NFL Stats Can Be Deceptive: Who Said Aaron Rodgers Was Not Clutch?

Arun JayaseelanCorrespondent IDecember 5, 2010

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 27:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of  the Green Bay Packers looks on dejected against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on September 27, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Of late, there has been a lot of talk about how Aaron Rodgers, the QB for the Green Bay Packers, has had problems finishing off "close" games (decided by four points or less). Since Aaron Rodgers took over, the Packers' win-loss record in "close" games is 2-14. Yeah, it does not look good.

Normally, I am a firm believer in the truism "stats never lie." But after digging a little deeper, we get a very different perspective of that record. Yup, sometimes stats can be deceptive!

Here, I try to classify those 14 games in terms of what impact Aaron Rodgers had on the outcome in order to see how Rodgers fares when the game is on the line.

This is not necessarily an analysis of how good or bad he is overall. There are games where he has been lights out that might have been blowouts. There are games where he has looked awful that resulted in big margin losses for the Packers. There were also games (especially in 2009) where the porous offensive line could not even keep Rodgers standing. But here, we talk about only games decided by four points or less. 

The Wins

Surprisingly, the Packers under Aaron Rodgers never had a "close" game win until this 2010 season. 

1. Vs Detroit Lions (Week 4, 2010): GB Win, 28-26

To be honest, this win, although it looks close, did not require any "clutch" performance from the GB offense. The defense had to keep the Lions from coming back and winning in garbage time. Although they did get it done, it ended up being closer than the Packers would have liked. 

2. Vs Minnesota (Week 7, 2010): GB Win, 28-24

This was another game, where the Packers had a big lead heading into the 4th quarter, and the onus was on the defense to hold off Brett Favre. While the defense intercepted Favre three times to help put this in the bag, a scoring drive or two for the Packers for some insurance points would have been nice. 

The Cough ups

There were some "close" games where, if you had to point the finger at ONE thing for the loss, you would have to blame Rodgers. Interestingly enough, almost all these games were in the 2008 season, Rodgers' first year as the starter. Yes there could be multiple reasons for the following losses, but the common pattern I see in these games is that the Packers had the ball during crunch time and the offense under Rodgers failed to score for the potential win (or tie).

1. At Tennessee Titans (Week 9, 2008): GB Loss, 19-16 OT

With the game tied at 16 in the fourth quarter, the Packers had the ball at their own 18 with 4:24 left on the clock. They managed to reach the Titans 43-yard line, but went three-and-out and had to punt. Rodgers never got a chance to touch the ball again in the fourth quarter or OT.

2. vs. Carolina Panthers (Week 13, 2008): GB Loss, 35-31

In the fourth quarter of a tie game (28-28), the Packers executed a long drive to the Panthers one-yard line, but could not get the ball in the end zone and were forced to kick a field goal with 2:00 left in the game. A touchdown here would have, at the very least, guaranteed a tie game, barring a touchdown AND two-point conversion by the Panthers.

Just two plays later, an 89-yard connection between Delhomme and Steve Smith set the Panthers up to take the lead, 35-31.

Rodgers and the Packers got the ball at their own 17-yard line after the kick off with 1:24 left on the clock and two timeouts left. The potential game-winning drive was prematurely ended by a Rodgers interception with 1:19 left on the clock.

3. vs. Houston Texans (Week 14, 2008): GB Loss, 24-21

In the fourth quarter here, Rodgers threw a nine-yard touchdown to tie the game with 5:56 left. The Packers got the ball back at their own 16-yard line with 4:37 left after a defensive stop.

They then reached the Texans 32-yard line (field goal range), and on third down, Rodgers got sacked and the Packers were forced to punt from the Texans 38-yard line, passing up a 53-yard field goal.

The Texans promptly drove 75 yards from their own three-yard line to kick the game winning field goal as time expired.

4. At Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 15, 2008): GB Loss, 20-16

The Jaguars scored a touchdown with 2:00 left to take a 20-16 lead. After the ensuing kick off, Rodgers got the ball at the Packers 17-yard line with two timeouts left. He threw another ill-fated interception with 46 ticks left in the game, game over.

5. At Washington Redskins (Week 5, 2010): GB Loss 16-13 OT

The Packers were up 13-3 entering the fourth quarter, but somehow found themselves tied 13-13 at the end of the fourth quarter.

In the fourth quarter, the Packers had four total possessions. Through the first three possessions they had a total of one, that's right ONE, total first down.

On the final possession of the quarter, they finally had something brewing.

They started that drive with 1:07 left and Rodgers took them from their own 21-yard line to the Washington 35-yard line. All that, only for Mason Crosby to miss a 53-yard field goal (which hit the uprights and bounced out). Overtime.

The Packers offense remained anemic, punting on their first possession. After getting a stop on defense, Rodgers had to start the drive from the Packers 19-yard line. On the second play of the drive, he threw an interception to LaRon Landry, giving possession to the Redskins at the Packer 39-yard line. That was enough to give the Redskins an easy opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal. 

The No-Impact Games

Of the 14 games in question, there were a couple of games in which Rodgers' play during crunch time was not the reason for losing. At the same time, he did not step up and come up big in this games either. Simply put, these games had little or no impact from Rodgers at crunch time.

1. vs. Atlanta Falcons (Week 5, 2008): GB Loss 27-24

The Packers were already down 27-17 with 3:35 left in the game. Rodgers orchestrated a 72-yard drive that culminated with a four-yard touchdown pass. With less than two minutes remaining, the Packers had to try an on-side kick, but were unsuccessful in recovering it. The Falcons then ran out the clock without the Packers touching the ball again.

The reason I do not classify this as a clutch performance by Rodgers is because he got into his grove a little too late.

2.  At Minnesota Vikings (Week 10, 2008): GB Loss 28-27

The Vikings took the lead 28-21 with 2:22 left in the game. The Packers had the ball at their own 41-yard line after a 31-yard kick off return by Will Blackmon. Rodgers took them to the Vikings 34-yard line, only to see Mason Crosby miss a 52-yard field goal.

While Rodgers put them in position to win, he still could have done more to give Crosby a more makeable game-winning field goal.

3. Chicago Bears (Week 16, 2008): GB Loss 20-17 OT

It was a tie game, 17-17, with 3:11 left in the game after the Bears kicked a field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, Will Blackmon again did his thing with a 30-yard return. After a 15-yard penalty was added to the return, Rodgers and the Packer offense started at the Chicago 35-yard line.

Rodgers was able to move the ball to the Chicago 20-yard line with about 20 seconds left in the game, but Crosby's field goal try was blocked. The game went to overtime and the Packers offense never touched the ball again.

Here again, it's not Rodger's fault that they lost, but he also didn't have to do much to put them in position for the win.

4. Chicago Bears (Week 3, 2010): GB Loss 20-17

I am sure this game is fresh in everyone's head. The Hester punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the self-inflicted pain caused by the million penalties, the dropped interceptions by Packer defenders.

But the back-breaker was the James Jones fumble at midfield with 2:18 left in the game. The turnover not only stalled a potentially game-winning drive, but also gave a short field for the Bears to kick their game-winning field goal.

This was a pretty gutsy performance by Rodgers until that James Jones fumble. Nonetheless, it is hard to ignore the myriad of opportunities that Rodgers didn't take advantage of all game.

Clutch...Only in Vain

1. At Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 15, 2009): GB Loss 37-36

This was a classic back and forth shootout. Props should be given to Rodgers here for keeping up the scoring, otherwise the game would have gotten out of hand midway through.

With 4:03 left in the game, a field goal gave the Steelers a 30-28 lead. They knew that if they kicked off it was inevitable that the Packers would drive the ball down the field for a score. Instead, they decided to try an on side kick, which was unsuccessful and gave the Packers a short field to work with.

It took Rodgers just six snaps to throw a touchdown pass that would give the Packers a 36-30 lead (after a successful two-point conversion) with 1:52 left in the game.

Although there was no artistic, clutch drive, I put this game in as a "clutch performance" for Rodgers because he kept the Packers in the game time and again with drives that, more often than not, culminated with touchdowns.

Unfortunately for Rodgers and the Packers, Big Ben had other ideas and the Packers defense could not keep the Steelers from scoring that game-winning touchdown as time was expiring.

2. vs. Miami Dolphins (Week 6, 2010): GB Loss 23-20 OT

This was one of those games that the Packers will look back at and point to countless moments where they could have done a tad more to get a win.

In the fourth quarter, Miami scored a touchdown to take a seven-point lead (20-13). After the ensuing kickoff, Rodgers got the ball at his own 31-yard line with 5:15 on the clock.

He had his work cut out for him.

He needed to orchestrate a five-minute touchdown drive to force overtime without leaving enough time for the Dolphins to setup a game-winning drive in regulation. Up to the task, Rodgers did just that, scoring a touchdown with his feet with 13 seconds left on the clock.

In overtime, after a defensive stop, he went three-and-out and the Dolphins kicked the game-winning field goal on their next possession.

Yeah, you can still blame Rodgers for not carving up a scoring drive in overtime in his possession. But his near-perfect game tying drive to end the fourth quarter, in my mind, warrants a "clutch performance" label for this game.

3. At Atlanta Falcons (Week 12, 2010): GB Loss 20-17

I'm sure Packer fans have not gotten over this game, played just a few days ago. This game pitted the 8-3 Falcons against the 7-4 Packers. The game was played at the Georgia Dome, which has been arguably the toughest place for a visiting team to play this season.

This game had the high-energy playoff atmosphere as advertised. Here again, you can pick so many spots in this game where a couple bounces the Packers' way could have changed the entire complexion of the game.

If you had to analyze Rodgers' performance in this game, he would obviously have been graded badly because of his fumble in the second quarter at the Atlanta one-yard line, essentially taking points off the board. But he more than compensated for that mistake with a drive for the ages towards the end of the game.

The Falcons scored a touchdown in the beginning of the fourth quarter to take a 20-13 lead. The following possession, the Packers reached the Atlanta 41-yard line, but could not convert the third-and-one and fourth-and-one tries.

After the turnover on downs, the Falcons were forced to punt thanks to a gutsy defensive stop by the Packers. With 5:59 left in the game, Rodgers had the ball at his own 10-yard line.

That is where "the drive" started.

On the way, he had to convert a fourth-down at the Atlanta 21-yard line with just over two minutes left. He had to do it himself, as the Packers had been unsuccessful all game in converting short yardage downs with their run game.

That brought the Packers to the Atlanta three-yard line. After a couple plays that resulted in negative yards and a false start on fourth-and-goal from the five yard line, the Packers were in a tight spot.

They were now staring at a fourth-and-goal from the 10-yard line with 1:06 left in the game. This was it; a big play here and the Packers were back in the game. Anything less than a TD and the game was essentially over.

The Falcons rushed three, sending the rest of their defenders into coverage, as they should. Rodgers scrambled to his left and threw a dart to Jordy Nelson in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. It doesn't get more clutch than this drive.

Unfortunately, it wasn't as perfect a drive as the Packers had hoped: 56 seconds remained on the clock. A big kick off return by the Falcons and a 15-yard face mask penalty made it easy for the Falcons to get the game-winning field goal, starting the drive around midfield. 

The Verdict

As you can see, Rodgers did have his share of stinker moments (five games, by my count). But most of them were in his first year as a starter. The fact that he has had just one such game since his second season as starter speaks volumes of his maturity, development and the fact that he learns from his mistakes.

There were a number of games in which Rodgers did nothing to help, nor was he the reason they lost. And there were a couple of games where Rodgers, against all odds, kept the Packers in the game, only to have something (read poor defense) or someone (read Mason Crosby) else blow it.

One thing we can conclude is this: the notion that Rodgers plays sub-par football during crunch time and is the sole reason for the Packers 2-14 record in "close" games is dead wrong, to say the least.

He will have moments in his potentially long Packer career to salvage that lopsided "close" game record to a more than respectable level. But, in reality, he has already had more "it" moments than what that record indicates.


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