Drew Brees: Passing King, Comeback King, The GOAT?

Drew Brees can make more history on Monday night against Indianapolis by moving past Peyton Manning (539) for the most touchdown passes in NFL history. Brees sits two behind Manning with 537 touchdowns, or one ahead of Tom Brady (536), who is lucky to throw one a game these days. Brees will attempt to become the 11th player to hold the passing touchdown record since stats became official in 1932.

Future generations are going to wonder a lot about the perception of this golden era of quarterbacks. They are going to wonder how a player of Brees’ caliber never won an MVP award, or how the NFL Top 100 left him out of the top 10 quarterbacks (Don’t be surprised if this happens in a couple of weeks).

Inquisitive fans are going to wonder why Drew Brees wasn’t heavily involved in the debate for the greatest quarterback of all time, and some people are going to dismiss it with “he didn’t win enough” or “he wasn’t clutch enough” and “he was a stat padder.”

Future generations need to know those people are clueless and should be ignored.

Part I: Yes, He’s the Passing King, But…

It’s only fitting that such a passing machine would own the touchdown pass record too. Brees just threw five touchdown passes against San Francisco’s stingy defense on Sunday, setting another record with his 11th game of five or more touchdown passes (Peyton Manning, 10).

Something else happened in Sunday’s game that makes Brees stand alone in history: he lost after putting his team in position late to win. Brees threw his 16th career go-ahead touchdown pass in the fourth quarter in a game his team lost. No other quarterback in NFL history has more than nine, and Manning and Brady have four each.

A Brees-led team has now lost 39 games after leading in the fourth quarter or overtime, the most in NFL history for a quarterback. Manning (27) and Brady (19) don’t even have 30 such games. It was also the 26th loss for Brees with a passer rating over 100, another NFL record (min. 10 attempts). Manning (11) and Brady (10) have 21 combined.

Brees doesn’t get to reap the glory of shredding a 10-2 team’s No. 2 defense in a really important game. He doesn’t get credit for the 9-point comeback in the fourth quarter after he threw touchdowns on his last two possessions. Instead of being in good position for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs again, the Saints could slip to No. 3 and have to host a Wild Card game before winning two road games to get to the Super Bowl. That’s what happens when you become the second team in NFL history to score at least 46 points at home and lose.

While Sunday might get chalked up as an anomaly for most quarterbacks, this is sadly the latest entry in a long line of painful defeats for Brees. It’s the type of outcome that has kept Brees in the shadow of Manning and Brady throughout his career despite the fact he is about to leave both behind in arguably the most cherished passing record in football.

Brees already owns a plethora of passing records, including the most completions (6,792) and passing yards (76,577) in NFL history. He has five of the 11 seasons with 5,000-yards passing. Brees also has the highest completion percentage (67.5%) in NFL history and could own the three highest single-season marks when 2019 ends. Brees still owns the record for throwing a touchdown pass in 60 consecutive games (including playoffs). The only players to come within 20 games of that are Manning (56 games), Johnny Unitas (49 games), and Brees himself with a 47-game streak that started shortly after his record streak ended.

By the time Brees is done, he may surpass 80,000 yards and 600 touchdown passes. His resume goes well beyond those counting numbers too. Remember for a moment that Brees has been stellar in the playoffs in his career and was MVP of his only Super Bowl (2009). Remember that he’s been durable to only miss six starts due to injury (five this year) as he’s played the fourth-most games (287 including playoffs) at the position. Remember all the dominant games at home in prime time when he looked unstoppable. Remember all the receivers he’s made look extremely efficient by being incredibly accurate each year. Remember that Brees has had one top 10 scoring defense and maybe two top 10 special teams units (2019 pending) in his whole career to help him out, and he’s played in one of the toughest divisions of his era.

So what is Brees missing on the resume when he applies for GOAT status? Oh, of course, not enough things out of his control have gone his way.

Part II: …Brees Should Be the Comeback King Too

While those numerous 7-9 seasons with New Orleans’ historically bad defense did him no favors, the reality is Brees has often been left disappointed by his teammates for 19 years. Even in his NFL debut with the Chargers in 2001, Brees came off the bench and helped erase a 19-0 deficit to give his team a 20-19 lead in the fourth quarter. San Diego lost 25-20 after the defense allowed a go-ahead touchdown with 1:20 left. Brees evidently wasn’t an instant master of the two-minute drill, but he got there eventually.

If not for an unusual amount of letdowns by his teammates in the clutch, Brees would already own the records for fourth-quarter comebacks (4QC) and game-winning drives (GWD) instead of looking up to Manning and Brady again.

Most 4QC wins in NFL history (includes playoffs):

  1. Peyton Manning – 45
  2. Tom Brady – 44
  3. Drew Brees – 37
  4. Dan Marino – 36
  5. Johnny Unitas – 34
  6. John Elway – 34
  7. Ben Roethlisberger – 34
  8. Joe Montana – 31
  9. Eli Manning – 31
  10. Brett Favre – 30

Most GWD in NFL history (includes playoffs):

  1. Tom Brady – 57
  2. Peyton Manning – 56
  3. Drew Brees – 53
  4. Dan Marino – 51
  5. John Elway – 46
  6. Ben Roethlisberger – 46
  7. Brett Favre – 45
  8. Eli Manning – 42
  9. Johnny Unitas – 40
  10. Matt Ryan – 38

Third place is still really impressive for Brees, but it doesn’t tell the full story. Take Sunday for example when Brees gave the Saints a 46-45 lead with 53 seconds left after trailing 42-33 earlier in the quarter. That one doesn’t count because the defense allowed a game-winning field goal with no time left.

That game is what I refer to as a lost comeback — a game where a quarterback brought his team from behind in the fourth quarter to a lead, but still did not win the game.

Drew Brees has 19 lost comebacks, easily the most in NFL history. Manning and Brady only have seven each. Brett Favre played the most games at QB ever (326) and had nine lost comebacks. Philip Rivers has the most failed comeback attempts in NFL history (73), but only nine were lost comebacks. Ben Roethlisberger (nine), John Elway (eight), and Dan Marino (seven) didn’t crack double-digits either.

So who is close to Brees in lost comebacks? The names may surprise you until you remember how similar these flat-liners are at producing improbable results and hot streaks. Joe Flacco and Eli Manning each have 17 lost comebacks. Packers fans are used to defending Aaron Rodgers’ amount of lost comebacks, but he has 10 (just three since 2013).

Brees’ historic total doesn’t even include a 2016 game against Denver where he threw what should have been a go-ahead touchdown pass with 1:22 left, but the extra point was blocked and returned for two points in a 25-23 loss, the first such outcome of its kind in NFL history.

Obviously not every lost comeback means it was an earned victory for the quarterback. Taking a 1-point lead with 12:12 left and never scoring again isn’t decisive by any means. Even in Sunday’s game against the 49ers, one could argue it was a huge miss by Brees on the two-point conversion that would have given the Saints a 3-point lead and led to overtime. Then again, the defense had a fourth down to win the game before George Kittle made a monster play to set up the 49ers’ win. But if we gave the top trio their lost comebacks to go with their earned comeback wins, then the top three looks like this:

Most 4QC in NFL history (includes playoffs and lost comebacks):

  1. Drew Brees – 56
  2. Peyton Manning – 52
  3. Tom Brady – 51

Technically, Brees has the most fourth-quarter comebacks in NFL history, but not the most wins. What about opportunities to do this? Brees has had worse defenses overall than Manning and Brady after all. Remember that a 4QC opportunity is having the ball in the fourth quarter or overtime, trailing by 1-8 points. The average NFL team wins these games around 30 percent of the time.

Career 4QC Opportunity Records

  • Tom Brady: 44-41 (.518)
  • Peyton Manning: 45-51 (.469)
  • Drew Brees: 37-61 (.378)

So all three are above average, but Brees has the worst record with the most opportunities. Obviously there are a lot of other factors to consider here from time/timeouts left, chances per game, average deficit, field position, quality of opponent, etc. But for today let’s adjust those records by turning every lost comeback loss into a 4QC win:

Revised 4QC Opportunity Records with Lost Comebacks

  • Tom Brady: 51-34 (.600)
  • Drew Brees: 56-42 (.571)
  • Peyton Manning: 52-44 (.542)

Brees gets a big enough boost here to move to about the midpoint between Brady and Manning. Let’s do something similar while looking at game-winning drive opportunities as well, which are games where the quarterback had the ball late with the score tied.

Career 4QC/GWD Opportunity Records

  • Tom Brady: 58-43 (.574)
  • Peyton Manning: 58-56 (.509)
  • Drew Brees: 54-69 (.439)

Brees is the only one under .500, but we know he’s played better than that. A 1-9 start in the clutch just 18 games into Manning’s career drags him down, but he figured things out quickly.

To adjust these records we need to do more than switch the lost comebacks into wins from losses. We need to also add the games where a tie was broken and the QB’s team took the lead. That means a game like the 2018 NFC Championship Game when Brees led the Saints on a go-ahead FG drive with 1:41 left that infamously should have ended with no time left. But the officials missed one of the most blatant pass interference penalties ever on the Rams and the drive stalled earlier than it should have. The Rams were able to kick a game-tying FG to force overtime where they won 26-23. It’s just been that kind of luck for Brees in his career.

For the record, this is the count of games where the QB led a go-ahead score while tied and still lost: Brees (two), Manning (two), and Brady (one). Interestingly enough, all three had one in a playoff game that could have led to a Super Bowl-winning year (2006 Patriots, 2012 Broncos and 2018 Saints).

Revised Career 4QC/GWD Opportunity Records with All Go-Ahead Drives

  • Tom Brady: 66-35 (.653)
  • Drew Brees: 75-48 (.610)
  • Peyton Manning: 67-47 (.588)

Once again Brees jumps in the middle in winning percentage, but also is first with 75 clutch wins where he put his team in position with a scoring drive.

The final adjustment I would make to these records is to account for clutch field goals/extra points (tied or down 1-3 points, 4Q/OT). These three quarterbacks certainly have different levels of luck when it comes to that. Several of the biggest field goal outcomes in NFL history, from Adam Vinatieri’s snow kick to Billy Cundiff’s choke, have gone in Brady’s and New England’s favor. Meanwhile, Brees lost his first playoff game (and credit for a 10-point 4QC/GWD) against the 2004 Jets after Nate Kaeding missed a 40-yard FG in overtime. Manning is the only QB in NFL history to lose two playoff games (2000 MIA, 2005 PIT) after a missed clutch FG by the presumably drunk Mike Vanderjagt.

These numbers haven’t changed from 2018:

Just once in his career (2012 ARI) has Brady lost a game after a clutch FG was missed. It’s happened to Brees 10 times, or more than Manning (six) and Brady combined once again.

Without double counting any games with the losses we already adjusted into wins, here are the final records for these QBs in the clutch if every go-ahead FG/XP was successful and every go-ahead drive was held up by the defense. (Note that if a kick would have just tied the game we’re sticking with that as a loss.)

Revised Career 4QC/GWD Opportunity Records with All Drives and 100% FGs

  • Drew Brees: 83-40 (.675) from 54-69 (.439)
  • Tom Brady: 67-34 (.663) from 58-43 (.574)
  • Peyton Manning: 70-44 (.614) from 58-56 (.509)

So there we have it. In a fantasy world of perfect kickers and impenetrable defenses, Brees would have the most clutch wins ever and a better winning rate than Manning and Brady. We added a whopping 29 wins to his record compared to just nine for Brady and 12 for Manning. But the reality of those games has painted a much different legacy for these quarterbacks.

Part III/Conclusion: And the GOAT Is…

On pure individual merit, I still think Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of all time. No one played at a higher level as consistently or for as long as Manning did, and he proved his system worked for multiple teams and multiple head coaches. That’s why he won five MVPs, seven first-team All-Pros, and was deserving of eight each. Health and not playing into his forties is really the only area where the other two have a leg up on him.

With Brady, it’s like the old saying goes: eighty percent of success is showing up. His durability is much underrated as only one torn ACL in 2008 has kept him out of action. He’s kept himself available for the team with the biggest coaching edge and biggest divisional advantage in the NFL for two decades. He has more team help and a higher margin for error than the other top quarterbacks of his era. And we know when a big game comes down to a coin flip, the Patriots win more often than not. They don’t beat themselves and they make opponents pay dearly for their mistakes. His GOAT case is perhaps the only one in sports that is centered more on what other players around him have done than anything he’s done himself.

Brees’ situation is really the opposite of Brady’s. He’s had the least help from his defense and special teams, especially in clutch situations. He plays in the toughest division where two quarterbacks (Cam Newton and Matt Ryan) have won an MVP and been to a Super Bowl this decade. No quarterback in the history of football has seen more of his great drives, games and seasons go to waste than Brees.

It’s not like Brees needs all 29 of those losses I highlighted to turn into wins to gain more traction for being the GOAT. In fact, just five of those games could suffice in dramatically changing the narrative for this era.

2010 Falcons (Week 3): Here’s a sneaky big one that could have changed the course of the decade in the NFC. The Saints forced overtime at home against Atlanta, but Garrett Hartley missed a 29-yard field goal in overtime that would have won the game. Matt Ryan led the Falcons to a 27-24 win and Brees was denied another 4QC/GWD. This was big because the Saints finished 11-5, a wild card, and the Falcons were the No. 1 seed at 13-3. With a simple 29-yard field goal, both teams are 12-4 with the Saints getting the No. 1 seed thanks to a season sweep. That means there’s no Beastquake in Seattle with the 11-5 Saints traveling to the 7-9 Seahawks and losing 41-36. Brees gets a bye and homefield with the first game coming against the No. 6 seed Packers. Now I wouldn’t assume a Super Bowl run takes place, but it could have happened as the NFC lacked a juggernaut that year and the Saints already beat the Super Bowl-bound Steelers that season. Imagine how denying Aaron Rodgers his only ring while winning a second straight Super Bowl changes the narrative for Brees.

2011 49ers (NFC Divisional): In a classic 36-32 playoff shootout, Brees led the Saints back from a 17-0 deficit on the road to multiple fourth-quarter leads. He threw two go-ahead touchdown passes in the final five minutes alone on the way to 462 yards. Brees is still the only QB in NFL history to throw two go-ahead touchdown passes in a playoff game and lose. He lost after Alex Smith led an 88-yard touchdown drive with 9 seconds left, denying Brees a signature road win and a chance to host the Giants, a team the Saints ripped earlier that year, in the NFC Championship Game. The Saints also would have had a good shot at beating the Patriots, with a weaker defense and injured Rob Gronkowski, in the Super Bowl that year.

2017 Vikings (NFC Divisional): Here we go again. Brees led another comeback from 17-0 down on the road to give the Saints multiple fourth-quarter leads. His final drive (for a FG) put the Saints ahead 24-23 with just 25 seconds left. Even though the Vikings were 61 yards away from the end zone with 10 seconds left, Case Keenum found Stefon Diggs after Marcus Williams blew the tackle and Diggs scored the only walk-off touchdown in regulation in NFL playoff history. The Saints may have been favored to beat the Eagles in Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game. That one’s far from a lock, as is a Super Bowl win over the Patriots, who beat the Saints thoroughly in Week 2 of that season. But you never know what could have happened since he didn’t even get the chance he played well enough to deserve.

2018 Rams (NFC Championship Game): I’ve already gone over what happened here with the horrible no-call on defensive pass interference on the Rams. It’s the most blatant no-call in playoff history. With that, the Saints would have run down the clock to kick a short field goal and win the game. Once again, you couldn’t guarantee a Super Bowl win over the Patriots, but it sure would have been a more entertaining game than the 13-3 snoozer the Rams gave us. Denying Brady his 6th sure would have been big for Brees too.

2019 49ers (Week 14): We’ll see how the rest of the season plays out, but this could be a big one if it costs New Orleans the No. 1 seed. We know the Saints are much better at home than on the road. Maybe we’ll get a rematch in January, but that Kittle play on fourth down was huge for this season.

As always, I chose five moments that had nothing to do with the quarterback himself. A 29-yard field goal missed in overtime. A defense that can’t defend 88 yards against Alex Smith in under 2:00 or 75 yards in 25 seconds against Case Keenum. A horrible no-call of pass interference. A game-deciding 4th-and-2 that turns into 53 yards for the opponent.

While it’s unlikely that the Saints would have turned all of these seasons into Super Bowl appearances and wins this decade, it certainly changes the narrative had the five plays gone for Brees’ team. Millions of people think Eli Manning will make the Hall of Fame just for going 2-0 against the Patriots in Super Bowls. Imagine if Brees was 5-0 in Super Bowls with wins over Peyton (2009), Roethlisberger (2010), and 3-0 against Brady (2011, 2017-18). He’d be considered the GOAT for sure, also having kept Rodgers to zero rings. Remember, it was Rodgers’ run in 2010 that propelled him ahead of Brees during the year where Brees was supposed to join the Manning/Brady tier after 2009’s win.

Brees is the epitome of it takes a great player to break a career record, but a great player alone doesn’t win a Super Bowl. Brees is essentially the game’s Hypothetical GOAT. He’ll have the passing records, but he won’t have all the Super Bowl accolades for reasons largely out of his control. History should care more about the path than just the outcome. If you look at the way the last two decades in the NFL have played out, Brees undoubtedly deserves more respect.

 

NFL Week 12 Predictions: “Soft Division” Edition

There are five games on Sunday with a double-digit point spread, and no spread is larger than the Patriots (-17) at home against Miami, the team I called the worst 4-2 team ever. The Dolphins haven’t won since, but the Patriots are 2-5 against the spread under Bill Belichick when favored by 17+ points.

I’d say this Miami team is no doubt going to trail by 17+ at one point on Sunday, but may do enough damage in garbage time to cover. Last season, Adam Gase’s Dolphins trailed 31-3 in New England, but still pulled to within 31-24 and actually had a 4QC opportunity at the end.

This is the beginning of a six-game slate where the Patriots play five division games and Pittsburgh, so basically five bye weeks and a game that likely determines home-field advantage in the AFC.

Oh, you thought the AFC East was going to be more competitive this year? Sorry. While the Jets started better than anyone imagined, things are back to where we expected them, especially with Buffalo doing its annual tease and denial act. The Patriots should have this thing locked up again very soon.

On Friday, I tweeted a table (with no comment) about how many wins were needed for the top five quarterbacks of this era to win their division in the period of realignment (2002-2016). I removed seasons where the QB missed the majority of time, so no 2011 Colts for Peyton Manning or 2008 Patriots for Tom Brady. The methodology was to look at what these teams needed as a minimum number of wins to win the division free of tie-breakers each year. I didn’t want to run into situations where you’re saying “well they could have finished 9-7 and still won the division thanks to a season sweep of the 2nd place 9-7 team, or by the third tie-breaker.” I also didn’t want to use ties, since who the hell ever wants to predict ties? Sure, technically an 8-7-1 record can win a division when the next-best record is 8-8, but let’s just be reasonable and use whole wins, so 9-7 it is.

So for the 2016 NFC North, you had GB (10-6), DET (9-7), MIN (8-8), and CHI (3-13). Since Detroit had the next-best record at 9-7, Aaron Rodgers’ minimum was 10 wins, or exactly what he got. For the 2015 NFC South, it was CAR (15-1), ATL (8-8), NO (7-9), and TB (6-10). So if we were doing this from Cam Newton’s perspective, the minimum number was 9 wins. But from Drew Brees’ perspective (and Matt Ryan’s), his minimum was 16 to topple Carolina’s 15-1 record. Granted, if he went 16-0, then Carolina at best could go 14-2, so I can see an argument for this outlier that the number should be 15 rather than 16. In fact, since Carolina’s lone loss was to Atlanta, I did change this one number to 15 for Brees, dropping his average from 12.1 wins to 12.0 wins, so still the highest average.

avgdiv

I also included a second column to show what happens with 11+ wins, and that even if the Saints won 11, 12, or probably even 13 games in 2015, they still wouldn’t have been able to win the division over Carolina. 11 is a great breaking point since (post-merger) only the 1985 Broncos and 2008 Patriots (go figure, the one year the AFC East got competitive by adding Brett Favre and a healthy Chad Pennington in Miami) have missed the playoffs with 11+ wins.

Naturally, my mentions, which I left alone for the night, were flooded with angry Patriots fans. I read a lot of it, and I didn’t see any good arguments to refute this table. In fact, I’d like to know how posting a stat table without comment is a “take,” but I guess that’s the world we live in now.

Anyways, there was one repeated argument that has merit in that it’s logical: the Patriots crush their division annually so the wins needed in their division are lower in part because of their success.

That’s a totally sound argument…except the same is true for everyone who dominates their division, and there is no data to support this reality that the Patriots are far ahead of the curve here.

From 2002 to 2016, Brady was 65-17 (.793) against his division in the regular season. That’s great, but did you know Peyton Manning was 62-14 (.816) in his division games in that span? It’s not as obvious since he played for two different teams, but that is the case, as is Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger hovering around 75% division wins despite actually playing some really strong teams like the 2006 Ravens and 2009 Vikings. Those two teams are better than anything the Jets, Dolphins, or Bills have put on the field in the 21st century.

What’s happening here is that Patriots fans love to aggregate division records, but ignore things like Brees and Manning switching teams, or the injuries to Roethlisberger and Rodgers. Sure, the division records don’t look as good when you do a quick search that ignores that the Steelers are 1-7 against Baltimore since 2004 when Roethlisberger didn’t start the game.

One of Brady’s greatest accomplishments that you never hear about is his durability. Aside from one Bernard Pollard hit in Week 1 2008, he’s been an ironman that only a few can compare to in that regard in NFL history. Yet instead of praising him for his steady availability even through old age, they resort to this myth that his play is just so much stronger than any other QB’s when that’s not the case. That’s what I look to point out.

The other problem with aggregating division stats is it hides the distribution of wins. Which division is easier to win? One with three 6-10 teams, or one with teams that are 12-4, 4-12-, and 2-14? Both add up to 18-30, but you have to win at least 12 games in the latter just to have a shot at a division title (13-3 without relying on tie-breakers). If you’re a double-digit win team and a legit Super Bowl contender, there’s not much difference in playing against a 4-12 team versus a 6-10 team. You’re expected to win those games almost every time. But a team that’s capable of going 12-4, or the type of team that the AFC East never presents to NE, is not likely to get swept. We’ve seen Baltimore and Pittsburgh split many times in years where both made the playoffs, for example.

The best thing you can say about MIA/NYJ/BUF is that none of the three have been a consistent bottom-feeder like the Browns (any year but 2002 and 2007) or Raiders (2003-2015) or recent Jaguars (2011-2016) teams. That’s the only reason the aggregate records aren’t so bad for the AFC East in this era. Oh, there have been some major duds like the 1-15 Miami team in 2007, but teams like the Bills and Dolphins have specialized in going 6-10/7-9 without ever being a real threat to anyone. Some of the worst 10-6 teams by DVOA (going back to 1986) are AFC East teams (2006 NYJ, 2015 NYJ, 2016 MIA). The Patriots also allowed two division rivals (2005 MIA and 2014 BUF) to get to 9-7 with Week 17 wins in rare “playoff rest” games for Brady.

Let’s finish with a few more stats that will hopefully slow people from tweeting me that only the Patriots with Brady can beat up on their division.

Average score for a division game, 2002-2016

  • Brady: 27.6-17.0
  • Manning: 27.4-18.7
  • Rodgers: 27.2-18.6
  • Brees: 25.0-22.2
  • Roethlisberger: 23.1-16.1

This is based on the final score, so it’s not adjusted for return scores or anything. Brady, Manning, and Rodgers are all very close with just over 27 points per game, but the Patriots have allowed 17.0 PPG, second to only the Steelers (16.1), who love to feast on the Browns twice a year and play plenty of low-scoring games with Baltimore and Cincinnati. But maybe the biggest number here is the 22.2 points per game allowed by Brees’ teams, which can easily explain why he is only 49-36 (.576) in division games. He started 4-6 with subpar stats in 2002-03 when he wasn’t a good player yet in San Diego, but obviously the defenses in New Orleans (perhaps until 2017) have given him less help than any of the other four quarterbacks. Teams that allow 22.2 PPG in the regular season only win about 48% of their games since 2002, so Brees doesn’t look too bad at 57.6% here.

I already showed that these other quarterbacks (minus Brees) were able to win 75-80% of their division games just like Brady. Now let’s add some passing stats to that as well as an important split that really puts things into perspective. I split up the division games by ones against teams with fewer than 11 wins and games against teams with 11+ wins.

QBDIV.JPG

So Brady, Rodgers, Manning, and Roethlisberger all won at least 80% of their division games against teams with fewer than 11 wins. Imagine that. Brady has the lowest completion percentage and YPA in those games, but they’re all pretty similar statistically.

But when you look at the 11+ win teams on the bottom, Brady’s only faced one since 2002: the pesky 2010 Jets, who split the regular season with Brady, and pulled off that shocking playoff upset a month after the 45-3 demolition. This means that Brady helped create his only 11-5 division foe, and they destroyed one of his best shots at another Super Bowl ring.

So when you try to say that these other QBs have created so many 11+ win teams in their division by losing to them, that’s not really accurate. Brees missed the first game against the 15-1 Panthers in 2015, and played very well against them in the loss that produced a Cam-led 4QC. The 2006 Ravens (13-3) are still 11-5 if the sweep went to Ben’s Steelers. The 2008 Titans are still 12-4 if Manning would have came back to beat them on MNF. Also, Peyton was still a very impressive 10-4 in these games, which includes a loss in the worst game of his career (2015 Chiefs) that almost ended his career. He was 4-0 against those Jacksonville teams that went 12-4 in 2005 and 11-5 in 2007. He probably would have preferred to face those Jaguars again in the playoffs like Brady did instead of the 2005 Steelers and 2007 Chargers (with Philip Rivers’ ACL intact for three quarters). Manning also led sweeps of the 2003 Titans (12-4) and 2013 Chiefs (11-5), who still both won at least 11 games regardless of Manning’s teams.

Sure, you can argue that Roethlisberger should have swept the 2005 Bengals (11-5) or Rodgers should have swept the 2009 Vikings (12-4) to put them both at 10-6, but it’s a shitty argument. Their teams allowed 30-plus points in those losses, and let’s just respect the fact that the Bengals had a breakout year with Carson Palmer and the Vikings were a great team with Favre at 40.

Believe it or not, but the success of one team doesn’t dictate that the other three must be failures for 16+ years.

I started this whole thing not out of interest of the Patriots in the AFC East, but as part of my research on Drew Brees that I hope to use for an article this year. I ran out of time in August to do one on him, but the Saints are doing so well that I’m sure the opportunity will present itself again. His numbers not being overly great here surprised me, but when the time comes for that article, I’ll be fair and acknowledge that along with some interesting breakdowns for context. For example, there were 19 division games for these quarterbacks where their teams allowed 34+ points. Brees has 12 of those games (2-10 record) compared to just one for Brady (a 34-31 loss to Buffalo in 2011 in which he threw a pick-six in the 4Q).

There’s a lot of nuance that 240 characters will never be adequate for, which is why I chose to not argue the point about this original chart on Twitter, but to wait for this post. I hope this clears up what I was looking into, but it’s not like I don’t expect to still get tweets that read “Brews, rogers, payton just not winners like [GOAT emoji].”

What, you think I’m exaggerating? I don’t do fake news.

Game of the Week: Saints at Rams

We do have one standout game in Week 12. It’s another chance for the Rams to show us something against a contender. The tests against Seattle and Minnesota didn’t go well, but this is another home game against a New Orleans team that showed some cracks last week, but still won with a crazy 15-point comeback. Robert Woods is out for the Rams, but that’s more than offset by rookie CB Marshon Lattimore being out for the Saints. I could see a deep-ball success for Sammy Watkins in this game, but it could very well be a lower-scoring game than expected weeks ago. I could also see Brees facing some interior pressure from Aaron Donald, but the running game has been fantastic for New Orleans with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. As much as I’m not used to picking the Saints in road games like this one, I just really like the way they have been playing since Week 3 and think they find a way to grind this one out. I’m not fully sold on the Rams as a legit contender this year until they show more in a game like this, but it’s definitely the one to watch tomorrow.

2017 Week 12 Predictions

So I had my Thanksgiving picks not go too well after nailing the Vikings-Lions game. I really want to pick the Colts for some reason, but just can’t go through with it.

Wk12

Note: my SEA-ATL pick last week went from SEA at -3 to SEA at +1, so I gave myself the spread win, SU loss for that game. 

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Week 7: 11-4
  • Week 8: 12-1
  • Week 9: 6-7
  • Week 10: 12-2 (Spread: 6-8)
  • Week 11: 8-6 (Spread: 8-5-1)
  • Season: 97-63 (Spread: 14-13-1)

Rant About Tom Brady and YPA

It must be July, because here we go again.

I knew immediately that the events on the evening of February 5th would make this a long offseason, but I haven’t really felt the need to go on a long rant about that game or the Patriots in general in the last five-and-a-half months. In fact, this might be the least writing I have done from February to mid-July in any of the last six years.

Personally, I had a string of bad luck — you know, things out of my control — and heartbreak that started around late January (Donald Trump’s inauguration day to be exact) and continued through late March before things eased up. I don’t want to go into details, but I suffered losses (family and pet) and had another health scare that required another CT scan (result: clear). I’ve been working hard on FOA 2017 (available soon) since May or so. In doing six teams (AFC West plus Miami and Detroit), and pushing most of the essays well past 4,000 words, this is probably the most work I have ever done for one of the books. I hope people appreciate it, even the Raiders and Dolphins fans.

But now that work on that is practically complete, I have more free time to think about random things as we wait for training camps to start. So Super Bowl LI has been back on my mind, ranging anywhere from Atlanta’s horrible game management to the history of big comebacks to that Tedy Bruschi style of “heart and leadership” that only Tom Brady can will his teammates to believe in.

I was going to write something in detail about that last part, but maybe we can save that for later this week if I’m still feeling the need to be cathartic. Today is about YPA, because I feel like I need to explain a tweet better from Monday where I admittedly spent way too many hours tweeting.

I often forget that some things that have become obvious to me are completely lost on others. The calculation of YPA and how it works should not be one of those things, but Twitter never ceases to amaze me.

I can only hope that a lot of those favorites are for comical reasons. There were other similar remarks, including the thought that 6.7 YPA is Bill Belichick playing to his team’s strengths, as if any offense would actually plan to have an inefficient attack. I was also told that 6.7 YPA means Brady is dominating. You know who has 6.7 YPA as his career average? Ryan Fitzpatrick. So dominant.

This was all a response to a tweet I made last night that didn’t go over so well once Peter King replied to it. Telling someone like me to “watch the games” is madness, but when typing 140 characters at a time, you can’t always explain nuance.

The “obvious” here was actually not so obvious, especially without turning it into a thread with follow-up points. What I meant was that Brady fans tend to think that he has winning records even in suboptimal situations (6.7 YPA is below average) because he is just that good or “clutch.” In the particular case of the 5-2 Super Bowl record, I see it as a quarterback fortunate to have that team record based on his play. It was the other non-Brady elements of the games that helped produce the record. Things like a Ty Law pick-6 helping the Patriots win a game in which Brady only led the offense to 13 points and failed to convert a third down. The Malcolm Butler interception at the 1-yard line. The absurdity of Seattle and Atlanta not running the ball in the fourth quarter in key spots. Every game was very close (decided by 3-6 points), so going 5-2 is quite fortunate in that regard.

YPA is a stat that has always correlated well with winning. In 2016, the team who won the YPA battle won over 70% of all NFL games. That’s not bad for a stat that does not care about rushing, sacks, turnovers, penalties, special teams, etc. Even in Super Bowl LI, Brady’s YPA was just 6.28 when the Patriots fell behind 28-3. It was 8.61, a league-leading type of number, the rest of the way during the comeback.

YPA correlates well with scoring points, which correlates well with winning games. This has been the case for decades in the NFL regardless of how the Patriots perform. And isn’t that really the point: how the Patriots, not just Brady, perform? His performance alone was rarely good enough to be the difference maker in these games. While Brady fans want to believe their guy has some special skill to win with a low YPA, I am saying he has no secret sauce that makes YPA invalid. The Patriots have just won a lot of close playoff games since 2001 for a variety of reasons.

Since 2001, the Patriots are 9-7 (.563) in the playoffs when Brady averages less than 7.0 YPA (min. 30 attempts). The rest of the NFL is 28-85 (.248) in that time.

The Patriots’ averaging scoring margin in those 16 games was +2.5. The rest of the NFL was -8.2. There were 14 wins by 1-4 points, and Brady’s Patriots had five of them.

Tell someone this, and it will likely get framed as “Brady won 56.3% of the time where other QBs only won 24.8% of the time. UberClutch! GOAT!”

We probably shouldn’t lambaste someone for wanting to think this way, but just so it’s clear, I will never agree with them or see things that way. When I look at the 16 games for Brady, and especially the nine wins, this is what comes to mind:

TBPOgames

(Yes, how fitting is it that of the last two times a quarterback threw a fourth-quarter, fourth-down interception that was fumbled back to his team, it benefited Tom Brady and “hurt” Peyton Manning. At least the Broncos were still up big at the time, but man, you can’t make this stuff up.)

I’m not saying the Patriots should have gone 0-16 in these games, but clearly there were a lot of favorable circumstances to aid Brady in the nine wins, and not many positives to speak of for him in the seven losses. While he still met his demise in 2006 and 2011, those were trips that could have easily been cut shorter if Marlon McCree and Lee Evans didn’t act the fool with the ball in their hands. Or without the greatness of kicker Adam Vinatieri on the types of 40-plus yard field goals that Mike Vanderjagt, Nate Kaeding, Pete Stoyanovich, and Scott Norwood choked on for other quarterbacks, Brady is doomed to start his playoff career 0-2 at home, averaging 12 points per game.

So many fans go wild when you suggest that their player has been the beneficiary of luck, but I think that’s mostly just a semantics issue. Anyone who understands the basic concepts of football can see that this is a team game where many pivotal plays are out of the quarterback’s control. When most games are close, especially in the playoffs, and a lot of improbable events have happened to swing those games, a lot of outcomes are not determined directly by the quarterback’s actions. So many good quarterbacks can repeatedly lead their team to a winning position, but it typically requires much more from the rest of the team to get to a large number of Super Bowls, for example. Luck is even defined as “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.” There’s a lot of skill involved in what the Patriots did in those wins (the field goals, the takeaways), but the common bond is that they weren’t the actions of Brady, but he still benefited with a win on days where he wasn’t at his best.

This isn’t me picking on Brady. This is what tends to happen when inefficient quarterback play is lifted by the slimmest of margins in the playoffs, and I can’t help it that Brady has been in that spot more than anyone in history. I said there were 14 wins by 1-4 points by quarterbacks under 7.0 YPA. Brady had five of them, but I can say similar things about the other games and quarterbacks.

For instance, Matt Hasselbeck needed Terry Glenn to fumble and for Tony Romo to botch the extra point hold in that infamous 21-20 win in 2006.

Donovan McNabb needed a 4th-and-26 conversion against the Packers in 2003, and a Brett Favre arm punt in overtime to get the 17-14 win.

Ben Roethlisberger should have lost his first playoff game against the 2004 Jets, but Doug Brien, after a Ben pick, missed his second field goal in the final two minutes. The Steelers won in overtime.

Mark Sanchez used a long kick return by Antonio Cromartie, and a terrible Jim Caldwell timeout, to down the Colts 17-16 in Peyton Manning’s final game with the team.

Eli Manning’s two NFC-CG wins are on the list. He didn’t play that poorly, but certainly used the field position boost from Brett Favre’s INT (2007) and two Kyle Williams special teams turnovers (2011). Eli did not complete a pass on either GWD in those games, because opponent mistakes did not require any of him.

A Favre interception also helped get Drew Brees to overtime in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, an overlooked “subpar” game for Brees that day. The Vikings had five turnovers in all, and Tracy Porter is the biggest reason Sean Payton isn’t just another Don Coryell at best.

Winning may be the only thing that matters to a team, and it is perfectly fine if a fan wants to feel that way too. However, the source of conflict is when those fans refuse to accept the fact that not everyone’s contribution to the win is equal. Sometimes a team wins in spite of its best player. I feel like we can always debate why a team won or lost a game, and which players were the most responsible for that result. It’s not always going to be agreeable or easy, but I know damn well there’s more to it than “YPA doesn’t matter because they won.” If that’s your logic, then scoring doesn’t matter either if you win. 3-0 win? Hail to the quarterback, I guess. Turnovers don’t matter if you win. Quarterback threw five picks in a 3-0 win? Hail to the quarterback, I guess.

I know this sounds crazy to some, but just check my Twitter mentions sometimes. These people really do exist, and I guess I’ve taken them on as my sworn enemy. Some fanbases are more rabid than others.

It will always be a losing battle when the opponent just wants to count rings, recheck the scoreboard, and deduce that 6.7 YPA is a dominant, never-punt strategy. I know this, but I continue to fight on, because I don’t know any other way to get through this job year after year. So I’ll continue to watch games, add old ones to my always-growing collection, take notes, crunch stats, and just call it like I see it.

Dating back to a snowy night in January 2002, I have simply never once watched Tom Brady play a game and thought I was watching the greatest quarterback ever. Unless he plays deep into his 40s at a level we’ve never seen before, I can’t imagine that I ever will feel that way about him. This ticks some people off, but I really don’t care about that, because I know what I’ve seen and I know I can back it up.

The effort just doesn’t always come across as clearly 140 characters at a time. Maybe I’ll just have to write that book one day, putting 16 years of knowledge to use.

 

 

 

Peyton Manning’s Eight One-And-Done NFL Playoffs: Learn What You Are Criticizing

Peyton Manning lost another playoff game. Starting as a common quarterback narrative, the story has breathed too many years without more Super Bowl success to dispel, because we all know the “NFL For Dummies” handbook says to judge a quarterback based on championships won in the ultimate team sport.

So when Manning loses a playoff game, the popular thing to do is bash his reputation as a postseason quarterback, bash his losing playoff record (9-11), and call him a choker. The latest loss was probably the most painful one yet, and it gives Manning 11 playoff losses (tied with Brett Favre for record) and eight one-and-done postseason’s (another record).

But when someone throws that last fact out, they clearly do not realize what they are criticizing. If you want to bash the Colts and No. 1 seed 2012 Broncos for losing these games, five of them at home (by a combined 14 points), as a team, then feel free. They probably should have won at least 5-6 of them.

Though if you are bashing Manning based on his performances, then you need your head examined. Which other QB in NFL history could possibly produce these numbers and go 0-8 in the process without getting royally screwed over by his teammates and various other factors in a way no player ever has?

This is what you are knocking when you throw out the eight one-and-done seasons and 0-8 record:

  • 176/302 (58.3 percent) – This includes over 30 dropped passes in what equates to half a regular season
  • 2,075 passing yards (6.87 YPA)
  • 10 TD passes, one TD run
  • 6 INT – Three deflected off his own receiver’s hands, two thrown vs. 2002 Jets when Colts trailed 34-0/41-0 in 4th quarter
  • 82.0 passer rating – This would rank 23rd all time in postseason history (min. 150 attempts).
  • Six games with rating of 82.0 or better (five over 88.3, which is roughly career rating).
  • Seven losses by a combined 26 points; one other loss by 41 points.
  • Led in final 5:00 of fourth quarter five times.
  • Led in final 0:40 of fourth quarter four times.
  • Three overtime losses.
  • Two games where Manning’s last possession resulted in a missed field goal by Mike Vanderjagt (2000 MIA, 2005 PIT).
  • 2002 at Jets: Manning set Vanderjagt up for 41-yard FG, trailing 7-0. The next time he took the field, it was 17-0 Jets.
  • A memorable play where Nick Harper could have returned Jerome Bettis’ fumble for game-winning TD, but was tackled by Ben Roethlisberger.
  • Billy Volek came off the bench for Philip Rivers to lead Chargers on fourth-quarter comeback win (2007).
  • The worst average starting field position for any road team in the playoffs in the last 30 years (2008 San Diego).

These are not normal occurrences, and somehow the same quarterback keeps experiencing them, and becomes the easy target every year.

Saturday was the ultimate bow on top. Rahim Moore had a shot at a game-ending interception, and instead offers up what will go down as the worst ball misjudgment in NFL playoff history, resulting in Baltimore’s 70-yard game-tying TD. That is “Game Over” for any other quarterback. This was supposed to be “Manning’s best defense ever,” yet they suffered the biggest lapse and letdown in his career.

The game incredibly continued into overtime, and on Manning’s second possession, he went Favre and threw a bad interception. Immediately this cues the “Manning with another crushing playoff INT” talk, yet look at the list. This is the first time he’s ever thrown an interception in a close game like this that was actually his fault.

Just like how the Tracy Porter play in Super Bowl XLIV was the first time Manning ever turned the ball over in the fourth quarter/overtime in a one-score game in the playoffs. Yet the narrative is he always does these things. How does that happen when the facts show otherwise? These plays are first’s, not repeats.

What Manning usually does in the playoffs is give his team a chance to win the game in a way no other quarterback has. When they don’t, he takes the blunt of the criticism regardless of his play.

This stuff isn’t that hard to analyze. They only play 11 playoff games a year. Blame the quarterback when he deserves it. Don’t just blame Manning because of his status, and that you expect a touchdown every single drive from him. He’s not perfect. No one is in the playoffs.

In a 20-game sample, things are not going to even out, and they certainly have not evened out for Manning just yet, and he is really running out of chances. If the playoffs are supposed to be so important, so micro-analyzed, why are we seeing more garbage analysis than ever before? Just saying “9-11” does not prove a thing.

You know why quarterbacks who win a lot of playoff games do so? It’s not because they statistically out-produce Manning, because few do in the postseason. It’s because their teammates don’t muff onside-kick recoveries like Hank Baskett in the Super Bowl, miss clutch field goals like Mike Vanderjagt, forget a snap count on 3rd-and-1 with a chance to clinch the game, or allow a back-breaking 70-yard touchdown bomb.

Winning playoff teams limit their mistakes and finish games in the playoffs. There is no magical playoff quarterback formula about it. Manning was just over 30 seconds away from clinching his 50th game-winning drive, moving onto next week’s AFC Championship, and then disaster struck. A disaster other quarterbacks simply don’t have to deal with, because games never end that way.

Stop writing your stories before the game even starts, and pay attention to what actually happens. Be a defensive writer; one who reacts to what they see. Otherwise, you end up with garbage that truly defines the word “offensive.”

Peyton Manning: Crowning the NFL’s New Comeback King

Finally, history has been made. After waiting years for Peyton Manning to just tie Dan Marino – and NEVER John Elway – with his 36th comeback win in the fourth quarter, it only took five more games for that record-setting 37th fourth quarter comeback win.

It came in epic fashion, as Manning completed his first 13 passes of the second half for the biggest single-game comeback of his career (24 points).

Fitting that the go-ahead score came on a great touchdown to Brandon Stokley, who caught the 49th touchdown pass (vs. San Diego) in 2004 in one of Manning’s other comeback wins. Thanks should also go out to Philip Rivers. Consider this payback for the 23-0 comeback in 2007 in San Diego that Manning should have had when Adam Vinatieri blew the late kick.

Two articles on Manning today:

Peyton Manning is the NFL’s All-Time Leader in Fourth Quarter Comeback Wins

Captain Comeback Week 6

Crown his ass: Peyton Manning, new NFL comeback king.

My 3-Year Story of NFL Comebacks: Crusade Over Conspiracy

In light of the three-year anniversary of my first ever article, I have decided to share the ride’s ups and downs in my attempt to rewrite NFL history by blowing open a statistical conspiracy on the Denver Broncos and the use of fourth quarter comebacks.

Thursday’s article was basically the 8th chapter in the story (first seven are notably linked throughout here), but today is a perfect time to summarize the last three years, while also providing even more new evidence of a Denver comeback clusterfudge.

Documenting this process has been very important to me, and I hope it has been an entertaining and eye-opening look into the dark side of record-keeping and history.

The irony is I never had any intentions of being a journalist or anything of the sort, but this story has basically been my form of investigative reporting, and my angle to breaking into the business.

Please pass this link along and help spread the truth.

2009: The Rookie

August 6, 2009. Three years ago today, I crossed over from the world of internet forum/Excel-worshipping stat nerd to writer. I posted my first ever article.

Actually Doug Drinen of Pro-Football-Reference posted it, but it was my writing, and it was called “Guest Post: Quarterbacks and fourth quarter comebacks, Part 1.” (Chapter 1)

I thank PFR for giving me that first platform to turn my researched data into words, and I can only wish I would have written a better two-part article (Chapter 2) than I did. But that was my first time, and after hundreds of thousands of words later, I think I have a much better grip on this writing thing.

On that same day three years ago, Mike Tanier gave me a boost into the sports writing world by infusing my piece into his great Walkthrough column at FootballOutsiders. That helped spread the word and was phase one of my crusade. Thanks again, Mike.

I have said before I am not the first person to reject or disprove Elway’s mythical “record” of 47 fourth quarter comebacks, but I am the first to create a standardized system of fourth quarter/overtime wins so that we can track the real all-time leaders.

Though in my first articles you can see I was still caught up on trying to bunch all of these wins together, I soon after realized the best method is to make them two stats, and say “QB X has Y fourth quarter comebacks and Z game-winning drives in his career.” This continues to catch on, which I greatly appreciate.

Not long after those first two articles, I sold my database to Pro-Football-Reference and we put the comeback tables on every quarterback’s page for all to use. I added a part three (Chapter 3) to the series during the playoffs to explain the nuances of the data on the site. The data started showing up in writers’ coverage of the NFL.

I talked to Pittsburgh’s best sports writer, Ed Bouchette, for a story after game one of the 2009 season, and it made the front of the Sports’ section in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which had me excited as a local guy. Later that season I contributed data to articles which appeared on Forbes and The Wall Street Journal.

2010: The Plot Thickens

For a newcomer, things were going pretty well, though not once had I heard anything from the Denver Broncos. E-mails to the head of PR went unanswered, as did any phone call attempt. I can’t even get Woody Paige or any Denver-related media person for that matter to slay the dragon. Are they afraid they’ll lose their job or something?

I was also ill-prepared in the instance that Peyton Manning, who pulled to 35 comebacks, one shy of Dan Marino’s record 36, broke the record. I never could get into contact with the Colts on this matter either, despite the fact Manning and Johnny Unitas are two of the most prolific QB’s ever in this area. I will be over-prepared this season in the event that Manning finally ties and then surpasses Marino.

In the summer of 2010 I contacted NFL spokesman Greg Aiello after reading a 1996 article in which he stated the league would look into making comebacks a standard stat. I figured I have already done so much of the necessary work, so why not push him on it?

He eventually got me into contact with another NFL employee, and from there it was passed to the Elias Sports Bureau, who handles the league’s statistics. I must admit I was poorly prepared in adding a professional proposal, and basically just went off the three articles I had written at that point. Had I sent them something along the lines of what I have to work with today, things may have been much different.

Instead, the response was basically that teams are going to keep doing what they want in their media guides and press releases, and Elias, who only uses game-winning drives and never comebacks, was not changing anything.

The one time I tried to call Elias myself, a Spanish woman answered, creating a Consuela from Family Guy-esque moment, and I just hung up out of frustration. If you’re not familiar with the ESB’s website, it is basically an ad for buying a baseball book. It would be easier to reach the CIA for information or discussion.

I recently found this great article by Michael Weinreb, which talks about researcher John Turney’s similar plight with career sack totals. The NFL only made them official in 1982, but obviously sacks occurred for decades prior to that. With NFL Films having every game, why not go back and create the historical record of sacks? I of course fully support Turney’s position.

Weinreb’s characterization of dealing with Elias was classic:

So I called the Elias Sports Bureau, which keeps all the official statistics for all the major sports leagues in this country. I spoke to a man whose name I cannot use because he never gave it to me, and whom I cannot quote because he declined to be quoted, and who didn’t want to be forced to repudiate my premise. At times, I felt like I was engaging in a semantic discussion with the Comic Book Guy from “The Simpsons.”

To summarize: The Elias Sports Bureau feels as if there is no need to revise the history before 1982 because it would be impossible. They claim it would be impossible because there is no uniformity, because there was no standard definition of a sack before 1982, because then you fall into that statistical booby trap of comparing generations, and therefore, to go back to the play-by-play sheets and videotapes is both time-consuming and useless. In fact, Seymour Siwoff of Elias told Pro Football Weekly a couple of years ago that the only reason sacks were adopted as an official statistic in 1982 is because an increased number of incentive clauses and bonuses were built into contracts. This led to increased complaints and queries about statistics, which essentially, Siwoff said, “forced our hand.

It’s not impossible when people like Turney and me are willing to do the work. We may not be the Elias Sports Bureau, but I dare you to check the research and try and question the validity. It doesn’t take a genius to find mistakes in the “official” record.

In the 1990s, George Halas and Fran Tarkenton each held NFL records for most wins as a head coach and starting quarterback, respectively. But go figure, they each had one more win than they actually earned.

In 1992, Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Joe Horrigan found an error in Halas’ total based on a game he won despite having already left for World War II. Horrigan had the total changed from 325 wins to 324 twenty years ago, and it came at an important time as Don Shula was nearing the NFL record.

Sound familiar to anything? I tried contacting Horrigan recently, but he did not return the call.

When I was researching QB starts, I made note of this 1963 game that Fran Tarkenton could not have possibly started, as evident by his lack of any pass attempts or runs, and the fact that every newspaper archive said it was Ron Vander Kelen making his first career start. So I took it away from Tarkenton, which moved his record down from 125 wins to 124, and I put that total on PFR. I also changed it on Wikipedia, and before long, noticed some teams like the Patriots and Colts changed it in their media guides.

Last year I passed it along to the Minnesota Vikings’ PR and they agreed and made the change. They were very courteous about it, unlike some teams would be. Note: the Denver Broncos still have Tarkenton at 125. Gasp.

We’ll get another look next month when Tom Brady (124) takes the field. Right now he’s tied with Tarkenton, and the next win should surpass him.

But back to comebacks, because 2010 was when some really interesting stuff went down.

I wrote this article about the chronology of the records (Chapter 4), which expressed some of the stunning semantics blunders that went on between Elias, Denver and the Miami Dolphins in the mid-90s. That clued me in that this has been a problem that’s been going on for nearly two decades without a correction.

In late November, I put together an article that shines some of the sweetest irony you’ll ever see in life. Do you know what John Elway really did 47 times in his career? (Chapter 5)

47 is the number of times he had the ball in the fourth quarter, trailing by one score, and did not win the game.

46 losses and a tie. How unbelievable is that? I found similar results for Roger Staubach, who was falsely considered to have 23 comeback wins (real number: 15), yet 23 ended up being the number of losses in his career opportunities.

Speaking of Staubach, I experienced an incredible moment of success followed by disgust in the fall of 2010. The NFL Network aired a great NFL Films series called Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players. During Staubach’s video, the narrator said that Staubach had 15 fourth quarter comebacks in his career.

15, which is my number I put out there in the second article I wrote. Someone had to see it, because you wouldn’t get that number anywhere else. Remember, I was in contact with the NFL that summer, making them aware of the issue. It was a sense of accomplishment. If they use the right number for Staubach, then what was to come for Elway and Marino?

What came next was the first moment I thought there might be a conspiracy that goes beyond the Broncos’ botching the stats for their star quarterback. With Marino aired and no mention, they teased before commercial break about the “king of comebacks” coming up next.

It was Elway, and the first line out of the narrator’s mouth included “a record 47 comebacks.” I could have broken my TV if it wasn’t so expensive. How do you use the factual number for Staubach, ignoring the Cowboys in the process, but then go and use Denver’s falsified number for Elway? It’s absurd.

I contacted NFL Films about it, but nothing came of that either. Could not get in touch with someone that had a clue of what I was talking about.

On the field, Peyton Manning was less than a minute away from that record-tying 36th comeback in the playoffs, but a long kick return by Antonio Cromartie put a damper on the ending with the Jets getting the walk-off field goal win. After seven straight comebacks to get to 35, Manning lost his next six opportunities and hasn’t played a game since that Wild Card loss.

2011: Captain Comeback Begins

Last year I had full intentions of doing a weekly column where I go over all the fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives of the week. This would provide an undisputable account of each week’s games, and with lots of exclusive data.

With PFR moving away from blogging, I joined the new site Football Nation last July and one of my first articles (Chapter 6) was about the news I received from the NFL that their Record and Fact Book for 2011 was going to feature game-winning drives. They only limited it to since 1970 and listed the top five, but it was accurate, had Dan Marino at the top, and it was a step in the right direction.

From Football Nation, I quickly got involved with the Cold, Hard Football Facts brand. That would be the destination of Captain Comeback, which had a very successful first season. By midseason I found a format I love, and will continue to provide this type of analysis each week during the season.

Last summer I refined my database of fourth quarter/overtime wins, which allowed for me to have good information done in a timely manner for my articles. I focused more on writing and building a brand rather than trying to get the Broncos or NFL to change anything.

It was a great season with plenty to write about in this area.

Even with Peyton completely gone in 2011, his brother Eli picked up the slack with a record-tying seven comebacks of his own. Tony Romo’s “clutch vs. choker” persona being questioned was good to write about. There was also the Tim Tebow story, which meant good news for me. Even got to correct Elias again on stats related to Tebow’s game-winning drives. And of course the whole Green Bay Packers/Aaron Rodgers mystery of how they’re such an anti-comeback team (3-18 record) continues to be a key story for me.

Getting the @CaptainComeback name on Twitter and networking/promoting there has been a huge boost as well. Interacted with a lot of cool people the last 12 months.

2012: Big Plans

This offseason I have been hammering away at completing an even bigger database in the hope that I can get the information people have been looking for the last three years: full comeback/GWD opportunities. I have been teasing some of the information here on my blog and in some articles lately, and hope to have results during the season.

I also have thought about writing a book in the future on this topic. A complete guide, from going over this history of how screwed up the semantics and use of comeback stats have been, with full tables of stats on teams and quarterbacks, and numerous case studies that you would expect from analysis of thousands of the close finishes in NFL history. So much great stuff could come from these databases. I’m excited about just the possibilities alone.

Peyton is back this year, so hopefully that will lead to a lot of attention over this Denver story. You can say I haven’t done enough to get it out there, but I always thought on-field action backed with indisputable research would always speak louder than anything I do by myself. But admittedly, I could have done (and do) more to get it out there.

I called ESPN’s Outside the Lines on Saturday to pitch a show idea about this story, and I should probably not stop at that one voice message.

I cannot rely on Peyton alone. I thought him joining Denver would do the trick (Chapter 7) by itself, but  of course the Broncos have gone with a defense that makes it look like Manning’s comebacks never existed by not mentioning them once in 678 pages of their media guide.

And these are the days of searchable PDF files, so they can’t say it’s in there and I just missed it. If they try and add it in now, I have the original copy saved and the revision date of 6/24/12 listed inside.

The use of their media guides against them was fun to compile last week, and I went even deeper over the weekend to look at their material from the Jake Plummer era. It further proves how badly the Broncos are botching comeback records and fabricating Elway’s legacy in the process.

This is from a 2006 press release:

There’s a lot going on here. First, it’s very interesting to see Denver focus on only comebacks, as evident by the 21 and the table. Note: in the 2006 media guide, it even calls them “pure” comebacks. What’s awkward is the table saying since 1995, yet Drew Bledsoe’s total is listed since 1997. Something wrong with the five comebacks he had in 1995-96?

I know that for Bledsoe’s career (since 1993), he had 24 comebacks, but I bet my life they are not the same 24 games Denver had in mind here. Peyton did in fact have 19 comebacks then, which gives me a good idea of what number, if any, they will try and say he has this year. Hint: it will be about a dozen off what they have for Elway.

Plummer’s 21 is a farce. They include this 2002 game against Seattle as a comeback/GWD for Plummer, even though it consisted of Arizona blowing the lead to start the fourth quarter, and MarTay Jenkins returning the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

“Pure” comeback, baby. Plummer was so good he got the offense the 4QC/GWD without even taking the field. The masters of comeback deception have outdone themselves here, as I have never seen any team credit their quarterback for a fourth quarter win like this when the return score did all the work.

One could argue Plummer started his career in Arizona, so maybe they were working off bad information. A logical argument, but I have the evidence this isn’t the case.

This is the Denver Broncos’ 2006 media guide claiming in Plummer’s player bio that the Seattle game was Plummer’s 17th comeback. Note the list of games here. That game, listed appropriately in “other games of note” at the bottom, was on 9/15/2002.

If you put the game in chronological order, it would be the 17th game on that page. This is Denver calling all of Plummer’s fourth quarter wins comebacks, even though three of the games (4, 9, 15 on PFR) were just game-winning drives where Arizona never trailed in the fourth quarter. And of course counting the Seattle game is pure lunacy. Plummer never even took the field for the opportunity, let alone do anything to deserve the comeback/GWD.

The Denver bio goes on to say Plummer finished 2002 with 21 comeback victories, even though six of them weren’t actually comebacks for him.

Plummer joined the Broncos in 2003, and his lone comeback/GWD of the season was noted by Denver as being his first for the team and the “22nd of his career.”

In 2004, Plummer had four game-winning drives, but only one of them involved a comeback (Carolina game). This time Denver says that Plummer led “four fourth quarter or overtime game-winning or game-tying drives on the year” to increase his total to 26.

Where they really blow it is when they give Plummer credit for his 19th comeback victory twice in two different seasons (2002 and 2004). Fancy that with both coming against Carolina, but they are two different games set over two years apart.

What does it show? When he was with Arizona, Denver refused to consider the difference between a comeback and a GWD, and just called them all comebacks. When he joined the team, they tried to get cute with “pure” comebacks, but outsmarted themselves when it came time to keep track of the stuff.

The 10/10/2004 game against Carolina was not Plummer’s 19th comeback. It was his 17th. Even if we get dumb about it and count the 2002 Seattle game, then that’s 18, which still comes up one short.

In 2005, Plummer had a comeback (9/18/2005 vs. San Diego) and two game-winning drives, though nothing specifically mentions them.

If the 10/10/2004 Carolina game was the 19th “pure” comeback of Plummer’s career, and he had 21 through 2005, then that means Denver is counting either the 12/12/2004 game against Miami or 11/24/2005 game in Dallas as a “pure” comeback, despite the fact Denver never trailed in the fourth quarter either time.

That would explain the bogus 21 comebacks at the beginning of 2006. However, that means there was another change when Plummer actually did have a comeback in Week 2 over Kansas City, but the number remained at 21 comebacks. Game-winning drives went up to 29.

Sticking with 2006, after a game-winning drive over Baltimore, the Broncos now went with 22 comebacks and 30 game-winning drives.

Even though the graphic clearly states the teams were only tied 3-3 in the fourth quarter, they add one to Plummer’s comeback total. The 0-point “deficit” is a popular thing for the Broncos.

And that is one of the core factors in how they were able to fabricate a record for John Elway, and get away with it all these years. If they can’t even handle a few Jake Plummer games from the digital media era, then it’s no wonder they had such ridiculous numbers for Dan Marino the 1990s.

That is why pure ignorance like the following from the Denver Post in 1996 has been allowed to exist: “Despite what you’ve heard and saw again Monday night, Elway is the NFL’s king of comebacks, not Dan Marino. Elway has 41, Marino has 32.”

Why is this so hard for people? In the words of Denver’s own PR man Jim Saccomano from a 1996 Denver Post article:

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you’re either ahead or behind and you either won or you didn’t.

Nope, it doesn’t take a genius. It takes Captain Comeback. It takes someone willing to put in the effort and call out a team when they are indisputably wrong.

From the confines of my home, I have done my part to rewrite NFL history. My history does not stand for one team winning the semantics battle to falsify a record to make their Hall of Fame quarterback look better.

For once, I feel very optimistic about this 2012 season, and the next chapter in the crusade over comeback conspiracy. The darkest days are behind us. The hardest work has been finished. Now we wait for new history to unfold, and put the past behind us.

Pass the link, and spread the truth my friends.

Joining Reality to End Perception’s Dynastic Hold on the NFL

If conventional wisdom is what most people believe to be true, and if most people are stupid, then what does this say about conventional wisdom?

Writing an article that goes against the grain is one of the toughest things to do, but is also my favorite. This week has shown some good examples of that, and I’ll highlight some others I’ve done in the past.

Perception is one hell of a difficult thing to shake out of people’s minds. I like to dig into how these perceptions are built in the first place, and then expose them with the facts, or the reality of the situation.

So much of what happens early on in a player’s career shapes their long-term perception. Even if years go by and that player is far removed from his past success, the perception could still be so strong that they get a pass anyway.

For example, people still think Tom Brady is a great postseason QB, even though he hasn’t put together consecutive quality starts since his last Super Bowl win more than seven years ago.

Cam Newton instantly received a lot of hype in 2011 because he started the year with back-to-back 400-yard passing games. Never mind the fact Carolina lost both games or that Newton did not even play well against Green Bay, it was the simple fact that he had a ton of yardage (volume) as a rookie that made people go wild.

Problem is little did we know at the time that 2011 would be a record-setting season where passing yards were never gained at a higher rate. League records were set for 300-yard and 400-yard passing games, and three quarterbacks went over 5,000 yards. It was the season with the most points scored and highest yards per pass attempt since 1965. We didn’t know how badly the lockout would hurt the defenses.

But stats like passing yards will only take you so far. Super Bowl rings and playoff success still drive the biggest perceptions of players.

When Tony Romo bobbled the snap on the field goal in the 2006 Wild Card game at Seattle, he started a perception that follows him to this day.

Romo is known as a choker because most of his biggest failures have come in nationally televised games. It happened again at the start of last season when he lost to the New York Jets on Sunday Night Football. He fumbled and threw a late interception in the fourth quarter.

Romo is today’s player who “fails in the clutch every single time”, even though facts clearly show otherwise. He fares just as well as Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach did in similar situations for Dallas, but he doesn’t have rings like those players. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t have the teams they had either.

While a lot of the perception is a matter of selectively choosing what to remember, maybe the worst kind is using flat-out lies to build someone up.

How about when a team popularizes a stat for their quarterback, does not research it properly for other team’s quarterbacks, claims they have the record, and manages to shape  a legacy over it?

That happened in Denver.

Aaron Rodgers’ Hidden Flaw

Imagine being in the presence of the most beautiful woman in the world. But as you get closer and things are heating up, the dress rises and it’s The Crying Game all over again. She was hiding something deep between her legs all along.

That’s basically the equivalent of Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers.

Yesterday I wrote another article about Aaron Rodgers in the fourth quarter, and the stat that no one ever talks about in regards to Green Bay.

  • Aaron Rodgers is 3-18 (.143) at fourth quarter comeback opportunities.
  • Bill Kenney was 3-27 (.100), and may be the closest comparison in record.

Kenney is a forgotten Mr. Irrelevant from the 1980s Kansas City Chiefs. Rodgers is the league’s latest superstar QB.

Yet because he has one postseason that earned a ring (one-and-done the other two times), Rodgers gets the pass here.

Someone like NFL Network’s Jamie Dukes will even go as far as to say (multiple times on the air) that Rodgers had the best game of his MVP season in the Packers’ playoff loss to the Giants.

This is the same person that will remind you that Romo missed Miles Austin on a third-down pass against the Giants in December.

That night Romo played a fantastic game, a game that no other QB has lost with that kind of performance, and yet some will only focus on that one play.

It’s fine if certain players are held to different standards than others, but make sure players are still being held accountable. What you did a couple of years ago should not change the reality of how bad you screw up in the future.

I love writing articles in support of the players/teams getting unfair criticism. I love writing articles that take the shine off the overrated players/teams.

I will continue to call it like I see it, guided by the way of facts and real, tangible evidence.

If you’re curious about any other relevant, active quarterback with a record like Rodgers in the fourth quarter, well there’s this one to bring the week full-circle:

Cam Newton is 1-8 (.111) in fourth quarter comeback opportunities.