The Top 10 "Clutch" Quarterbacks of All Time

Anthony FusilliContributor IIIAugust 2, 2012

The Top 10 "Clutch" Quarterbacks of All Time

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    The "clutch gene" is one of the most talked about things in sports media today. Just ask Skip Bayless. LeBron James gets heckled all the time for it, and Eli Manning gets praised for his poise. It's something that can't be taught—it must already be in you.

    In the NFL, Quarterbacks are always being judged on how well they can lead their team back from a late deficit. From Johnny Unitas to Tom Brady, quarterbacks with this "clutch gene" have always been a rare commodity. To get one could be a franchise changer.

    In the slides to come, I will list my top 10 quarterbacks of all time with this "clutch gene," or the "2-minute drill" as they refer to it today.

    Also, those that missed the cut will be mentioned in the Honorable Mention section.  

10. Eli Manning

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    Over the past few seasons, Eli has established himself as a clutch quarterback—especially after last season. Eli asserted himself as a late-game hero with eight game-winning drives last season alone.

    In his career, he has 25 game-winning drives and 21 fourth quarter comebacks. He is tied for 15th on the all-time list for fourth quarter comebacks, according to profootballreference.com.

    Some may say that's not high enough to be mentioned on the top 10 list for all-time clutch quarterbacks, but when you factor in that his career isn't over and he's only 31 years old, expect a few more to be added to his total.

    His most signature come-from-behind wins include both Super Bowls against the Patriots, 12-11-11 against the Cowboys and the 2012 NFC Championship game against the 49ers.  

9. Terry Bradshaw

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    Terry Bradshaw was the leader of the Steelers during the domination that was the 1970s. During his career, Bradshaw led his team to 19 fourth quarter comebacks.

    Bradshaw and the Steelers went on to win four Super Bowls during the '70s. During this span, Bradshaw led the Steelers back with fourth quarter comebacks in four games—1972 against Oakland, 1974 against Oakland, 1975 against Dallas and 1979 against St. Louis.

    The 1982 game against the Bengals was a great measure of Bradshaw's comeback ability. After watching his team lose a fourth quarter lead, he led them back to get a late field goal. He then led them on the winning drive in overtime that ended in a pass to John Stallworth.  

8. Steve Young

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    Steve Young was as hard-nosed, tough and gritty as they come. He was small for quarterback, but that didn't bother him. Oh, and he had to fill the shoes of Joe Montana. Not an easy task.

    Young had the monkey on his back of not being Montana, of not being able to win the big game. He sure shook that monkey off when he won his first Super Bowl in 1994.

    After Young took over for Montana, he had to endure the fans of San Francisco being on his every move. If he took off and ran over the middle of the field and fumbled, fans would yell at him "why did you ever run there? Joe wouldn't have done that."

    It was his mobile ability though that made him such a great quarterback. He had possibly one of the greatest quarterback runs ever against the Minnesota Vikings.

    In a game against the Detroit Lions, he was hurt pretty badly. It looked bad when he crawled off the field.

    But, he came back, lifted his teammates' spirits and led the 49ers to a come-from-behind victory in the fourth quarter. It was one of his 14 fourth quarter comebacks.

    His most known comeback would have to be his pass to Terrell Owens that was coined "The Catch II." The game was the first time he beat Brett Favre after losing three consecutive times to the Packers in the Playoffs.   

7. Johnny Unitas

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    Johnny Unitas is the originator of the fourth quarter comeback. He led the Baltimore Colts to the win in the NFL's first-ever sudden-death overtime game.

    In his career, he had 27 fourth quarter comebacks, which has him eighth on the all-time list.

    He was the field general for the Colts and led them to many comebacks. But one of his better comebacks was his game against the Minnesota Vikings back in 1963. He led them back with 21 fourth-quarter points and had four touchdowns as well, leading them to a 37-34 victory.

    Like I stated earlier, no game was better than his 1958 NFL Championship win over the Giants. It was the NFL's first-ever sudden-death overtime game and is regarded by many as the greatest game ever played.

6. Otto Graham

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    Otto Graham led the Cleveland Browns to a remarkable 10-straight title games. A feat no other quarterback has ever matched. 

    He won four AAFC Championships and three NFL Championships.

    During his career, he had many late drives and fourth quarter comebacks. Only 10 are documented due to him joining the NFL in 1950, after six seasons prior in the AAFC. 

    He was as clutch as they came back then and when he switched leagues, people didn't think he would be able to stack up against the higher competition of the NFL. He proved them wrong.

    One of Graham's greatest comebacks was a 1950 game against the Rams. He led the Browns to a thrilling 30-28 win that saw him run for 99 yards, throw for 298 more and throw four touchdowns.

    Graham will go down as one of the greatest players ever and his "clutch gene" only further supports that case. 

5. Dan Marino

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    Dan Marino not only shares a birthday with me, but he also owns the record of most fourth quarter comebacks in NFL history (36), according to profootballreference.com.

    Many will say this distinction should have him higher on the list, but I'm not the only one who has him this low. Check out Sports Illustrated and NFL.com's lists as well.

    If it wasn't for the other quarterbacks on the list and maybe a few more playoff performances, he'd be higher. 

    Dolphins coach Don Shula said he knew they were never out of a game with Marino at quarterback. And a game against the New York Jets during the 1994 season provided insurance for that claim. It's known for the fake-spike in the final minutes of the game that helped pull out a come-from-behind victory.

    Marino will go down as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, this distinction only furthers his spot on the list.

4. Roger Staubach

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    Roger Staubach wasn't named "captain comeback" for no reason.

    Staubach led the Dallas Cowboys to 15 fourth quarter comebacks and 23 game-winning drives. He also led the Cowboys to four Super Bowls in the '70s in which he won two of them.

    One of his greatest comebacks was a 1976 game against the Baltimore Colts. With the Cowboys down 24-20, he took them on three scoring drives, one that ended with a 38-yard touchdown pass, one that lead to the tying field goal and one that ended in the game-winning field goal.

    During the game, he had a passer rating of 140.9, he threw for 339 yards and had two touchdowns as well.

    Staubach will always be remembered for being the leader of the Cowboys and making the Cowboys known for being "America's team." 

3. Tom Brady

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    Tom Brady has become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, in such a short period. He went from being a sixth-round draft pick, to winning three Super Bowls in four years.

    He has become known for his late-game poise and control of the game. He is a leader in every sense of the word. He has accounted for 25 fourth quarter comebacks and 35 game-winning drives.

    In all three of his Super Bowls, he led the New England Patriots to last-minute game-winning drives.

    Obviously, he owes credit to Adam Vinatieri for making the game-winning kicks, but if it wasn't for the late-game heroics of Brady, none of those kicks would be possible.

    Possibly his best comeback game, the 2004 Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers, Brady threw for 354 yards and three touchdowns. It was a back-and-forth game in the fourth quarter, with both teams scoring at will. It was Brady though, that led the Patriots to the game-winning field goal as time expired.

    The win that gave the Patriots their second Super Bowl in three years.  

    Not too bad for a sixth-round draft pick, huh?

2. John Elway

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    John Elway could be considered by some as the greatest clutch quarterback ever. He led the Broncos to a remarkable 35 fourth quarter comebacks, which is only bested by Dan Marino. 

    During his Illustrious career, Elway led the Denver Broncos to two Super Bowl victories. Both coming at the later stages of his career. Even though it wasn't in the fourth quarter, one of the most impressive plays I have ever seen has to be the "helicopter" play.

    During the 1998 Super Bowl, a 37-year-old Elway needed a first down during the late stages of the third quarter. During a 3rd-and-6, after scrambling out of the pocket, Elway saw where he needed to be for the first down.

    He sold out his body and dove head first into three Packers players and took a tremendous hit that spun his entire body around like a helicopter. That play will forever live in Elway lore.

    The time where Elway was at his most clutch was during the 1986 AFC Championship game against the Cleveland Browns.

    It was the final drive that is simply referred to as "The Drive." Elway drove the Broncos down the field after starting with the ball at his own two-yard line with 5:34 on the clock. The drive ended with a touchdown that tied the game and sent it into overtime. He then lead them to the game-winning field goal in OT.

    It is considered by many as the greatest drive ever.

1. Joe Montana

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    His nickname was Joe Cool—enough said.

    He never cracked under pressure and always seemed to have a knack for the late game dramatics. No game was ever out of reach with Montana under center.

    He had 31 fourth quarter comebacks during his illustrious 15-year career, according to profootballreference.com.

    He was 4-0 in Super Bowls and never seemed to shy away from the pressure. You can't really single out all of his late game magic but there are some that stand out. 

    "The Catch" will forever live in infamy. The pass to Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone will forever stand out as one of the greatest games ever during the 1981 NFC championship against the hated Dallas Cowboys.

    His comeback drive against the Cincinnati Bengals during the 1988 Super Bowl is one of legends. He drove the 49ers down the field from his own eight-yard line with 3:10 left on the clock to win the game 20-16 with a touchdown pass to John Taylor. It goes down as one of, if not the best, drive in Super Bowl history.

    Montana remains the quarterback that many QBs of today are measured against, when you talk about the 2-minute drive.  

Honorable Mention

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    Here are the honorable mentions.

    The people I left off from the big list are not short on accomplishments, but I felt the others were more deserving. 

    Ken Stabler—Oakland Raiders/ Houston Oilers/ New Orleans Siants

    Bart Starr—Green Bay Packers

    Joe Namath—New York Jets

    Troy Aikman—Dallas Cowboys

    Peyton Manning—Indianapolis Colts

    Brett Favre—Green Bay Packers/ Minnesota Vikings