Nothing is much more gripping in sports than a late do-or-die drive with the game on the line. My eyes are usually glued to the screen when one play can be the difference between a win and a loss.
Sometimes one throw can also be the difference in a legacy. Think of Eli Manning's near-impossible deep ball to Mario Manningham in the Giants' Super Bowl XLVI win over the Patriots, or Jimmy Garoppolo overthrowing Emmanuel Sanders late in the 49ers' Super Bowl LIV loss to the Chiefs.
We've seen a ton of clutch opportunities in 2022, a year where the NFL is collectively on pace to break single-season records for close games and game-winning drives.
There aren't a ton of numbers to support clutch debates, though. Game-winning drives is a fascinating stat, but has serious limitations. It's actually possible to be credited with a game-winning drive with nothing but a kneel down. And, of course, if your defense gets stops at the end of the game, it's more likely to hold a lead, and therefore increases the likelihood of its quarterback recording a game-winning drive.
With that in mind, I introduce the Clutch QB Index. I'm not tackling the all-time clutch QB debate, which often comes down to championships in people's minds. Instead, I seek to answer who is the most clutch QB in the NFL right now based on what they've done in their careers, and what they've done lately.
Clutch QB Index Criteria
1. QB conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in fourth quarter/OT. (How often does a QB successfully bring his team down the field to tie or take the lead?)
2. Passer rating in fourth quarter/OT of one-possession game. (How well does a QB play in crunch time?)
Both components are split by career, playoff and 2022 performance and weighted equally.
Again, one thing these rankings don't include is championships, so you can save your Tom Brady "seven rings" argument. More on that later.
The rankings are based on all current qualified starting QBs, which is why you'll only notice 29 QBs (P.J. Walker, Sam Ehlinger and Kenny Pickett don't qualify yet). It includes injured QBs who are still No. 1 on their team's depth chart if healthy.
Week 9 Takeaways
- Kirk Cousins helped the Vikings extend their win streak to six games, with each game decided by one score. He did it in thrilling fashion after trailing by 10 points in the fourth quarter, tying the game on a rainbow pass to Dalvin Cook.
- Zach Wilson moved up in the rankings after a week full of criticism following the Jets' upset win over the Bills. It was more of what Wilson didn't do than what he did do, in this case. He didn't throw an interception after three bad ones in Week 8 against the Patriots. He still wasn't the reason the Jets won in Week 9, as he only dropped back to pass twice on a game-winning 13-play field goal drive Sunday. Wilson's sample sizes are still extremely small for the season and his career, so one bad performance in the clutch could send him spiraling down the rankings.
- Justin Herbert helped the Chargers squeak by the Falcons, leading a game-tying and go-ahead field goal drive late. He was 12-for-14 passing for 101 yards in the final period.
- Even if he's not atop the rankings yet, Patrick Mahomes' showed why he's one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the NFL on Sunday night, using his legs to erase a 17-9 fourth-quarter deficit against the Titans. His 20-yard scramble on third-and-17 extended the Chiefs' game-tying drive, which he capped off with a 14-yard touchdown run and subsequent two-point conversion.
- Tom Brady recorded his NFL-record 55th career game-winning drive with a game-winning pass touchdown to Cade Otton with nine seconds left. While he got the win, he was not rewarded in the rankings, as Tampa Bay's previous three drives stalled in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie or take the lead. Still an incredible accomplishment and yet another example of Brady re-writing the NFL record books after also reaching 100,000 passing yards in the game. More on Brady's career in the clutch here.
- While Tua Tagovailoa maintains the top spot on the leaderboard, Justin Fields' incredible game fell flat at the end. He failed to tie or take the lead on two chances with the Bears down three points in the fourth quarter. He drops five spots in the rankings.
- Derek Carr dropped two spots in the rankings after yet another Raiders' blown lead. Las Vegas mustered zero points on four drives with a chance to tie or take the lead in the fourth quarter vs. Jacksonville. He was 4-for-13 passing for 36 yards in the final frame, including 0-for-7 targeting Davante Adams late. So much for instant chemistry. Carr has completed 8 of 29 passes (28%) targeting Adams in the fourth quarter and overtime this year, the worst completion percentage by any duo in the NFL.
- There was no Miracle in Motown for Aaron Rodgers this time, as the Packers' go-ahead drive stalled at the Lions' 17-yard line in the final minute of Green Bay's loss. Rodgers dropped two spots in the Index.
Tua Tagovailoa Miami Dolphins QB
|Tua Tagovailoa leads the NFL in passer rating this season, but that's only where it starts. He has converted on 11 of 14 career game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in the fourth quarter/OT, and his career passer rating in the fourth quarter/OT of a one-score game is 125.4. Both are the best career numbers of any current starting QB. He's backed up the numbers with big plays late in victories over the Bills and Ravens this season.|
Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys QB
|Dak Prescott is among the bigger surprises here, as he hasn't earned a positive reputation in big games yet. He ranks top seven across the board in career rankings here, including a career passer rating above 100 in late, close situations. (+1)|
Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs QB
|Patrick Mahomes' conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter/OT is second-best in the regular season and the best in the postseason. He's on another level. Even though his heroics won the Chiefs the game in Week 9, he's not higher in the rankings because he has a 73 passer rating in late, close situations this year resulting from costly picks late in losses to the Colts and Bills. (-1)|
Zach Wilson New York Jets QB
|Zach Wilson ranking fourth here is frankly shocking after seeing him throw three awful interceptions against the Patriots in Week 8. None were in the fourth quarter of a one-score game, though, and he has an extremely small sample size, both this season and for his career. He has a passer rating over 100 in his career in late, close situations, including a game-tying and go-ahead touchdown pass against the Titans last season. (+8)|
Josh Allen Buffalo Bills QB
|Josh Allen ranks seventh in conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drives in his career (43%) and has helped his cause with clutch drives against the Ravens and Chiefs this year. He fell short Sunday against the Jets, but his elbow injury is the bigger concern. (-1)|
Joe Burrow Cincinnati Bengals QB
|He lived up to the nickname "Joe Cool" with huge comebacks capped by game-winning drives in both wins against the Chiefs and "Mr. Clutch" Patrick Mahomes last season. Joe Burrow ranks near or in the top 10 across the board. He padded his numbers recently with a go-ahead touchdown pass to Ja'Marr Chase vs. the Saints in Week 6. (-1)|
Kirk Cousins Minnesota Vikings QB
|Am I taking Cousins over Tom Brady late in a game last year, or any year prior? Not a chance. But these rankings consider who you would take right now based on their career and 2022 season. Kirk Cousins doesn't exactly have a clutch pedigree thanks to his reputation in prime-time games, but he is ahead of Brady here due to polar opposite starts in 2022. The Vikings are 6-0 in one-score games, and Cousins has converted on six of seven drives with a chance to tie or take the lead late. He also has the second-best passer rating in the fourth-quarter/OT of one-score games in 2022 (105.0).|
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers QB
|Aaron Rodgers doesn't get the clutch credit quite like Brady because of his one ring, but his career conversion rates in the regular season (41%) and playoffs (56%) are actually both identical to Brady's. Look no further than late playoff drives against the Cardinals and Cowboys to see why. Like Brady, his slow start in 2022 has cost him in these rankings. (-2)|
Tom Brady Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB
|TB12 is arguably the clutchest QB of all-time, besides maybe Joe Montana. He ranks behind only Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers in playoff conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances (56%). These rankings don't take Super Bowl rings into account and seek to answer the question of who is the clutchest right now, and Brady's 2022 isn't doing him any favors. Things may be looking up, though, after Sunday's dramatics against the Rams. (-1)|
Justin Herbert Los Angeles Chargers QB
|Justin Herbert moved up five spots this week after two clutch drives against the Falcons, and he has helped lead the Chargers to a 4-1 mark in one-score games this year, with the only blemish being a close loss to the Chiefs where he threw a pick-six. His career conversion rate (47%) late in games is fifth in the NFL, and he made a ton of big throws late in games last season. (+5)|
Russell Wilson Denver Broncos QB
|Russell Wilson has among the most game-winning drives in the league since entering the NFL in 2012, but ranks middle-of-the-pack in conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drives and has a fair amount of missed chances in all of the Broncos close games this season. A late interception into the end zone in a loss to the Colts is among his shortcomings. Things could be turning around, though, as Wilson's 47-yard deep ball to K.J. Hamler in Week 8 set up the Broncos game-winning touchdown late. (-2)|
Derek Carr Las Vegas Raiders QB
|Derek Carr's career is full of thrilling late-game comebacks. His career conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drives (41%) is actually identical to Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. He has fallen flat this year, though, leading the Raiders to game-tying/go-ahead drives on just 1 of 11 chances in the fourth quarter or OT. The Raiders have already tied an NFL-record with three losses when up 17 or more points. (-2)|
Lamar Jackson Baltimore Ravens QB
|Lamar Jackson has the fourth-best conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in his career (49%). Last year's comeback against the Colts is a reminder that he can absolutely beat you with his arm late in games. He just hasn't gotten it going this year yet, throwing critical interceptions late in losses to the Bills and Giants.|
Marcus Mariota Atlanta Falcons QB
|Marcus Mariota's career conversion rate (41%) on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances ranks 11th among current starters, just behind Tom Brady. Once upon a time he led a miraculous playoff comeback win in Kansas City. He's also converted on 6 of 11 clutch drives this year, despite falling short Sunday against the Chargers. (-3)|
Matthew Stafford Los Angeles Rams QB
|Similar to Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford is always on the top of the game-winning drives lists, yet his career conversion rates are near league average. We saw what he could do last postseason, though, which has him in striking distance of the top 10 here. (-1).|
Andy Dalton New Orleans Saints QB
|Andy Dalton's career numbers are below average, but he ranks middle of the pack here after successfully converting on 3 of 5 game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in the fourth-quarter/OT this year.|
Daniel Jones New York Giants QB
|Daniel Jones is the reason you can't use game-winning drives alone to determine a player's clutchness. He had the most game-winning drives (five) through seven games of a season in NFL history, but has a passer rating is 59.1 in the fourth quarter of one-score games this year. He hasn't made challenging throws in the clutch this season. His 10 completions on five game-winning drives have traveled a grand total of 25 air yards.|
Jimmy Garoppolo San Francisco 49ers QB
|Jimmy Garoppolo's career passer rating in late, close games ranks third behind Tua Tagovailoa and Patrick Mahomes. The numbers look nice, but he hasn't marched his team down the field when it matters most, like falling short in the postseason when the 49ers blew double-digit fourth-quarter leads to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV and Rams in the 2021 NFC Championship game. (+2)|
Ryan Tannehill Tennessee Titans QB
|Ryan Tannehill's career ranks are near league average, but he's 0-5 in the playoffs with a chance to tie or take the lead late, including last year's playoff loss to the Bengals. (-1)|
Geno Smith Seattle Seahawks QB
|Geno Smith's career revival hasn't translated into many clutch opportunities this year, but if he keeps performing like he did late in a Week 8 win vs. the Giants, he'll be moving up the rankings. (+2)|
Jalen Hurts Philadelphia Eagles QB
|Jalen Hurts moved five spots after his late touchdown to Dallas Goedert put the game away on "Thursday Night Football" vs. the Texans. He only has one game-tying/go-ahead drive opportunity late in games this season, so expect him to move up the ranks with more chances. He's proven steady in late, close action against the Cardinals, Cowboys and Texans this year. (+5)|
Carson Wentz Washington Commanders QB
|Carson Wentz's season has been similar to his career. He's made some positive plays but also his fair share of negative ones, like a last-second interception into the end zone against the Titans. (+1)|
Jared Goff Detroit Lions QB
|Jared Goff's career ranks are near the bottom of the league, and he's 0-5 with a chance to tie or take the lead late for the Lions this year. (+2)|
Justin Fields Chicago Bears QB
|Justin Fields may be emerging as a star quarterback, but he has yet to arrive in the clutch. The Bears are 3 of 14 on game-tying/go-ahead drive conversions in the fourth quarter and overtime with Fields at the helm, including 0-2 in the Week 9 loss vs. the Dolphins. (-5)|
Mac Jones New England Patriots QB
|Mac Jones' career numbers are league average, but he's fallen short in his only two chances to tie or take the lead late this season. He threw an ill-advised pick into the end zone against the Ravens in Week 3 off his back foot, one reason he finds himself in the bottom 10. (-1)|
Jacoby Brissett Cleveland Browns QB
|Jacoby Brissett may have had a game-winning drive vs. the Ravens in Week 6 had Amari Cooper not got called for offensive pass interference on a late touchdown. Still, Brissett's numbers fall short across the board here. (+2)|
Kyler Murray Arizona Cardinals QB
|Kyler Murray ranks near the bottom in most of the criteria, and our last memory of him in clutch time is his slide and spike gaffe against the unbeaten Eagles.|
Davis Mills Houston Texans QB
|Davis Mills has converted on just 1 of 17 game-tying/go-ahead chances late for the Texans in his career. His passer rating late in games is above 80, which is the only reason he's not in last place here. Trevor Lawrence's is 56.7, easily last in that category. (+1)|
Trevor Lawrence Jacksonville Jaguars QB
|Trevor Lawrence has yet to find his footing late in games. He's led the Jaguars down the field to tie or take the lead on just 28% of his career opportunities, second-worst in the league. The Jaguars failed to score on their final four drives after taking the lead in Sunday's win vs. the Raiders. (+1)|
Best Career Game-Tying/Go-Ahead Conversion Rates
Perhaps the most compelling criteria in these rankings is how often a quarterback converts on game-tying/go-ahead drives in their career. Here's the data:
- Tua Tagovailoa has had 14 chances in his career to lead his team down the field to tie or take a lead at the end of game. He's converted on 11 (79%), roughly double the league average. It's a small sample but, wow. I'm intrigued to see what he does down the stretch when Miami faces the 49ers, Chargers, Bills, Packers, Patriots and Jets in the final six weeks.
- Patrick Mahomes' career rate of 58% is so impressive. It makes sense, though, when you see him lead the Chiefs on a come-from-behind win nearly every week. He's never out of a game, and there's probably nobody else you'd rather have with the ball in his hands at the end of the game. If you look at players with 50 career chances, Mahomes is on his own planet.
- Lamar Jackson has a lot of critics, but his 49% conversion rate on these drives, whether he's beating you with his legs or his arm, is tough to argue. Let's just hope it translates to the playoffs.
- Kyler Murray converting on 31% of his career opportunities is alarming, especially when you consider the other crop of young, star QBs are way above him, like Mahomes (58%), Jackson (49%), Herbert (47%) and Burrow (40%).