Cam Newton had completed 38 percent of his passes with two interceptions through three quarters of a Week 6 game at Seattle. The Carolina Panthers' quarterback was struggling, but with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Newton suddenly became unstoppable. He completed 12 of 15 passes for 162 yards and the game-winning touchdown pass to Greg Olsen with 36 seconds remaining.
Athletes who step up their games in key moments such as the ones Newton faced during that 27-23 victory over the Seahawks can earn one of the most coveted labels in sports: clutch. Newton has earned the label this season, completing 19 of 26 passes (73.1 percent) for 291 yards and three touchdowns in fourth quarters and overtimes when Carolina trailed by 0-8 points.
Statistical analyses across multiple sports have undercut the idea that some athletes consistently perform better (or worse) when stakes are highest. Joe Montana, Michael Jordan and Jack Nicklaus were clutch, to be sure, but they were usually great the rest of the time as well. Whether Newton or any player has "stepped up" in key moments previously might not predict future performance in those situations, but that doesn't have to spoil the conversation. We can still look at which quarterbacks deserve the clutch label to this point in 2015 -- including a few you might not suspect.
I've defined clutch situations as fourth quarters and overtimes when the score was tied or the quarterback's team trailed by one score (eight or fewer points). With an assist from Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information, I then focused on the 30 quarterbacks with more than 30 action plays in those situations (action plays are most plays other than handoffs). Newton came out No. 1 this season with a 97.0 QBR score in these situations.