The 'Clutchest' Quarterbacks in the AFC, Part I

TJ JenkinsAnalyst IMay 25, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 16:  Quarterback Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens runs with the ball against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Lucas Oli Stadium on January 16, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In today’s NFL, perhaps the most important thing when evaluating a quarterback is how they perform when the game is on the line.

We’ve all heard the cliché—“True champions show up when the game is on the line.”  We all remember the infamous scene in “Remember The Titans,” where the Titans were doing up-downs and chanting “Fourth Quarter, Fourth Quarter.” 

What defines a quarterback as clutch? Part of it is having their best performance in the playoffs and more-so in the Super Bowl.

The part that we’re going to take a look at however is how the quarterbacks in the AFC play when they’re behind, how they play when it’s do or die, and their team needs a score to win the game.

The two things we’re going to be looking at are:

1. Game winning drives.

These are of course drives orchestrated by the quarterback that led to a win, they can occur not only while being behind on the scoreboard, but also while the game is tied.

2. Comebacks.

These, of course occur when the offense comes back from a deficit to either take the lead or tie the game.

A game can result in a comeback, a game winning drive or both in essence.

There are of course, 16 starting quarterbacks in the AFC, the New York Jets’ Mark Sanchez is the only one without either a game winning drive or a comeback, thus ranking him 16th on the list.

Let’s take a look at the quarterbacks (in order) and their game winning/comeback escapades, compassing their entire careers.

Fourth quarter comebacks will be abbreviated as: 4QC.
Game Winning Drives will be abbreviated as; GWD.
An asterisk will denote a playoff game.

15. Chad Henne, Miami Dolphins

In only a year of starting, Henne has put together three game winning drives that were classified as fourth quarter comebacks.

The first was on a Monday night against the New York Jets, followed by a week nine win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and then a second divisional win against the New England Patriots.

10/12/09  NYJ @ MIA  (Week 5) 4QC/GWD
20/26 241 Yards
2 Touchdowns 0 Interceptions

11/15/09 TB @ MIA (Week 9) 4QC/GWD
17/31 175 Yards
1 Touchdown 1 Interception

12/06/09 NE @ MIA (Week 12) 4QC/GWD
29/52 335 Yards
2 Touchdowns 1 Interception

66/109 751 Yards.
5 Touchdowns 2 Interceptions

14. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco’s become the latest sensation in Baltimore, and has finally been provided the true number one receiver he’s longed for since being drafted—Anquan Boldin. But how does he perform when his team needs him to step up his game?

He has a grand total of four game winning drives, with two fourth quarter comebacks.

11/2/08 BAL @ CLE (Week 8) 4QC/GWD
17/29 248 Yards.
2 Touchdowns 0 Interceptions

1/10/09 BAL @ TEN (Week 18*) GWD
11/22 161 Yards.
1 Touchdown 0 Interceptions

9/13/09 KC @ BAL (Week 1) GWD
26/43 307 Yards.
3 Touchdowns 1 Interception

11/29/09 PIT @ BAL (Week 11) 4QC/GWD
20-17 OT
23/35 289 Yards
1 Touchdown 0 Interceptions

77/129 1,005 Yards
7 Touchdowns 1 Interception.

13. Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs

Cassel has a grand total of four game winning drives, with three fourth quarter comebacks, and they’re split evenly between his time as a starter in New England and Kansas City.

10/26/08 STL @ NE (Week 7) 4QC/GWD
21/33 267 Yards
1 Touchdown 2 Interceptions

12/07/08 NE @ SEA (Week 13) 4QC/GWD
26/44 268 Yards
1 Touchdown 0 Interceptions

10/18/09 KC @ WAS (Week 6) GWD
16/31 186 Yards
0 Touchdowns 0 Interceptions

11/22/09 PIT @ KC (Week 10) 4QC/GWD
15/30 248 Yards
2 Touchdowns 0 Interceptions

90/138 969 Yards.
4 Touchdowns 2 Interceptions

12. Trent Edwards, Buffalo Bills

Trent Edwards, of course is stuck in Buffalo, with a cadre of other mediocre quarterbacking opponents. The thing that surprises me the most about Edwards is that he has more game winning drives and comebacks than Joe Flacco. Never in a million years would I have thought that.

9/30/07 NYJ @ BUF (Week 4) GWD
22/28 234 Yards.
1 Touchdown 1 Interception

2/12/07 BUF @ WAS (Week 12) 4QC/GWD
22/36 257 Yards
0 Touchdowns 0 Interceptions

9/14/08 BUF @ JAX (Week 2) 4QC/GWD
20/25 239 Yards
1 Touchdown 0 Interceptions

9/21/08 OAK @ BUF (Week 3) 4QC/GWD
24/39 279 Yards
1 Touchdown 1 Interception

12/21/08 BUF @ Denver (Week 15) 4QC/GWD
17/25 193 Yards
1 Touchdown 0 Interceptions

105/153 1,202 Yards
4 Touchdowns 2 Interceptions

11. Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos

Orton is the definition of a game managing quarterback, but surprisingly enough, he’s put together six game winning drives with five fourth quarter comebacks. This coming season though, he’ll be faced with the loss of one of the top wide receivers in the league, so we’ll see if he can continue to pile up the comebacks.

11/06/05 CHI @ NO (Week 8) GWD
12/26 137 Yards
1 Touchdown 2 Interceptions

12/11/08 NO @ CHI (Week 14) 4QC/GWD
24/40 172 Yards
0 Touchdowns 2 Interceptions

12/22/08 GB @ CHI (Week 15) 4QC/GWD
14/27 142 Yards
1 Touchdown 2 Interceptions

9/13/09 DEN @ CIN (Week 1) 4QC/GWD
17/28 243 Yards
1 Touchdown 0 Interceptions

10/4/09 DAL @ DEN (Week 4) 4QC/GWD
20/29 243 Yards
2 Touchdowns 0 Interceptions

10/11/09 NE @ DEN (Week 5) 4QC/GWD
35/48 330 Yards
2 Touchdowns 1 Interception

122/198 1,267 Yards
7 Touchdowns 7 Interceptions

10. Jason Campbell, Oakland Raiders

The Raiders got a big upgrade when they traded for Jason Campbell, who was snubbed in Washington by the arrival of Donovan McNabb. He’s currently got seven game winning drives and four fourth quarter comebacks.

11/26/06 CAR @ WAS (Week 11) 4QC/GWD
11/23 118 Yards
2 Touchdowns 1 Interception

9/9/07 MIA @ WAS (Week 1) GWD
12/21 222 Yards
0 Touchdowns 2 Interceptions

11/4/07 WAS @ NYJ (Week 8) 4QC/GWD
12/23 142 Yards
0 Touchdowns 1 Interception

9/14/08 NO @ WAS (Week 2) 4QC/GWD
24/36 321 Yards
1 Touchdown 0 Interceptions

9/21/08 ARI @ WAS (Week 3) GWD
22/30 193 Yards
2 Touchdowns 0 Interceptions

11/23/08 WAS @ SEA (Week 11) GWD
20/23 206 Yards
1 Touchdown 0 Interceptions

11/15/09 DEN @ WAS (Week 7) 4QC/GWD
17/26 193 Yards
1 Touchdown 0 Interceptions

118/159 1,195 Yards
7 Touchdowns 4 Interceptions

Out of the five quarterbacks with comeback stats in the bottom tier of AFC quarterbacks, only Joe Flacco of Baltimore has been able to lead his team back from a deficit in the playoffs, and is by far the best quarterback of the group, with the most potential as well.

As you can see, a quarterback doesn’t necessarily have to WIN the game to be credited with the comeback, meaning he doesn’t have to toss the game winning/tying touchdown, he can simply lead the team down the field for the field goal, or the touchdown run, and it would still technically be counted for the quarterback.

Notice also, that the quarterback doesn’t necessarily always have a huge game in terms of statistics, but more-so plays mistake free football towards the end of the game, a time referenced oh so fondly as ‘crunch time’.

Keep in mind that I did not compile these statistics and I would be remiss if I didn’t give Scott Kacsmar full credit for sifting through the games to come up with these stats. He truly loves the game of football.

I simply ranked the quarterbacks from worst to first and divided it into three sections for the AFC. Part II with numbers nine to five is coming soon.