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.
Week 11 Takeaways
- Patrick Mahomes' legend grew again with two go-ahead touchdown passes to Travis Kelce in the fourth quarter against the Chargers, including one with 31 seconds left in the game. Mahomes had no problem getting Kansas City down the field during the two-minute drill after Justin Herbert had thrown a go-ahead touchdown pass on the previous possession. With Mahomes behind the wheel, was a Kansas City comeback ever in doubt?
- Jalen Hurts moved up five spots from 17th to 12th in the rankings after running in the game-winning score against the Colts. The Eagles snapped a 43-game losing streak when entering the fourth quarter down double digits, including playoffs. Hurts has made the most of his few opportunities in close, late games this season, leading the NFL in passer rating in those situations.
- Zach Wilson came back down to earth in a big way in these rankings, dropping 18 spots from third to 21st after a troubling loss to the Patriots that's led to his benching ahead of Week 12. The Jets had four drives with a chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter Sunday, and mustered a total of -1 yards.
- Mac Jones has been off the hook lately as the Patriots have won three straight games. But, they've scored just two offensive touchdowns in that span, including none against the Jets in Week 11. New England punted three times and gained one first down in the fourth quarter of a 3-3 game. He dropped three spots in the rankings from 24th to 27th as a result.
- The Bears defense isn't helping matters, but Chicago lost another close game Sunday. Justin Fields overthrew his running back on an easy checkdown, resulting in an interception to effectively end the game.
Tua Tagovailoa Miami Dolphins QB
|Tua 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. We'll see how long he can hold off Mahomes with Miami's schedule featuring a tough final six games (at 49ers, at Chargers, at Bills, vs. Packers, at Patriots, vs. Jets).|
Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs QB
|Mahomes has converted on at least 60% of his game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in both the regular season and the playoffs. His regular-season rate ranks second behind Tua. His playoff rate is best in the NFL. After costly late picks in losses to the Colts and Bills this year, he's bounced back in a huge way with comeback wins against the Titans and Chargers.|
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers QB
|Rodgers doesn't get the clutch credit quite like Brady because of his one ring, but his career conversion rates in the regular season (42%) and playoffs (56%) are both virtually identical to Brady's. Look no further than late playoff drives against the Cardinals and Cowboys to see why they are so high. (+1)|
Josh Allen Buffalo Bills QB
|Allen ranks sixth in conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drives in his career (43%) but has had a mixed performance in the clutch this season. He led late game-winning drives in Baltimore and Kansas City earlier, but fell short against the Jets and Vikings, including several bad turnovers against Minnesota. (+1)|
Matt Ryan Indianapolis Colts QB
|Matty Ice has been one of the most clutch QBs in the league this season despite a tumultuous campaign. He has the third-highest passer rating in the fourth quarter of one-score games this year and leads the NFL with four go-ahead touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. His clutch resume didn't need much help. He is one shy of tying Dan Marino for the fifth-most game-winning drives of all time. (+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. 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. A rematch with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs looms in Week 13. (+2)|
Kirk Cousins Minnesota Vikings QB
|Cousins' career ranks are middling, but overlook his poor reputation in prime time, and he's stepped up in the clutch this year. He is 7 for 9 on game-tying/go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter/overtime this season, the best conversion rate of any QB in the league with at least five chances. His passer rating in late, close situations this year is more than 100.|
Tom Brady Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB
|TB12 is arguably the most clutch 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. His stock is up, though, after back-to-back wins. (+1)|
Jimmy Garoppolo San Francisco 49ers QB
|Garoppolo landing one spot behind Tom Brady here feels like a crime. However, Garoppolo's career passer rating in late, close games ranks third behind Tua Tagovailoa and Patrick Mahomes. He's also been better in the clutch this year in a limited capacity, such as the 49ers' Week 10 comeback against the Chargers. Still, the playoff gap is as wide as the Grand Canyon. The perception of Garoppolo won't change until he performs in the playoffs after the 49ers blew double-digit fourth-quarter leads to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV and Rams in the 2021 NFC Championship game. Garoppolo and Brady meet for the first time in Week 14, so perhaps they can settle this score (and some others) then. (+1)|
Lamar Jackson Baltimore Ravens QB
|Jackson has the fourth-best conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in his career (50%). Last year's comeback against the Colts was a reminder that he can absolutely beat you with his arm late in games. He just hasn't gotten much going this year, throwing critical interceptions late in losses to the Bills and Giants. He did just enough to squeak out a win against Carolina in Week 11. (+2)|
Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys QB
|Dak came up empty in his first chance in the clutch this season, failing to lead Dallas on go-ahead drives late in Green Bay. He's 11th in the standings based on the small sample this season, but ranks top seven across the board in career rankings here, including a career passer rating above 100 in late, close situations.|
Jalen Hurts Philadelphia Eagles QB
|Hurts has a passer rating of 100+ in the fourth quarter of five straight games, and leads the NFL in passer rating in the fourth quarter/OT of a one-score game this year. His career numbers are still middle of the road, but he's moving up the board with a breakout season. (+5)|
Russell Wilson Denver Broncos QB
|Wilson has among the most game-winning drives in the league since entering the NFL in 2012, but ranks middle-of-the-pack in career conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drives. He moved up in this week's rankings after leading two go-ahead field goal drives in the fourth quarter against the Raiders on Sunday, although Denver's defense couldn't hold the lead and Wilson never got the ball in overtime. (+6)|
Matthew Stafford Los Angeles Rams QB
|Similar to Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford is always on the top of the game-winning drives lists, while his career conversion rates are near league average. We saw what he could do last postseason, though. (-1)|
Derek Carr Las Vegas Raiders QB
|Carr's career is full of thrilling late comebacks. His career conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drives (42%) ranks seventh among current starters and is actually nearly identical to Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. He has fallen flat this year, though, with the exception of the Raiders' overtime win in Week 11. He's 5 of 19 on converting game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in the fourth quarter/OT this season, and Las Vegas is 1-6 in one-score games after going 7-2 last year. (-1)|
Daniel Jones New York Giants QB
|Jones is the reason you can't use game-winning drives alone to determine a player's clutchness. Earlier this year, he set a record for the most game-winning drives (five) through seven games of a season in NFL history, but his 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. (-1)|
Ryan Tannehill Tennessee Titans QB
|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. (+3)|
Justin Herbert Los Angeles Chargers QB
|Herbert stands pat at 18th here after being on the wrong end of another thrilling Patrick Mahomes comeback in Week 11. Herbert led an impressive go-ahead touchdown drive late, but couldn't pull a "Mahomes" and answer with 31 seconds left and down three points. His career conversion rate (44%) late in games is fifth in the NFL, but he's 12th this season. Also, his passer rating in the fourth quarter/OT of a one-score game is just 69.2 in 2022, 19th in the league.|
Andy Dalton New Orleans Saints QB
|Dalton's career numbers are below average, but he ranks middle of the pack here after successfully converting on 3-of-6 game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in the fourth-quarter/OT this year. (+3)|
Marcus Mariota Atlanta Falcons QB
|Mariota's career conversion rate (41%) on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances ranks 12th among current starters just behind Tom Brady. Once upon a time, he led a miraculous playoff comeback in Kansas City. He's also converted on 7-of-13 clutch drives this year. (-4)|
Zach Wilson New York Jets QB
|Wilson's stay in the top five was never going to be long based on his small sample size in the clutch and the way he's been playing. It all came crashing down after he couldn't deliver with several chances against the Patriots. (-18)|
Jared Goff Detroit Lions QB
|Goff's career ranks are near the bottom of the league, and he's 1-7 with a chance to tie or take the lead late for the Lions this year. (+1)|
Geno Smith Seattle Seahawks QB
|Geno'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)|
Taylor Heinicke Washington Commanders QB
|Heinicke is keeping the Commanders' starting QB job with Carson Wentz healthy enough to return. He's had his moments in the clutch this year, like an improbable comeback against the Colts, but his fourth-quarter interception into double coverage against the Eagles could have easily cost Washington the game. He has the third-worst career conversion rate (26%) on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances late in games, ahead of only Davis Mills and Kenny Pickett. (+1)|
Jacoby Brissett Cleveland Browns QB
|Brissett may have had a game-winning drive vs. the Ravens in Week 6 had Amari Cooper not got called for OPI on a late TD. Still, Brissett's numbers fall short across the board here, and he will soon cede his starting role to Deshaun Watson. (+2)|
Kyler Murray Arizona Cardinals QB
|Murray ranks near the bottom in most of the criteria, and our last memory of him in clutch time was his slide and spike gaffe against the then-unbeaten Eagles earlier this year.|
Mac Jones New England Patriots QB
|Jones' career numbers are league average to below average, and he's 0-5 on drives with a chance 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, and did nothing against the Jets in Week 11 with a chance to win the game late. (-3)|
Justin Fields Chicago Bears QB
|He may be emerging as a star quarterback, but he has yet to make an impact in the clutch. The Bears are 5-18 on game-tying/go-ahead drive conversions in the fourth quarter and overtime this year. They've lost six straight games that have been decided by one possession. Fields has the worst passer rating in the final five minutes of regulation this year (31.4).|
Davis Mills Houston Texans QB
|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.|
Sam Darnold Carolina Panthers QB
|Darnold has taken the Panthers' starting QB job (for now) and debuts at No. 30 in the rankings here. He has the second-worst passer rating in late, close games (54.8) for his career among current starters.|
Trevor Lawrence Jacksonville Jaguars QB
|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, fourth-worst in the league. He has the third-worst passer rating in late, close situations in his career. (-1)|
Kenny Pickett Pittsburgh Steelers QB
|Pickett debuts in last place in our rankings after building up enough sample size to qualify. He's only converted on 1-of-8 chances to tie or take the lead late this year and has a 42.2 passer rating in late, close games -- worst in the league.|