By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)
Who are the five best quarterbacks of all time?
It is a popular question with a subjective (read: no right) answer, but there is generally a consensus on most of the names you would expect people to choose.
As we are always searching for the statistics that bring out the best in players and correlate with team success, that presented an interesting opportunity for a challenge.
Out of the dozen stats you can pick from, which single stat does the best job of encapsulating the top five quarterbacks in NFL history?
The goal is not so much for the best 1-5 ranking as it is to get the best group of five players. This is where the challenge for you the reader comes in.
THE CHALLENGE: Find us the best stat to reflect the top five NFL quarterbacks of all time.
My answer has already been made: career number of fourth-quarter comeback wins is the best way to reflect the five best QBs of all time. Here is the list as it stands today:
Most 4th Quarter Comeback Wins
Extremely impressive group, is it not? Not many top-5 caliber names missing here. Tom Brady (25) could force his way into a tie with six more comeback wins. Brett Favre (30) is the only other player with at least 30, but just misses the top five.
What this list is proving is that no matter how long a player hangs on as a compiler, or how hot a mediocre player can get at “lucky” comeback wins, racking these wins up over the long term is hard to do.
Only the cream rises to the top. Players like Vinny Testaverde and Vince Young, they were more like the tea bag or ice cube; something that gets in the way too often, or melted away too quickly.
MORE THAN EVER WE WANT YOUR FEEDBACK. Get creative if you have to, but just make sure your stat and list is verifiable. You can find me on Twitter @CaptainComeback, or e-mail me at email@example.com. The most interesting responses will be used in a follow-up article that will either be ready for Friday, October 19 or Friday, October 26 depending on what we receive.
O CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN!
We wanted to do this before the season even started, but scheduling conflicts did not allow for it. As we dive into Week 6, the Captain is going to now defend his honor, which means his statistics and why they are important.
Every week in Captain Comeback we look at the closest games in the NFL, focusing on which teams made the critical plays to get the win, and which teams failed in the clutch.
Naturally, a lot of attention is paid to the quarterbacks in these games. This week we looked at a few milestones from Week 5: Matt Ryan tied Ben Roethlisberger for the most game-winning drives (18) in a player’s first five seasons, and Drew Brees became the 22nd quarterback to have 20 fourth-quarter comeback wins.
After sharing the news on Twitter, a follower (@RudNec555) had this response:
Now this is nothing we have not heard several times in the last few years. But with a hunch of history being made in San Diego this Monday night, this is a good time to respond directly to the thought of close wins being overrated and irrelevant.
Comebacks and game-winning drives are undeniably very important. We watched the New York Giants teeter on the brink of missing the playoffs before going on to win the Super Bowl last season. That never happens without a record-tying seven wins after trailing in the fourth quarter, and eight game-winning drives.
If you are not coming back, then you are losing those games. If you never get the game-winning drive, then the other team will, or you end up with a rare tie. It’s simple as that.
Now as for the idea of teams, not quarterbacks winning games, well that much is obvious. That comes as an assumed part of football when we talk about quarterbacks.
Quarterbacks do not throw touchdowns either. Offenses do. Someone has to snap the ball and block for the quarterback, and someone has to catch the ball. That goes for any pass. That is why you cannot reject a quarterback having comebacks/game-winning drives and still accept that all of his touchdowns, completions and passing yards are “his” too.
Kickers do not win or lose games by themselves (Shaun Suisham be damned) either. Someone has to snap the ball, someone has to hold it, and that line better not let anyone come through to block the kick. An offense usually has to set the kicker up too, or else Tennessee’s Rob Bironas never has his opportunity in last night’s game.
We keep records in the quarterback’s name for these situations, but that is to have a historical record to go back on. The reason the Captain spends so much time each week recapping the events still fresh in your brain is to preserve the historical record of what happened in the fourth quarter and overtime of the close games.
Thanks to resources such as NFL’s GameRewind, we can quickly look at every game to properly hand out credit and blame for the winning and losing teams. We will not bash a quarterback for a game-ending interception when the ball clearly bounced off his receiver’s hands, nor will we praise a defense for making a stop they earned on a bogus penalty.
We call it like we see it, and while these nuances often get lost when compiling large quantities of statistics, they at least are being noted in the weekly recaps done in Captain Comeback.
Fans of the Green Bay Packers – that includes our pal Rudeza from the tweet above – do not like it when we point out Aaron Rodgers’ mystifying record of 4-21 (.160) in comeback opportunities. They cite the causes for the losses that do not involve Rodgers. While those are legitimate for several games, the same things happen to all other quarterbacks too.
Being able to compile a high number of comeback wins alone will not make you the best quarterback in the league. But to say Rodgers would not be deservingly held in higher regard if he played better in several of those games to turn some of those 21 losses into wins is downright foolish.
It may be completing one of those two-point conversions, making a better pass in the four-minute offense, or just playing better early in the game to avoid the situation entirely. There are always plays you could have been better on.
Just to use our most recent example: Ben Roethlisberger missed on two plays in the fourth quarter in Tennessee.
He missed a 3rd-and-8 pass to Emmanuel Sanders, and the Steelers had to kick a field goal to lead 23-16. If he makes the pass, they may be up 27-16 and probably win. On the last drive, he did a crazy scramble before throwing incomplete on third down. If he ran for a few yards, the field goal would have been easier. Maybe Suisham then makes the kick instead of missing and giving Tennessee great field position for their winning drive.
Now the Steelers sit at 2-3, the season is in some early danger, and Roethlisberger can think about those two third downs. One better throw and that could mean a 3-2 record. That can be the difference at the end of the season in making the playoffs and sitting at home.
With that off the Captain’s chest, we are interested to see what stat could be found to top the group presented here for most fourth-quarter comeback wins. There may not be a truly “correct” answer to such a question, but some answers are clearly better than others.
Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive. Please send any questions or comments to Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.