Ben Roethlisberger and the Misunderstood Value of "Clutch"

Ryan MichaelSenior Writer IIIJune 4, 2009

In professional football, you often hear people talk about a player's ability to perform in the "clutch." This concept is often applied to quarterbacks who have the ability to lead their teams downfield and put points on the board when the game is on the line.

When you think of some of the greatest clutch quarterbacks, names like Joe Montana and Tom Brady immediately come to mind. The two quarterbacks  have displayed a flair for playing under pressure and performing at the level necessary to become successful winners.

This article is not to debate which quarterbacks are clutch and which aren't. Rather, I'd like to take a look at the concept of "clutch" and exactly why we value it to the degree we do.

Few people would dare say that the term "clutch" is overrated.

I don't know if I'd be noble enough to say that, but I will admit that it has come to mind.

While most people understand what being clutch means, I don't think as many people understand why we value it so much.

The best example I could give that all of you could relate to, would be Super Bowl XLIII.

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals as Ben Roethlisberger regained his spot as one of the game's premiere, clutch quarterbacks. He led a game-winning Super Bowl drive that will be remembered for years to come.

How many people do you think will look back and remember the performance of Kurt Warner as one of the greatest in Super Bowl history?

After all, he didn't win the game.

People often say that statistics can be very misleading. One could argue that not every aspect of the game of football can be captured on a stat sheet, therefore the glorification of the more productive players is often unwarranted.

This at least, appears to be the strong opinion voiced by many fans I have spoken with recently.

So let's analyze Super Bowl XLIII and take a direct look at the performance of both quarterbacks.


Ben Roethlisberger: 21 of 30 (70 percent) for 256 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Quarterback Rating: 93.1

Kurt Warner: 31 of 43 (72 percent) for 377 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

Quarterback Rating: 112.2


On paper, you'll notice that Kurt Warner performed better in every single category. Yet, most people wouldn't think that Kurt Warner played the better game.

Statistics can be misleading, that's why I always use the combination of both statistics and context to get a more accurate perception of reality.

You have to consider supporting cast, coaching staff, and quality of competition among other things.

In the interest of fairness, let's look at the context of Super Bowl XLIII.

I would argue that Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are a better combination than Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. This would obviously aid Kurt Warner's ability to be more productive.

However, I would also argue that the Steelers defense that was ranked first in terms of points per game allowed and were are substantially better than the Cardinals defense which ranked 28th in the NFL in terms of points per game allowed.

Ben Roethlisberger faced a different caliber defense which would obviously enhance his chances of being productive.

There are other factors to consider (like the Cardinals only producing 33 rushing yards) but the two above seem to be the most important in terms of substantial differential.

So one has to ask: Is there a greater margin of difference between the combination of Fitzgerald/Boldin and Ward/Holmes, or is their a greater differential between the Steelers first ranked defense and the Cardinals 28th ranked defense?

I can't help but think that Ben Roethlisberger was in a much better position than Kurt Warner in terms of opportunity to be successful.

Kurt Warner had more passing attempts than Ben Roethlisberger (which obviously impacts his amount of yards and touchdowns) but also managed to be more accurate.

Warner attempted 13 more passes than Roethlisberger, so I think the best question would be: Would Roethlisberger have thrown for 121 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions on 13 additional passing attempts?

Given that he only threw one touchdown on 30 passing attempts, I would imagine that it would be logical to assume he wouldn't double his touchdown production on half as many additional throws.

The "what if's" I just posed however are not the point I'm trying to make, the important question to ask yourself was: Which quarterback performed better?

If Warner produced at a substantially higher level while facing a much tougher defense, was it Roethlisberger "clutch" performance on the final drive that shifts the judgement in his favor?

That is what I've heard from most people but I imagine that everyone will formulate their own conclusions.

Which brings me back to my original concept of "clutch".

The belief among many is that quality clutch performances contribute more to the team's chances of winning than highly-productive performances due to the sheer fact that the quarterback "came through when it mattered most".

The thought here is that all the impressive numbers in the world don't mean squat if you can't get the job done.

After looking back at Super Bowl XLIII, I recall seeing Warner throw what was once thought to be a game-winning touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald with only minutes left on the clock.

Are you to tell me that if the Cardinals defense prevented the Steelers from putting any points on the board in those finals minutes, we'd credit Kurt Warner for his "clutch" performance?

Because if that did happen, I would imagine that giving Warner that credit would have been exactly what would have happened.

So I pose a more important question, why should the performance of Warner's defense impact whether or not we label his performance in the Super Bowl as clutch?

As a matter of fact, since the Cardinals didn't end up winning that game, people point to Warner's lone interception as the difference-maker that cost his team the Super Bowl.

If the Cardinals defense stops the Steelers, we remember Warner as clutch. But because it didn't, we remember him as the guy who threw the Super Bowl's longest interception return for a touchdown.

The later performance of Roethlisberger's offense and Warner's defense should have no impact on how we should evaluate Warner's performance.


Because regardless of what happened, Warner performed exactly the same.

He wouldn't have been more clutch if his defense stopped the Steelers and he isn't less clutch because Ben Roethlisberger threw a game-winning touchdown pass.

We all love to remember "clutch" moments but the reality is a touchdown counts as a touchdown, whether it's in the first quarter or the fourth quarter.

Warner threw for more yards, more touchdowns, and had a higher completion percentage. The fact that the Cardinals put less points on the board is reflective of how the rest of the team performed.

The fact is that Warner had a higher completion percentage, moved the ball further and put more points on the board than Ben Roethlisberger.

However you want to slice it, Ben Roethlisberger didn't play a better game.

He was a member of a team that was better than the opposing team they faced but that doesn't make him better than the player of the same position on the losing side.

But how many people would say that Kurt Warner had the better game?

The point I'm trying to make here is that we need to evaluate the concept of clutch and understand exactly why we value it so much.

It's easy to remember magical moments like Roethlisberger's game-winning "clutch" touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes, but as magical as they were, they don't change how well a certain player played over the course of the entire game.

Warner also threw a game-winning touchdown pass in the final minutes of Super Bowl XLIII, the only difference between Warner and Roethlisberger is that Warner didn't get a ring for doing so.


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