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Clutch QBs biggest decider in SBs

Super Bowl XLIX set records for television viewership and excitement, with the clutch play of each quarterback heavily contributing to the edge-of-your-seat dramatic finish.

Tom Brady rallied the New England Patriots from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to take the lead with 2:02 to play. Moments later, Russell Wilson drove the Seahawks down to the 1-yard line, putting Seattle in prime position to capture back-to-back titles.

It's a trend we've seen play out in a number of the recent Super Bowls.

Brady lost two Super Bowls to Eli Manning, who executed great late drives to secure victories. And after facing a big first-half deficit in SB XLVII, Colin Kaepernick had three chances inside the Baltimore 10 to pull of an improbable victory -- but came up short.

It's great from an entertainment standpoint that so many quarterbacks are good enough to pilot scoring drives that gain big chunks of yards while eating up little time on the clock, making final drives that much more captivating. Sunday night, Wilson needed only five plays and 29 seconds to get an 80-yard touchdown drive in the final seconds of the first half. Poor play selection kept him from delivering a second briskly-run long scoring drive.

I love that franchises and coaches realizes the value of great defenses. I love that coaches are gaining a renewed appreciation for a quality rushing attack. But in the final minutes of Super Bowls, it's the quarterback who ultimately decides who wins or loses the game.

They say defense wins championships. But clutch quarterback play has been a stronger factor in determining who ultimately hoists the Lombardi trophy.

From the inbox

Q: I saw a report that the Seahawks are preparing to make Russell Wilson the highest-paid player in the NFL with a contract in the $20 million a year range. That can't be true! What a devastating mistake that would be. He's not worth anywhere close to that. He's not a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, or Andrew Luck. Truly elite QBs make their teams instant contenders simply because they are under center. Wilson is not that type of QB. Yes, he can make some fine plays, but he'd be no better than an 8-8 QB on a team with an average defense. Let's be honest, there are probably 20 QBs in the league that would have the Seahawks in the Super Bowl this (past) Sunday with the support of that defense. They are in the Super Bowl because of their defense and Marshawn Lynch -- not because of the play of Russell Wilson.

Scott in Seattle

A: I disagree. The Seahawks defense didn't drive the offense 80 yards in 29 seconds for a touchdown right before the half. The defense didn't take the final drive to the Patriots' 1 and have the Seahawks in position to win the game. Wilson made those plays. As I said at the top of this mailbag, defense and a running game can get you to a Super Bowl, but it's the quarterback who wins the game. Brady won the Super Bowl because he's one of three greatest quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era. Wilson was in position to win his second consecutive Super Bowl were he not befell by a bad offensive play call.

Q: Regarding Malcolm Butler's SB interception, watch the replay in slo-mo and you'll see Butler hit Ricardo Lockette and knocked Lockette off his route before the ball arrived. Why was this not pass interference? I understand Butler was playing the ball, and has a right to do so. But a DB may not hit the receiver first, period. Is this incorrect?

Alan in Lubbock, Texas

A: By jumping the route, Butler had a clear path to the ball, just like Lockette. From the way he was coming in on the ball, Butler had the best chance of catching it. I don't see that as being interference. Here are a couple of things about the play. Jermaine Kearse is supposed to get in the way of the cornerback essentially impeding Butler's ability to jump the route. But Kearse shouldn't be at fault for anything. He's blocking Brandon Browner, perhaps the most physical corner at the line of scrimmage. Lockette could have run the route stronger but you're not talking about the most seasoned wide receiver. That's asking a lot of him. I also don't fault Wilson. It would have been a hard play to audible out of under the circumstances because there was no way he knew Butler would jump the route. The problem was the play call itself. The Seahawks have run that play enough in the past that Butler, an undrafted rookie, knew the formation dictated the play, allowing him to make the pick. It was a bad play call.

Q: How did the 49ers go from Jim Harbaugh and three straight NFC title games to NFL Europe? I'm willing to give them a shot but nobody wants to coach the Niners anymore, and that's concerning.

Josh in York, Pennsylvania

A: By saying NFL Europe, I'm sure you are referring to new coach Jim Tomsula's NFL Europe background. The 49ers had plenty of candidates willing to coach the team in 2015; that wasn't the issue. Ownership decided it was more comfortable with Tomsula as head coach instead of retaining Harbaugh or bringing in someone else. I don't care if Harbaugh is hard to work with or not, he's a great coach. The organization left itself in a tough position if Tomsula doesn't pan out.

Q: I was reading your post from 2011 about deferring the coin toss. Interestingly, it's become ever more popular. Think about what happens ... deferring is like saying, I'm kicking off. But it's not. If you say I'm kicking, the loser of the toss gets to choose which end to receive at. But by deferring, the other team then has to choose to receive or kick. Of course, they'll choose to receive, because not doing so means they kick off both halves. So by deferring, you get to not only choose to kick, but also which end you want to defend.

Peter in Sandy Hook, Connecticut

A: In 2011, I didn't like the idea of deferring, but you can see the merits of doing it now. In an era in which offenses are scripted for the first 15 plays, I initially thought the idea of winning the coin toss and getting the ball was the best way to go. I thought it would be more advantageous to get off to a 3-0 or 7-0 start. Watching the way coaches have operated, you can now see why it might be smarter to defer. As you pointed out, the deferring team picks the end of the field it wishes to defend, which is important in bad weather games. The deferring team gets the ball at the beginning of the second half. If the deferring team gets a field goal or touchdown before the half, there's the potential for a big momentum swing if it produces a score on its first possession of the second half.

Q: According to the PFF Missing Pieces project, my Cowboys have a team in place that they believe could contend for a Super Bowl in the near future, which is great to hear. It scares me, though, when I think of how many of our good players are going to be free agents in the next few years. How many years do you think the Cowboys really have to reach/win a Super Bowl before they miss their window?

Tyler from Shreveport, Louisiana

A: You are hitting on the Dallas' biggest problem in building on this year's success. The Cowboys did a great job surrounding Tony Romo with offensive weapons and a great offensive line, but many of those key pieces could go away quickly. The first thing to consider is how long Romo can play at a high level. He's older and has back issues. He also needs to have a good running back to lessen his workload, which makes re-signing DeMarco Murray or finding a viable replacement important. They also can't afford to lose Dez Bryant, a free agent and one of the best receivers in football. Romo and tight end Jason Witten are in year-to-year evaluations because of their age. The 2014 Cowboys were one or two players away from Super Bowl contention. They have to add those players during the offseason and hope not suffer any major losses to maintain that status.