Mike Sando and I devoted a good portion of this week's Inside Slant podcast to the idea of "clutch" performances in the NFL. Are some quarterbacks really better in late-game situations than others? After all, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady -- once considered the most "clutch" quarterback in the game -- is a relatively pedestrian 12-12 in his last 24 games decided by one score.
Our general conclusion, thanks to research and analytics from ESPN Stats & Information, was that quarterbacks' past performances in such situations doesn't necessarily predict future success or failure. We also questioned whether "clutch" performances can only occur in the fourth quarter. (What if the game-deciding play or sequence comes in the second quarter?)
With that said, I wanted to pass along how the NFC North's top three quarterbacks have done over a comparable period of time. As the chart shows, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers have among the NFL's six-best Total Quarterback Ratings when playing in the fourth quarter of one-score games since the start of the 2009 season -- when both Cutler and Stafford were in their first NFC North campaigns.
One takeaway here is that fourth-quarter comeback victories and/or game-winning drives are only one indicator of clutch performance. Cutler has produced nine such games since 2009. Stafford has eight and Rodgers has five, for which he has received consistent criticism.
This chart shows us that Rodgers has performed better than all but five NFL quarterbacks in this sample. He has taken an unusually high number of sacks (15) and has a lower number of touchdown passes than you might hope. But it's hard to say that a player with the sixth-best QBR hasn't performed well in close games during the fourth quarter.