yards, with no completed passes; the previous drive was more impressive) (Patriots would win in OT).
Denver, 2003: Down 26-23, Brady throws the winning TD pass with 30 seconds left (this was the intentional safety game).
Houston, 2003: Down 20-13, Brady throws the tying TD pass with 40 seconds left (Patriots would win in OT).
Miami, 2005: Down 16-15, Brady throws the winning TD pass with 2:16 left.

For argument's sake, the comparable drives for a much-derided QB:
Dallas, 2004: Down 24-21, leads his team to the winning TD with 11 seconds left.
Dallas, 2005: Down 13-6, throws tying TD pass with 19 seconds left (team would lose coin flip and game in OT; offense wouldn't see ball again).
Denver, 2005: Down 23-17, throws winning TD pass with 5 seconds left.
Minnesota, 2005: Down 21-13, leads team to tying TD + 2-point conversion with 1:21 left (team would give up winning FG with 15 seconds left).
Seattle, 2005: Down 21-13, throws tying TD pass + 2-point conversion with 1:59 left (team would lose in OT).
Philadelphia, 2006: Down 24-21, leads team to tying FG with 7 seconds left (team would win in OT).
Dallas, 2006: Down 20-13, throws tying TD pass with 1:06 left (team would give up winning FG with 6 seconds left).
Philadelphia, playoffs 2006: Down 20-13, throws tying TD pass with 5:04 left (team would give up winning FG with no time left).

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/30/2007 - 12:46pm

#226: Dude, the binomial distribution is not intense math. Nothing that you can figure out with a coin and a piece of paper and some time is intense math. Now, zeroes of the Riemann zeta function - that's intense math.

#228: The guys who can't handle stress never get the media attention in college to be seen at a pro level. Either that or they just don't perform in normal games well enough. It's not like stress just magically shows up during a game. It's always stressful when you're being slammed into the ground.

Quite a few highly drafted players wash out because they don’t have the psychological make-up to play pro football (Ryan Leaf, Lawrence Phillips, Todd Marinovich, Ricky Williams, etc.),

Yup. Notice a pattern with those guys? We didn't call them chokers. We called them bad.

Regarding sample size: sure it's possible to do it. Read the article on penalty shots linked above - penalty shot accuracy decreases in the last bits of a game. They attribute that to stress, though it could be exhaustion as well (which I actually think is more likely, mind you). The difference there is it goes down uniformly - everyone pretty much 'chokes' equally.

When people say "too small statistics", you have to remember: it depends on the size of the effect you're looking for. In the basketball free throw example above, there's certainly enough statistics to rule out any large effect - i.e., someone improving by like, 20% or more.

So really, it depends how big the effect is, if it's there at all. If it's a 1% effect, you'll never see it, ever.

by Travis (not verified) :: Tue, 01/30/2007 - 12:46pm

That should be "the go-ahead or tying points."

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/30/2007 - 1:11pm

#229: Main difference between Brady and E. Manning in those games?

All the times it said "team would give up winning FG", plus "team would lose in OT."

In other words: the team's defense and special teams. (The 'team would lose in OT' bit is the Seattle 2005 game - that's the infamous Jay Feely Can't Hit A Barn game).

by Kellerman (not verified) :: Tue, 01/30/2007 - 1:44pm

re 225: Ah, I agree that the ability to handle stress is difficult to measure and is likely smaller rather than larger, I apologize for misunderstanding your position. I believed that you believed that there was no significant difference in ability to handle stress among NFL players.

re 230: I wouldn't call all of those guys just plain bad. Leaf, probably didn't have the maturity or brains to handle the stress. I agree that makes him bad.

Marinovich probably got burned out by the intensity of his training at a young age, or perhaps reached an artificial early peak due to that training such that he couldn't actually inprove as much as the typical player moving from college to the NFL. His play certainly was subpar.

Lawrence Phillips was a thug and likely has anger management issues that harmed his career, but he wasn't necessarily "bad" on the field.

Ricky Williams (presuming this is the Texas-N.O.-Miami-Canada Ricky) certainly was not a bad player. Few players were more productive in 2002-03 and 2005. He may be goofy but aren't most of his performance issues likely related to being overworked? Maybe Larry Johnson is going to feel like crawling into a tent and smoking weed after another season like 2007 or hanging it up for good like Tiki.

by Travis (not verified) :: Tue, 01/30/2007 - 2:02pm

Re: 232

Yup, I was waiting for someone to arrive at that conclusion.

In other words: the team’s defense and special teams. (The ‘team would lose in OT’ bit is the Seattle 2005 game - that’s the infamous Jay Feely Can’t Hit A Barn game).

Also Dallas, 2005 - Jose Cortez's one shining moment as a Cowboy.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/30/2007 - 5:06pm

I believed that you believed that there was no significant difference in ability to handle stress among NFL players.

Again, it depends on what you mean by "significant". I don't think that the distribution in the NFL is anywhere near what it is for normal people. So expecting a few people to be rock solid calm, most people to be okay, and some people to be flaky is probably nuts. Virtually everyone is probably rock solid calm, and a few people are probably okay.

I wouldn’t call all of those guys just plain bad.

Which one was "good", besides Ricky Williams? And Ricky Williams's problem wasn't inability to handle stress - it was overuse and drug problems.

Who in their right mind would call Lawrence Phillips 'good' in the NFL?

Keep in mind, that's what I'm talking about - play at the NFL level. In college - that's a different story. There's a lot less stress when there's no money involved.

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 01/30/2007 - 5:27pm

235: I suspect a major reason for a lot of "busts" in the NFL, and by bust, I mean Ryan Leaf, is guys who were successful in college but unable to the added stress of playing in the NFL. Also, in a game that's often decided by inches, even the slightest differences can be significant.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Wed, 01/31/2007 - 11:29am

Here's a suggestion to address some of Pat's concerns: somebody who has the time and inclination do a study comparing Tiger Woods to Greg Norman.

Golf is an individual sport with no direct influence of opponents on your play, or direct assistance from teammates. Both Norman and Woods were/are "good", so there would be no question of lack of clutchness being chalked up to simply being bad.

I can only claim a passing knowledge of golf, but if we didn't find a difference in how these two guys performed on average when in contention in the final round of a major tournament it would be a huge surprise to me. Although Norman was a great golfer, there can't be too many people who would dispute that he was "affected by pressure" (although of course there were occasions when his talent overcame his nerves and he prevailed)

by Kellerman (not verified) :: Wed, 01/31/2007 - 1:53pm

Pat: First let me make it clear, if I didn't already, that I have no use for Phillips, but I don't think his performances were all that bad on the field. His level of performance was what I would call useful, or perhaps above replacement level, though I obviously haven't checked the DPAR. Even though he never lived up to his high draft status, didn't he have a season of right around 200 carries 700 yards and 10 touchdowns? And while playing for a team with a pedestrian O-line? Everybody remembers him "missing the block that cost Steve Young his career" but I think he also ran for a 70 yard touchdown in that game. He reminds me a lot of Ki-jana Carter performance-wise, although Carter's problems were physical rather than mental. I can't believe I'm wasting time arguing about a punk like Phillips. I surrender.

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 01/31/2007 - 2:04pm

#238: I didn't mean how he actually played, though it was pretty bad. Think about how most people think about him. They think he sucked. That's how we remember the real guys that can't take the stress: we remember them as busts, or just bad in general. I think B's right in #236.

by Peter Libero (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 3:05am

237: Well the problem with golf, as Pat has alluded in this thread, is that it's NEVER exactly the same situation. Unlike free throws that are always the same distance, you can't even say every 10-foot putt is the same, so by what basis do you compare them? The only thing you can really say is always the same situation is drive distance, but what if Norman puts himself into difficult putt situations? Or has trouble out of bunkers? You can't control all, or even most, of the variables when you're talking golf.

by Gene (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 12:54pm

My question is this... why is it that the quarterback is the one that is attributed with the "clutch" adjective. Why not the defense for having the presence of mind to stop the other team or allow them to score to give the ball back with enough time left. Or why is being a "clutch" player good? To me that signifies a bad team. The fact that a Tom Brady is often put in situations that require "clutch" means that his team is not soundly better than the other, and he just so happens to get the ball last. What about quarterbacks whose teams are often winning in blowout fashion, and are never put in that situation? How come you never hear "he's a great 58-minute QB?"

by Peter Libero (not verified) :: Thu, 02/01/2007 - 5:19pm

Gene, your post could not be more hilarious. For reference, please check posts 23, 67, 175, 176, and 177.

by Jake (not verified) :: Sat, 02/03/2007 - 5:58pm

As a Red Sox fan, I feel the need to address the brief David Ortiz statement. In general, I agree with Bill that "clutchness" is not a significant phenomenon in sports, especially in baseball. A lot of this has to do with a weeding out of people who can't handle pressure situations throughout the process of making it to professional sports leagues. Basically, we've already selected for the players who play well under pressure and excluded players who tend to choke. I don't know enough about measuring clutch in football to argue one way or the other whether it exists. But, in the case of David Ortiz, there is, in fact, strong statistical evidence that he is truly a clutch player. That is, his contribution to his team from a Win Probability Added standpoint is massively greater than you would expect based on his raw numbers and has been persistently greater over several seasons. The most important point here is how much he has outperformed expectations in "clutch" situations. To oversimplify, he is so far removed from the mean performance in these situations that it is almost statistically impossible there isn't some inherent underlying characteristic causing this. He is also the only player in baseball right now who you can say that about. His performance is unique. On the other hand, Alex Rodriquez performance has been slightly worse than expected in the clutch but not dramatically so. For ARod, his reputation is more a result of selective memory and statistical variance than a true inability to perform in the clutch.

All that being said, I want to stress that Ortiz is the exception, not the rule. Before Ortiz, I was saying the same things about clutch Bill is saying now. Ortiz has caused me to reevaluate and I now believe that although clutch is very hard to measure and in most cases is insignificant, it definitely exists and shouldn't be summarily dismissed by analytically minded people. Just because something is hard to measure and mostly obscured by statistical noise doesn't mean it doesn't exist, it just means we can almost never be confident in its existence.

by Bill Barnwell :: Mon, 02/05/2007 - 3:48am


As a Red Sox fan too -- as one who was in the crowd for the game winner against the Angels, and Game 5 against the Yankees (and game 1 of the Series ... sweet Mark Bellhorn), Ortiz is the closest thing to an outlier.

But if he were THAT clutch, would he ever get out in clutch situations? Maybe that's a little strong, but we are only talking 50-60 ABs over 20-25 games. As for him being the only person on his level when it comes to clutchness, BP ran a study with WPA or something similar and found that Chipper Jones actually out-clutched him.

by Jim G (not verified) :: Thu, 02/08/2007 - 1:12am

I love to have the last word -- even if it is a week after the season is over, everybody has left, and nobody's ever going to read it.

Even better, it finally settles the Brady v Manning issue forever! And we finally see in the numbers how good Brady really is in the big games.

Over at ...
... we read:

"in the post-season from 2001-2005 winning QBs scored a 100.2 QB rating and averaged 7.56 Adjusted Yards/A, versus losing QBs having a 66.0 QBR and a 4.56 AY/A) average."

Hypothesis: To the extent that a QB’s post-season numbers exceed what would be expected on average from his team’s postseason record, he has carried the team. And contra-wise, to the extent that a QBs numbers are less than would be expected from his team’s W-L record, his team (or good luck) has carried him.

And we can figure the expected average QB performances for the post-season 7-6 Colts and 12-2 Pats from the above.

Data (by my calculation):

Colts 7-6 ... AY/A ... QBR
Expected .... 6.18 .... 84
Manning ..... 6.32 .... 83

Pats 12-2
Expected .... 7.13 .... 95
Brady ....... 6.20 .... 86

Yikes! Tom's been an underachiever!

And this information now goes out into the empty void.

Will anyone ever know?