by Scott Kacsmar
The NFL's game-winning drive statistic has existed for decades, but it has gone through many hurdles before officially being attributed to Dan Marino, who led the Miami Dolphins on 51-game-winning drives (including the playoffs). Peyton Manning continues to close in with 49, so expect to see a tie or new record holder this season.
With a much simpler definition than a fourth-quarter comeback, a game-winning drive is the offensive scoring drive in the fourth quarter or overtime that puts the winning team ahead for the last time. The association with fourth quarter/overtime is simply a matter of making this a crunch-time stat. You can technically have a game-winning drive on the first drive of the game if that team never gets tied or falls behind, but decades ago some people made the respectable decision to save it for games that were late and close.
This is a chicken-and-egg situation for me. I am not sure if my research into game-winning drives triggered my love of drive stats or if drive stats interested me to keep track of game-winning drives. Whichever way it happened, I like to think I have done my part to help advance the use of drive stats, which of course includes fourth-quarter comebacks (4QC) and game-winning drives (GWD).
At its core, the GWD was really the first mainstream use of drive stats, which are a big feature here at Football Outsiders that we plan on expanding soon. While no one ever brought up yards per drive or points per drive, it has been used as a counting stat, lumping all the GWDs together even though they come in many different ways and levels of difficulty. Then again, the same thing happens with touchdown passes and most other counting stats.
I have turned GWDs into more than just a counting stat, providing the record for opportunities (wins and losses) for dozens of players over the years. However, I have kept much of the drive data confined to my personal database.
So before the 2013 season begins and I write my weekly look at close games on this website, let's unleash some of that advanced drive analysis to quantify the generic number of GWDs you can find here on Pro-Football-Reference. I looked at the 22 "active" quarterbacks with at least eight game-winning drives (playoffs included). Yes, the recently cut David Carr is included, but Vince Young is not. We'll find a way to survive.
Before we get started, please note the title does not mention fourth-quarter comebacks. This is strictly a study of the 416 GWDs these 22 quarterbacks have combined to engineer. Yes, 306 of the 416 games did involve a fourth-quarter comeback as well, but that's a separate (though related) stat. This data will only look at the drive that put the winning team ahead for good.
This is also why I always tell people who frown on a "weak" GWD to acknowledge the events before and after that drive.
Carson Palmer had a "get the ball at the 21 after a fumble and kneel down to set up a game-winning field goal" in overtime against Jacksonville. That's one of the weakest GWDs on record, but look back at the fourth quarter. Palmer had to lead the Raiders on two scoring drives (10 points) just to force overtime in the first place.
If you score early in the quarter, an offense's job is not done. It should continue to add to the lead or at least burn some clock to secure the win. Also, a quarterback can lead multiple go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter, but only the last one gets labeled the GWD.
So while the stat may be credited for one drive in a game, the events of multiple drives (including the defense too) usually factor into it as well. Here we are just crunching numbers on that one drive from each game. In the future, with more time, we can do analysis for more drives. But for the purposes of this article, I too will frown on some of these GWDs in spite of the fact that the quarterback may have played very well before or after that drive.
Nine drives could be the equivalent of one game, or many times just a fraction of one game. Even with Peyton Manning having 49 games, that's maybe five or six full games for his career. The magnitude of these drives deciding who won and lost cannot be ignored, but neither can the sample size issue. So tread lightly on the conclusions even though certain trends certainly show up for different players.
Finally, the usual drive stat disclaimer: any row labeled "Peyton Manning" could and should also include names like Jeff Saturday, Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark, Adam Vinatieri and Tony Dungy. You already assumed that though, so onto the data.
General Drive Stats
Our first table includes many of the general drive stats you are used to seeing at Football Outsiders for things like average starting field position (LOS) and yards and points per drive. Also included is the quarterback's average deficit for the GWD and the sum of his passing stats. The "4QC-GWD" is the number of GWDs that occurred with the team trailing by 1-7 points. For example, Peyton Manning has 38 total fourth-quarter comebacks, but only 28 of those came on the same drive as the engineered GWD, so his 4QC-GWD equals 28. The leader in each category is bolded. I will try to keep player comments at a minimum as you can find a summary for each player at the end.
|Game-Winning Drives: General Drive Stats|
|Peyton Manning||49||28||30.49 (16)||1.86 (15)||224||169||75.4%||2,021||9.02||15||61.02 (8)||5.27 (13)|
|Tom Brady||37||14||35.86 (8)||1.27 (6)||168||130||77.4%||1,693||10.08||15||56.30 (15)||5.30 (12)|
|Drew Brees||31||15||30.39 (19)||1.29 (7)||149||121||81.2%||1,503||10.09||12||63.16 (4)||5.35 (10)|
|Ben Roethlisberger||29||17||30.41 (18)||1.62 (10)||134||96||71.6%||1,336||9.97||8||62.10 (6)||5.14 (16)|
|Eli Manning||28||17||34.07 (12)||1.82 (14)||113||82||72.6%||1,233||10.91||13||61.25 (7)||5.82 (5)|
|Matt Hasselbeck||24||12||31.75 (15)||1.67 (12)||91||63||69.2%||829||9.11||10||59.46 (12)||5.17 (15)|
|Matt Ryan||23||13||29.52 (21)||1.48 (8)||93||67||72.0%||896||9.63||6||60.00 (10)||5.43 (9)|
|Carson Palmer||20||10||36.90 (5)||1.65 (11)||97||69||71.1%||809||8.34||8||54.65 (19)||5.10 (17)|
|Tony Romo||19||11||38.58 (3)||1.58 (9)||64||50||78.1%||824||12.88||6||52.37 (20)||4.89 (19)|
|Jay Cutler||17||10||34.12 (11)||1.88 (17)||80||62||77.5%||799||9.99||11||59.35 (13)||5.65 (7)|
|Philip Rivers||16||8||36.31 (7)||2.06 (19)||69||55||79.7%||692||10.03||9||59.75 (11)||6.38 (1)|
|Joe Flacco||15||5||35.67 (9)||0.93 (3)||63||41||65.1%||533||8.46||6||55.07 (17)||4.67 (20)|
|Michael Vick||14||8||30.36 (20)||1.86 (16)||46||36||78.3%||571||12.41||4||63.29 (3)||5.57 (8)|
|Alex Smith||12||10||38.25 (4)||2.58 (21)||40||28||70.0%||397||9.93||4||55.42 (16)||5.75 (6)|
|Mark Sanchez||12||7||46.58 (2)||1.92 (18)||41||29||70.7%||417||10.17||6||46.00 (21)||5.25 (14)|
|Matt Schaub||12||3||27.67 (22)||0.75 (1)||54||36||66.7%||628||11.63||2||63.50 (2)||4.92 (18)|
|David Carr||11||5||47.45 (1)||0.91 (2)||22||16||72.7%||234||10.64||1||32.82 (22)||4.09 (22)|
|Jason Campbell||10||4||34.30 (10)||1.20 (5)||23||18||78.3%||365||15.87||4||58.60 (14)||5.30 (11)|
|Josh Freeman||10||6||33.40 (14)||2.20 (20)||43||31||72.1%||414||9.63||5||62.40 (5)||6.20 (3)|
|Aaron Rodgers||9||5||33.78 (13)||1.78 (13)||31||24||77.4%||407||13.13||4||60.56 (9)||5.89 (4)|
|Matt Cassel||9||3||36.67 (6)||1.00 (4)||44||30||68.2%||396||9.00||2||54.78 (18)||4.44 (21)|
|Matthew Stafford||9||6||30.44 (17)||2.89 (22)||60||41||68.3%||504||8.40||7||65.00 (1)||6.22 (2)|
For starters, David Carr and Mark Sanchez, arguably the two worst quarterbacks in the study, had the best starting field position. That makes sense as you would not expect them to be able to go a long distance with much success. The fact they almost started at midfield when the average was 34.68 looks really bad for them.
The average deficit was 1.65 points, so a field goal usually was sufficient enough. The average points per drive were 5.35 and yards were 57.58. Of the 416 drives, 173 (41.6 percent) ended with a field goal and 243 were touchdowns.
As for the passing stats, go figure everyone's pretty impressive. It would be hard for a team to go on a scoring drive with the quarterback not completing passes.
However, 31 drives included zero completions by the quarterback. Carr and Eli Manning had four each, though you will not believe which quarterback had five. He's Super, by the way. A quarterback did not throw a pass on 19 drives. Of the 31 drives without a completion, only four saw the quarterback have at least one run for a positive gain. That means 27 times he did essentially nothing.
The longest GWD without the quarterback doing anything belongs to Eli Manning against the 2008 Panthers. In overtime, on an 87-yard touchdown march, Manning threw one incomplete pass and handed off five times for big runs by Brandon Jacobs (game-winning touchdown) and Derrick Ward (51-yard run to start the drive and a 14-yard run on a critical third-and-7 to extend the drive).
Of the 416 drives, three actually lost yardage. Against the 2006 Raiders, Houston ran it three times for minus-three yards with Andre Johnson losing 11 yards on a third down that must have been horribly designed. Game-winning drive, David Carr. Then there's last year's Palmer kneel down example against Jacksonville after a fumble by Cecil Shorts. Then weeks later in Dallas, Ben Roethlisberger threw a pass in overtime that was intercepted and returned to the one-yard line. Tony Romo took a knee for a two-yard loss and Dallas made the 21-yard field goal.
An offense with one of these quarterbacks went 90-plus yards to win the game 18 times. Drew Brees and Michael Vick account for three each. Matt Hasselbeck (two) is the only other player to do it multiple times.
How about the most classic comeback situation in football? Down by four-to-six points, 2:00 left and the ball at no better than your own 20, meaning you absolutely have to score a touchdown with a long field ahead of you to win the game.
Well, for this group, it's happened once: down 37-31, an injured Matthew Stafford led Detroit 88 yards against the 2009 Browns, scoring a touchdown on an untimed down after the Browns were penalized 31 yards for defensive pass interference in the end zone.
If we expand the time back to 3:00, which I like to do in this situation, then we get nine drives, including what I have called the greatest drive in NFL history: the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. We also see just one quarterback has done it twice, but more on him later. Here's a hint: neither of his drives came against a team with a winning record.
Just one time in this study did a team down by seven points go on a game-winning drive. Do you know which game? Indeed, it was when referee Ed Hochuli blew a call on a Jay Cutler fumble in 2008 against San Diego. Denver converted the fourth down to Eddie Royal, then went to the same play for the two-point gamble to win 39-38.
It is always sweet to get a touchdown, but the two-point conversion to win the game is something we rarely get to see in the NFL.
The next table looks at the results of the GWDs. This breaks them down by how many ended in field goals, touchdown passes and touchdown runs (split up between runs by the quarterback and someone else). The percentages are also displayed with rankings, including the "QBTD%" which is the percentage of GWDs where the quarterback either passed for or ran in the winning touchdown. The last two columns are for the average time in which the GWD started and ended.
|Game-Winning Drives: Drive Results|
|Rk||Quarterback||GWD||FG||TD Passes||TD Run||QB TD Run||FG%||TD%||QBTD%||Start||End|
|1||Peyton Manning||49||21||15||10||3||42.9% (10)||57.1% (13)||36.7% (15)||8:36 (16)||5:21 (16)|
|2||Tom Brady||37||16||15||5||1||43.2% (9)||56.8% (14)||43.2% (9)||8:42 (17)||5:53 (18)|
|3||Drew Brees||31||13||12||5||1||41.9% (11)||58.1% (12)||41.9% (10)||10:08 (21)||5:59 (19)|
|4||Ben Roethlisberger||29||13||8||7||0||44.8% (8)||55.2% (15)||27.6% (19)||8:03 (14)||4:10 (4)|
|5||Eli Manning||28||8||13||7||0||28.6% (19)||71.4% (4)||46.4% (7)||7:24 (10)||4:43 (10)|
|6||Matt Hasselbeck||24||11||10||3||0||45.8% (7)||54.2% (16)||41.7% (11)||6:34 (3)||3:19 (1)|
|7||Matt Ryan||23||9||6||7||1||39.1% (14)||60.9% (9)||30.4% (18)||7:17 (6)||4:29 (8)|
|8||Carson Palmer||20||10||8||2||0||50.0% (5)||50.0% (17)||40.0% (12)||7:32 (11)||5:15 (14)|
|9||Tony Romo||19||10||6||3||0||52.6% (4)||47.4% (19)||31.6% (17)||7:49 (12)||5:11 (13)|
|10||Jay Cutler||17||6||11||0||0||35.3% (16)||64.7% (7)||64.7% (2)||7:09 (4)||4:11 (5)|
|11||Philip Rivers||16||2||9||5||0||12.5% (22)||87.5% (1)||56.3% (3)||8:35 (15)||5:29 (17)|
|12||Joe Flacco||15||9||6||0||0||60.0% (3)||40.0% (20)||40.0% (12)||7:18 (7)||5:19 (15)|
|13||Michael Vick||14||5||4||2||3||35.7% (15)||64.3% (8)||50.0% (4)||9:12 (19)||6:31 (20)|
|14||Alex Smith||12||4||4||4||0||33.3% (17)||66.7% (5)||33.3% (16)||7:23 (9)||4:11 (6)|
|14||Mark Sanchez||12||5||6||1||0||41.7% (12)||58.3% (11)||50.0% (4)||7:09 (5)||4:55 (12)|
|14||Matt Schaub||12||6||2||3||1||50.0% (5)||50.0% (17)||25% (21)||6:18 (2)||3:40 (3)|
|17||David Carr||11||8||1||0||2||72.7% (1)||27.3% (22)||27.3% (20)||7:20 (8)||4:30 (9)|
|18||Jason Campbell||10||4||4||2||0||40.0% (13)||60.0% (10)||40.0% (12)||11:31 (22)||7:59 (22)|
|18||Josh Freeman||10||2||5||3||0||20.0% (21)||80.0% (2)||50.0% (4)||7:51 (13)||4:16 (7)|
|20||Aaron Rodgers||9||3||4||2||0||33.3% (17)||66.7% (5)||44.4% (8)||9:53 (20)||7:13 (21)|
|20||Matt Cassel||9||6||2||1||0||66.7% (2)||33.3% (21)||22.2% (22)||9:03 (18)||4:44 (11)|
|20||Matthew Stafford||9||2||7||0||0||22.2% (20)||77.8% (3)||77.8% (1)||5:56 (1)||3:37 (2)|
Ben Roethlisberger is the lone case where a running back (Jerome Bettis) actually threw the game-winning touchdown pass for his team. That happened in the regular season against the 2004 Jets. That is why Roethlisberger's row adds up to 28 instead of 29.
Is it not a little odd to see Peyton Manning and Vick lead the way with three game-winning touchdown runs? Vick is understandable, but Manning was a surprise. Two of those plays came in 1999 while the third was against the Jets in 2006. Manning has also handed it off 10 times for the game-winning touchdown run, which leads the list.
The average drive start time was 8:06 and end time was 5:03. That makes sense. With a large sample size, that number should push closer to 7:30, which is of course half a quarter.
A total of 59 drives started inside the two-minute warning. Tom Brady has done it five times, but he's bested by two similar quarterbacks with seven.
A total of 37 drives ended with 0:00 on the clock. No one has done that more than Peyton Manning (five). No one has more drives started in the final 60 seconds to win a game than Matt Ryan and his five one-minute drills.
It is a lot harder to go 50 yards in less than a minute than it is when you have a whole quarter. That's why we need a stat to account for all the variation in situations.
What's going to become one of the best methods to quantify comebacks and GWDs will be win probability. It is something we hope to expand upon at Football Outsiders in the offseason, but for now, I manually entered the drive data (deficit, quarter, time left, line of scrimmage, down and distance) into the win probability calculator at Advanced NFL Stats. I have done this before for Joe Flacco and Eli Manning, but this time we will just focus on the win probability (WP) at the start of the GWD.
In this table, the quarterbacks are ranked by the average WP they had at the start of the drive. Included is the drive with the minimum (MIN) and maximum (MAX) WP. The bigger the number, the more likely the team was to win. The "WP>.50" is the number of GWDs in which there was a better than 50 percent chance of winning the game at the start of the GWD. The "Total WP" is the sum of the WP at the start of each GWD.
Now the "WPA" is "Win Probability Added," but this is not calculated in the same way Brian Burke does at his site. Technically we would want to find what the team's WP was after the GWD, because unless it was the final play of the game, it's probably not 1.00. For example, taking a one-point lead with 14:50 to play will barely put you over 0.50. In this case, since each game was a win, we calculated WPA by subtracting the Total WP from the number of GWDs. That could then be divided by the number of games for WPA per game, which is actually the inverse of the Avg. WP column.
|Game-Winning Drives: Win Probability (WP)|
|Rk||QB||Avg. WP||MIN||MAX||WP>.50||Total WP||GWDs||WPA||WPA/G|
Apparently Carr ranking last is an unavoidable theme here.
Rather than constantly bash or praise the same players in each section, I will summarize the findings for each player in his own space as our conclusion here.
I do want to stress again that magnifying these GWDs without the context of the drives directly before and after them is not fair in most cases to the player. These were just technically the 416 drives that put the winning team ahead for good, but there were many game-defining plays before and after most of these drives. Still, it does draw attention to how these games went down and the quarterback's contribution to the win. A full analysis of late-game performance may turn things around for some, but I think this has given us a decent look at who really has shined in game-winning moments and who has been more reliant on the rest of the team.
As always, the research will continue on my end, but here are the player comments before the 2013 season.
See how the best quarterbacks in the league largely make up the active leaders in GWDs? That is why Rodgers' 9-24 (.273) record at GWD opportunities continues to baffle me. Yeah, he's had some bad luck, but not significantly more so than the quarterbacks with more wins, which includes most of the league. A common trait with front-runner quarterbacks -- Len Dawson and Kurt Warner are two great examples -- is that even the few close wins they have are not that impressive. Rodgers has great stats on his nine GWDs (No. 4 in points per drive), but two of them came against the 2008 Lions (0-16). Another came against the Saints' awful defense last season.
His last GWD, at home against the 2012 Lions, was 59 yards and included seven running plays (handoffs). The closest thing to a signature drive is the one he had in New York (2011) in the final minute to set up a winning field goal to break a 35-35 tie. Given his career performance, I would like to see more from him in this area. It's a Green Bay problem, but the "best quarterback in the NFL" cannot have just nine GWDs against seven losing teams in five seasons.
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How in the world did Smith rank No. 4 in Avg. WP (0.44)? Well, the 49ers trailed during 10 of his 12 GWDs, which is by far the highest rate (83.3 percent) in the study. That gave him the second-largest average deficit (2.58), which helps lower the WP. Smith had his best drive against the 2011 Saints in the NFC Divisional Round. Facing a 0.13 WP situation, he completed 5-of-7 passes for 85 yards and the game-winning touchdown with 0:09 left. Half of Smith's GWDs came in that 2011 breakout season.
Only Roethlisberger (.69) and Jason Campbell (.68) have never started a GWD in which they had at least a 0.70 WP. Roethlisberger has not been his usual self in these situations the last three years, but he had an incredible run over a 53-week span in 2008-09 when he led three signature touchdown drives to win games late:
- 12/14/2008 at Baltimore (3:36 left, down 9-6, 92 yards to go): With the AFC North on the line, Roethlisberger completes 7-of-11 passes for 87 yards and the game-winning touchdown to Santonio Holmes with 0:43 left.
- 2/1/2009 vs. Arizona (2:30 left, down 23-20, 78 yards to go): In Super Bowl XLIII, Roethlisberger completes one of the all-time drives with a perfect 6-yard touchdown pass to Holmes with 0:35 left.
- 12/20/2009 vs. Green Bay (2:01 left, down 36-30, 86 yards to go): To keep playoff hopes alive, Roethlisberger completes a 503-yard passing day with 93 yards on this drive, ending with a 19-yard strike to Mike Wallace in the end zone with 0:00 left.
Most quarterbacks would be satisfied with any one of those moments as a career highlight, but that's three in a little over a year. Since the Green Bay game, none of Roethlisberger's last nine GWDs have covered more than 67 yards and his only game-winning touchdown pass was in Baltimore (2010) after Troy Polamalu forced a Joe Flacco fumble. Roethlisberger only had to go nine yards that time.
Palmer has the lowest yards per attempt (8.34) on his GWDs, though that is still a good average in general. What's not good is ranking 19th in points and 17th in yards on the drive stats. He had to settle for field goals half the time. To his credit, he is one of three quarterbacks here (Stafford and Eli Manning) to lead a 98-yard game-winning touchdown drive, which is the longest drive in the study. That came in a tied game against the 2009 Chiefs.
Hide the children, because it's David Carr time. In the first game in Houston history, Carr threw a game-winning touchdown pass (65 yards to Corey Bradford) to beat the Cowboys. He would never throw another. Oh, he did rush for two game-winning touchdowns, but he settled for a field goal on eight of his 11 GWDs. That gives him the lowest touchdown rate (27.3 percent). He damn near started his GWDs at the 48-yard line, giving him the best field position. He faced the second-smallest average deficit (0.91). He attempted just 2.0 passes per GWD; the lowest in the study, so he had the least to do with his team's success, which was hardly anything to write home about given his offense ranks dead last in yards (32.82) and points (4.09) per drive. Twice he did not even drop back on the GWD.
Add it all up and you have a quarterback who, on average, took the field expected to win the game 60 percent of the time on his GWDs. All other quarterbacks had at least one GWD with a WP of 0.27 or lower. Carr always had at least a 0.40 WP on all 11 GWDs. Unimpressed would be an understatement right now.
Brees has completed a study-best 81.2 percent of his passes on his GWDs and as you would expect he ranks well in terms of moving the ball, scoring points and throwing game-winning touchdown passes. What was surprising is that his average drive started with 10:08 left, which was the second-earliest time among the quarterbacks. Brees does have eight overtime GWDs (second behind Tom Brady; nine) so that may be influencing the time numbers a bit. That can also explain why his WP is just 17th as being in overtime is usually a coin-flip scenario.
Thanks in part to Lawrence Tynes, Brett Favre and Kyle Williams, Manning does have those two GWDs in NFC Championship games (2007 and 2011) where he did not have to complete a pass because of the starting field position. However, he does have 13 game-winning touchdown passes (ranked third) and ranks top seven in yards and points per drive. He's one of the best at driving for a winning touchdown, evident by ranking No. 4 in touchdown rate (71.4 percent). While he has the two GWDs in Super Bowls against New England, it was actually the 2011 comeback win in Foxboro that saw Manning overcome his lowest WP (0.15) for a GWD.
For the most part we are seeing the worst quarterbacks have some of the worst GWDs. Campbell faced the fifth-smallest deficit, but did average a study-best 15.87 yards per attempt. Then again, that's just 23 passes. He ranks out of the top 10 in points and yards per drive. He is dead last in average start and end time, meaning he had more time than anyone to go on a GWD while also leaving his defense the most time to protect the lead. Then again, three overtime wins skews the numbers.
Cutler has one of the best records in history at GWD opportunities (17-18), so any analysis of his triumphs is important. What really stands out is that he's thrown 11 game-winning touchdown passes on his 17 GWDs. That ranks him second in QBTD%. He's also top five in the time stats, so his drives usually happen late in the game and he has faced one of the largest average deficits.
Yes, "Joe Cool" Flacco is the quarterback who has completed zero passes on five of his 15 GWDs. On those drives he was 0-of-4 passing and took one knee. That looks awful, though he did at least throw a game-tying touchdown against Cleveland (2008), forced the Steelers to overtime with a field goal drive (2009) and of course there was the "Jacoby Jones sneaks by Rahim Moore" play in Denver last year to force overtime. So this could have been worse, but there's really no defense for Flacco doing nothing against the Bills and Saints in 2010 and getting cheap GWDs out of it. His best moment remains the 92-yard drive in 2011 to beat the Steelers in the final 2:08.
Overall, Flacco's a lot closer to Carr than the elites here. He faced the third-smallest deficit. He has a study-low 65.1 completion percentage. He's 17th in yards per drive and 20th in points per drive. He's 20th in TD%, only finishing 6-of-15 drives in the end zone. That makes his average WP 0.54, or the second easiest situation on average.
Freeman picked up two clutch wins as a rookie in 2009 over playoff teams like the Packers and Saints. He led five GWDs in his breakout season in 2010 over bad teams. Then the GWDs stopped coming, only to be seen against some awful teams like the 2011 Vikings (3-13), 2011 Colts (2-14) and one in Carolina (7-9) last year. Even the Carolina game's not as impressive given Ron Rivera (and Norv Turner) have been operating a black market business for giving away close wins.
While the competition's been lousy, Freeman has been superb in these 10 moments. He's top five in yards and points per drive. He's gone into the end zone on 8-of-10 drives. His situations have been the third toughest. Now if only we can see some consistency and better results against winning teams, then Tampa Bay may have something here.
Even the "Sanchize" cracks 70-percent completions on his GWDs. Though, he's 21st in yards per drive. He does surprisingly have six game-winning touchdown passes, but Santonio Holmes (four in New York) is good at that. Sanchez does crack the top 10 in WP with two extreme games. Against the 2010 Texans, Sanchez had just 0:49 left at his own 28, needing a touchdown. He threw two great passes to Braylon Edwards and Holmes to pull off the comeback. With a WP of 0.11, that's the lowest WP for a game-winning TD in this study. This has not been a pleasant trip down memory lane for Texans fans. Meanwhile, Sanchez had the second-highest WP (0.89) for a GWD when Romo threw that bad interception to Darrelle Revis to start the 2011 season. Sanchez started at the Dallas 34 and threw two incomplete passes as Nick Folk kicked a 50-yard field goal to win the game.
Just another bad quarterback with small average deficits, great field position, few points and yards, the second-highest field goal rate and the third-easiest WP situations. None of Cassel's nine GWDs were against playoff teams.
Don't you ... forget about me. Well, most NFL fans have, Matt Hasselbeck. The new Indianapolis backup, Hasselbeck actually ranks sixth among actives in GWDs. He's even had five GWDs since 2011 with Tennessee, but I'm not sure many people were watching. Most of his statistics rank in the 12-to-15 range here. What he does have is the third-shortest time (6:34) to start a drive and the shortest time left on the clock when he's done (3:19).
Ryan has the best record (23-14) in NFL history at GWD opportunities. He has the most fourth-quarter comebacks (16) and GWDs (23) in the first five years of a player's career. He has another record with five one-minute drills to win games. At some point, the "Matty Ice" stuff begins to make sense. Ryan's had the second-worst starting field position among these quarterbacks, but still ranks top 10 in yards and points per drive.
I harp on his one-minute drills all the time, but he has seven GWDs that started in the final two minutes. That ties Peyton Manning for the most here. Keep in mind Manning has 49 total GWDs compared to 23 for Ryan. Is it any wonder he's No. 2 in WP? Ryan has the two GWDs with the lowest WP. That's 0.07 against 2008 Chicago when he had six seconds to make this 26-yard throw and set up a field goal. Then there's the 0.08 against Carolina last year when he started at his own one-yard line with 0:59 left. Overall, Ryan has four of the eight lowest WP's in this study. His drive to beat Seattle in the playoffs ranks No. 5 in WP out of the 416. It's time to give this guy his credit.
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Schaub is a tricky one. He's only trailed on three of his 12 GWDs, which is the lowest rate. He has had the worst starting field position (27.67). Though, he's faced the smallest deficit (0.75), so he does not have to go as far. Yet he's No. 2 in yards per drive ... but just did not score many points (No. 18). He's also had the second-latest start time (6:18) to his GWDs and the third-latest finish (3:40). WP (0.51) puts him 19th, suggesting his situations have not been hard, but he's taken on a big burden, averaging 52.3 passing yards per drive; the second-highest average. So Schaub seemingly has been better than his stats suggest.
If you want to see someone carry his team to victory in dramatic fashion against a team with a losing record, make Stafford your quarterback of choice. Yes, we all know Stafford is 1-23 against teams with a winning record, and sure enough he only has one GWD (Seattle last year) over a good team, but man does he make these moments count.
No one faces a bigger deficit (2.89) than Stafford, and no one piles up more passing numbers -- he averages 6.7 attempts and 56 yards on his GWDs -- or yards per drive (65.0). He's also finished his nine drives with seven touchdown passes for the best QBTD%. He has the lowest average time (5:56) to start a drive, so he's doing this under more pressure. It's great stuff, such as the 98-yard drive in Oakland in 2011 or the aforementioned Cleveland drive his rookie year.
How is this for a stat? Most game-winning touchdown passes thrown in the final three minutes: Stafford, Brady and Roethlisberger (six apiece). You can lower that time to two minutes and get the same answer with five touchdowns apiece. So Stafford's been great in these games, but it just has not transferred to when Detroit plays better competition. Not yet anyway.
Known for his rushing, Vick has completed 78.3 percent of his passes on GWDs. That ranks fourth and he's thrown for at least 34 yards on his six GWDs with the Eagles. Perhaps most impressively is that he ranks third in yards per drive and eighth in points. He's only had four GWDs where the WP was better than 0.50 to start. That's the second-lowest rate behind Freeman, so Vick understandably ranks No. 7 in WP.
With 49 GWDs, including many improbable comeback wins, which one do you think saw Manning overcome his lowest WP (0.17)? It was in fact the 2006 AFC Championship against New England. Down 34-31 with 2:17 left at his own 20, Manning moved the Colts 69 yards in 24 seconds before Joseph Addai finished off the drive. That's right, 69 yards in 24 seconds with only using the two-minute warning. That's efficiency.
Interestingly enough, the most yards Manning ever had on a game-winning drive came on his very first against the Jets in 1998. He completed 8-of-13 passes for 93 yards, threw the game-winning touchdown to Marcus Pollard, and even rushed twice for seven yards to convert a pair of third-and-1's, giving him an even 100 yards on the drive.
Manning has plenty of solid stats here, tying Tom Brady for the most game-winning touchdown passes (15). His lowest rankings coming in the drive start times. He does have a few GWDs that came very early in the fourth quarter, but that's to be expected for someone who accumulated the second-most GWDs ever. You are going to pick up some cheap ones along the way. Still, Manning ranks sixth in WP, so he did face tougher situations than most.
It's been so long since I have talked about Rivers in close games in a positive light. You can see he was once good enough to put together some solid stats. No one averages more points per drive (6.38). No one finishes his GWDs in the end zone more often, only settling for a field goal twice in 16 games. He also has nine game-winning touchdown passes and ranks No. 8 in WP, so what happened?
Well, since the 2009 playoff loss to the Jets, Rivers is 2-19 (.095) at GWD opportunities. He's turned the ball over 16 times in the fourth quarter or overtime, tied or trailing by 1-8 points in that time. That's unbelievably bad. Romo gets the choker label, yet he's had 10 career turnovers in clutch situations the Cowboys lost. Rivers has 22. He might have lesser stats here with the touchdowns and points per drive had he just made the simple plays to set up some winning field goals the last three seasons. Instead, no quarterback has blown more close games in recent time than Rivers.
As some of the past guest studies at Football Outsiders on close wins have found, Brady's gaudy record (38-25 at 4QC/GWD opportunities) is not all it's cracked up to be. Before last season, he's never had to worry about his kicker losing a game on a failed field goal in the clutch. The defense used to never allow GWDs until the last few years. If Brady took the lead, it would hold up (unless the Giants were the opponent).
Here, we see more of the same as Brady ranks in the top eight for best field position and smallest deficit. He's 15th in yards and 12th in points per drive. His time stats rank 17th and 18th. Add it all up and he's 15th in WP. Brady's actually improved on these numbers in recent years as the Patriots moved away from being the team who used Adam Vinatieri to beat you by three points to Brady leading the team down the field into the end zone with his arm.
- On Brady's first 24 GWDs (2001-06), he trailed six times, threw seven touchdowns and led 13 field goal drives.
- On Brady's last 13 GWDs (2007-present), he trailed eight times, threw eight touchdowns and led three field goal drives.
That Brady dependency should only continue to get stronger in New England, unless the defense magically comes together into a dominant unit.
Is there anything more I can write about Romo's close wins? Well, there are some bad signs here for him. He's had the third-best field position and ninth-smallest deficit. Passing stats look good, but he's 20th in yards and 19th in points per drive. That's very poor. He's fourth in field goal rate. He's 18th in WP and has the single-easiest GWD of the 416 studied. It was that one against Pittsburgh last year when Roethlisberger's interception started him at the one-yard line and he just took a knee to set up the field goal. The WP was 0.99 there as that was essentially an extra point. The fact that Romo gave the Jets the second-easiest GWD with his interception to Revis also is not a positive for him.
Though if there is a positive here, it would be that Romo led a comeback in 18 of his 19 GWDs, which is abnormally high. So the fact that it was only tied eight times when he led the winning drive, he did tie the game on a previous drive seven times.
Yet for a study of 416 GWDs -- it seemingly felt like we touched base on every one of those games here -- it's easy to see why Romo's 19 have not caught the attention of many NFL fans since 2006. His best rarely match up with the highest Nielsen ratings.
I have the data to create the same stats for legends like Joe Montana, Dan Marino and John Elway, but before we hit 7,000 words, let's take a knee and be thankful Kyle Orton, John Skelton, Bruce Gradkowski, Derek Anderson, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tim Tebow just missed the cut. Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton, we'll add you next year.
Last stat: the Colts averaged 66.71 yards per drive on Luck's seven game-winning drives as a rookie. He's the next in line.