Nothing is much more gripping in sports than a late do-or-die drive with the game on the line. My eyes are usually glued to the screen when one play can be the difference between a win and a loss.
We've seen a ton of clutch opportunities in 2022, a year where the NFL is collectively on pace to break single-season records for close games and game-winning drives.
There aren't a ton of numbers to support clutch debates, though. Game-winning drives is a fascinating stat, but has serious limitations. It's actually possible to be credited with a game-winning drive with nothing but a kneel down. And, of course, if your defense gets stops at the end of the game, it's more likely to hold a lead, and therefore increases the likelihood of its quarterback recording a game-winning drive.
With that in mind, I introduce the Clutch QB Index. I'm not tackling the all-time clutch QB debate, which often comes down to championships in people's minds. Instead, I seek to answer who is the most clutch QB in the NFL right now based on what they've done in their careers, and what they've done lately.
Clutch QB Index Criteria
1. QB conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in fourth quarter/OT. (How often does a QB successfully bring his team down the field to tie or take the lead?)
2. Passer rating in fourth quarter/OT of one-possession game. (How well does a QB play in crunch time?)
Both components are split by career, playoff and 2022 performance and weighted equally.
Again, one thing these rankings don't include is championships, so you can save your Tom Brady "seven rings" argument. More on that later. There's also only 31 QBs in the rankings because I'm looking at qualified starting QBs and Jets' signal-caller Mike White hasn't had enough clutch chances.
Week 12 Takeaways
It was a wild weekend with four teams winning on Sunday after trailing by a touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation (Browns, Jaguars, Chargers, Raiders), the most in a single day in NFL history. It also meant lots of activity in the rankings:
- Josh Allen and the Bills got the ball back in a tie game on Thanksgiving with 23 seconds left and Allen proceeded to throw a dart into triple coverage to Stefon Diggs for 36 yards. There's only a select few quarterbacks who can pull off a late comeback with a throw like that. Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, and now Allen, are at the top of that list.
- Trevor Lawrence has arrived! Sunday's comeback against the Ravens was the signature moment of his young career. He was 15 of 19 for 173 yards, two touchdowns and a successful two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. The touchdown to set up the two-point try was also an unbelievable throw. That was Jacksonville's first win in 26 years when down a touchdown in the final two minutes. Add it all up, and Lawrence moved up five spots here.
- Joe Burrow didn't have Ja'Marr Chase or Joe Mixon in Week 12, but he did have Trenton Irwin! On third-and-12 in a tie game in the fourth quarter, Burrow completed a perfectly thrown back-shoulder fade to undrafted wide receiver Trenton Irwin of all people. Give Irwin credit, too, for the nice snag. It was his first catch of the game and seventh of the season. Burrow followed that up with a deep ball touchdown to Tee Higgins on that next play. Big win, big throws by Burrow without his best option. He moves up two spots to fourth here.
- Kirk Cousins and the Vikings won another close game improving to 8-0 in one-score games this year. I give Justin Jefferson a lot of credit for drawing three defenders on Adam Thielen's game-winning touchdown reception (and blame the Patriots' special teams for a penalty to extend the drive), but also credit Cousins for coming through again. Doing so in prime time, and against Bill Belichick's defense is a tall order.
- And props to Jacoby Brissett for the Browns' dramatic comeback win against the Buccaneers. Brissett threw a nice ball to David Njoku to tie the game in the closing seconds in regulation before winning in overtime. Quite a way for Brissett to go out, with an improbable win against his former teammate, Brady, before handing the keys to Deshaun Watson. Watson takes over the starting QB job this week and lands at No. 2 in the rankings here. More on that later.
- Kyler Murray and the Cardinals were on the wrong end of the Chargers' fateful two-point conversion on Sunday, but you could argue it shouldn't have even gotten to that point. Murray threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to James Conner early in the fourth quarter, but then Arizona went three-and-out on its next three drives. Los Angeles had chance after chance and finally capitalized. It's not all on Murray. There was a drop or two and conservative play-calling from Kliff Kingsbury as well, but just one first down might have kept the Chargers from getting their final chance. Murray is down to 27th in these rankings.
- Tom Brady threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to Ko Kieft in the third quarter, but then it all fell apart. Tampa Bay's final eight drives: 0 points, seven punts, one failed Hail Mary. It was Brady's first career loss, including playoffs, with a seven-plus point lead in the final two minutes of regulation. He was 218-0 before Sunday. He falls five spots to 13th in the index.
- Tampa Bay is still in first place in the NFC South because Marcus Mariota and the Falcons fell just short in Washington. Mariota threw a decisive pick on a ball tipped by Daron Payne near the goal line with a chance to give the Falcons a last-minute lead. Mariota drops three spots to 23rd.
- Mac Jones is 0 for 9 on game-tying/go-ahead drive opportunities in the fourth quarter and overtime this year, the worst 0-fer in the NFL. He escaped criticism for his lack of heroics against the Jets, thanks to Zach Wilson's shortcomings and Marcus Jones' game-winning punt return touchdown. It was hard to miss on Thanksgiving, though. Sure, Jones threw for a career-high 382 yards, but the Patriots failed to score on four drives in the fourth quarter of a tight game
Tua Tagovailoa Miami Dolphins QB
|Tua has converted on 11-of-14 career game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in the fourth quarter/OT and his career passer rating in the fourth quarter/OT of a one-score game is 125.4. Both are the best career numbers of any current starting QB. He's backed up the numbers with big plays late in victories over the Bills and Ravens this season. He also hasn't trailed (or even been tied) in the fourth quarter of a game since Week 3 vs the Bills, so it'll be interesting to see if he can stay No. 1 as Miami faces five teams with winning records in its final six games. P.S., another reason we shouldn't be too shocked to see Tua at No. 1 ... remember when he threw a walk-off touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith in the National Championship game after coming off the bench? Big moments clearly don't phase Tua.|
Deshaun Watson Cleveland Browns QB
|Watson debuts at No. 2 in the rankings after he's converted on 45% of his game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in his career, fifth in the NFL. He has a sizzling 117.8 passer rating in late, close situations -- second in the NFL -- and it's nearly perfect (149.1) in the playoffs. He's one spot ahead of Mahomes in the rankings as Mahomes has thrown two costly INT's late this season, and Watson has yet to log a snap in 2022. We'll see how he performs down the stretch.|
Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs QB
|Mahomes has converted on at least 60% of his game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in both the regular season and the playoffs. His regular season rate ranks second behind Tua. His playoff rate is best in the NFL. After costly late picks in losses to the Colts and Bills this year he's bounced back in a huge way with comeback wins against the Titans and Chargers. (-1)|
Joe Burrow Cincinnati Bengals QB
|He lived up to the nickname "Joe Cool" with huge comebacks capped by game-winning drives in both wins against the Chiefs and "Mr. Clutch" Patrick Mahomes last season. And he'll have a chance for a three-peat on Sunday when Cincinnati hosts the Chiefs. He's delivered in the clutch this season with game-winning drives against the Saints and, most recently, the Titans. He ranks third in the league in passer rating in late, close situations this season, and leads the NFL in EPA per dropback in the clutch. (+2)|
Josh Allen Buffalo Bills QB
|Allen ranks seventh in conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drives in his career (43%), but has had a mixed performance in the clutch this season. He led late game-winning drives in Baltimore and Kansas City, fell short against the Jets and Vikings, followed by a masterpiece finish in Detroit. He dropped one spot in the standings because Watson debuted at No. 2, bumping several others down a spot. (-1)|
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers QB
|Rodgers doesn't get the clutch credit quite like Brady because of his one ring, but his career conversion rates in the regular season (42%) and playoffs (56%) are both virtually identical to Brady's. Look no further than late playoff drives against the Cardinals and Cowboys to see why they are so high. He's been average in the clutch this year, or else he'd crack the top five. (-3)|
Lamar Jackson Baltimore Ravens QB
|Jackson has the third-best conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in his career (51%), but isn't higher in the rankings after costly late INTs against the Giants and Bills this year. The Ravens' Week 12 loss to Jacksonville illustrates why Baltimore's blown leads this year aren't all on Jackson, though. He threw a beautiful 62-yard pass to DeSean Jackson on Sunday leading to the Ravens' go-ahead touchdown. However, Baltimore coughed up the lead and has surprisingly allowed the most fourth-quarter points in the entire league in 2022. (+3)|
Kirk Cousins Minnesota Vikings QB
|Cousins career ranks are average, but he's delivered time and time again this year. He is 9 for 11 on game-tying/go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter/overtime this season, the best conversion rate of any QB in the league with at least five chances. His passer rating in late, close situations this year is over 100. (-1)|
Matt Ryan Indianapolis Colts QB
|Ryan has one of the better clutch resumes in league history. His nickname is Matty Ice after all. He has been one of the clutchest QBs in the league this season, with the fourth-highest passer rating in the fourth quarter of one-score games and the most go-ahead touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. He hasn't delivered in his last two games as Indianapolis has blown back-to-back fourth-quarter leads, so he's slipped a bit in the rankings. (-4)|
Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys QB
|Dak came up empty in his first chance in the clutch this season, failing to lead Dallas on go-ahead drives late in Green Bay. His career conversation rate on game-tying/go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter and OT is ninth in the league, though, which is why he cracks the top 10 here. (+1)|
Derek Carr Las Vegas Raiders QB
|Carr's career is full of thrilling late comebacks. His career conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drives (42%) ranks eighth among current starters and is actually nearly identical to Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. He hasn't been at his best this season, but things are starting to turn around. He's 7 of 24 converting game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in the fourth quarter/OT in 2022 and Las Vegas in 2-6 in one-score games. Las Vegas has won back-to-back OT games and Carr helped force OT in Seattle on Sunday with a perfectly lofted ball to Foster Moreau to tie the game. (+4)|
Jimmy Garoppolo San Francisco 49ers QB
|Garoppolo ranking ahead of Tom Brady here feels like a crime. However, Garoppolo's career passer rating in late, close games ranks fourth in the NFL. He's also been better in the clutch this year in a limited capacity, such as the 49ers' Week 10 comeback against the Chargers. Still, the playoff gap is as wide as the Grand Canyon. The perception of Garoppolo won't change until he performs in the playoffs after the 49ers blew double-digit fourth-quarter leads to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV and Rams in the 2021 NFC Championship game. Garoppolo and Brady meet for the first time in Week 14; perhaps they can settle this score (and some others) then. (-3)|
Tom Brady Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB
|TB12 is arguably the clutchest QB of all time, besides maybe Joe Montana. He ranks behind only Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers in playoff conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances (56%). These rankings don't take Super Bowl rings into account and seek to answer the question who is the clutchest right now, and Brady's 2022 isn't doing him any favors. Hard to believe he's just 2 for 15 (13%) this season converting game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in the fourth quarter and OT, including several missed chances against the Browns that dropped him five spots in the rankings. (-5)|
Jalen Hurts Philadelphia Eagles QB
|Hurts is second in the NFL in passer rating in the fourth quarter/OT of a one-score game this year and we know what he can do with his legs. His career numbers are still middle of the road, but he's moving up the board with a breakout season. (-2)|
Matthew Stafford Los Angeles Rams QB
|Stafford is always on the top of the game-winning drives lists and his career conversion rates are near league average. We saw what he could do last postseason, though, which has him flirting with the top 10 here. (-1)|
Ryan Tannehill Tennessee Titans QB
|Tannehill's career ranks are near league average, but he's 0-5 in the playoffs with a chance to tie or take the lead late, including last year's playoff loss to the Bengals. He was outdueled by Burrow in the clutch in Week 12 as well. (+1)|
Jared Goff Detroit Lions QB
|All eyes were on Goff and the Lions on Thanksgiving and he sort of delivered. He threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to D.J. Chark in the fourth quarter and later put Detroit in position to kick the game-tying field goal before Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs' did their thing. He moves up five spots in the rankings after going 2 for 2 on late chances last week, but if you were watching you saw he missed an opportunity to win the game late. He missed an open Lions receiver on what probably would have been a touchdown if he puts the deep ball where it needed to be. At the end of the day, the Bills won because Allen made a huge throw late and Goff missed his chance. (+5)|
Russell Wilson Denver Broncos QB
|Wilson has among the most game-winning drives in the league since entering the NFL in 2012, but ranks middle of the pack in career conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drives. His struggles have been well documented in 2022, and that's carried over to the clutch, too. Late interceptions in losses to the Colts and Titans have been particularly costly. (-5)|
Justin Herbert Los Angeles Chargers QB
|The Chargers have played four straight close games with mixed results: a win in Atlanta, losses to the 49ers and Chiefs, followed by Sunday's thriller in the desert. Herbert came through against the Cardinals, but he was lucky to have the chance after the Chargers punted on their first three drives of the fourth quarter. His career conversion rate (43%) late in games is seventh in the NFL, but he's 12th this season and his passer rating in the fourth quarter/OT of a one-score game is just 75.7 in 2022, 16th in the league. (-1)|
Andy Dalton New Orleans Saints QB
|Dalton's career numbers are below average, but he ranks middle of the pack here after successfully converting on 3-of-6 game-tying/go-ahead drive chances in the fourth quarter/OT this year. (-1)|
Daniel Jones New York Giants QB
|Jones is the reason you can't use GW drives alone to determine a player's clutchness. Earlier this year he set a record for the most GW drives (five) through seven games of a season in NFL history, but his passer rating is 57.16 in the fourth quarter of one-score games this year. He hasn't made challenging throws in the clutch this season. His 10 completions on five GW drives have traveled a grand total of 25 air yards. (-5)|
Geno Smith Seattle Seahawks QB
|Geno's career revival hasn't translated into many clutch opportunities this year, but if he keeps performing like he did late in a Week 8 win vs. the Giants, he'll be moving up the rankings. (+1)|
Marcus Mariota Atlanta Falcons QB
|Mariota's career conversion rate (41%) on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances ranks 13th among current starters just behind Tom Brady. Once upon a time he led a miraculous playoff comeback win in Kansas City. He dropped three spots in the rankings this week after his late interception against the Commanders. (-3)|
Kyle Allen Houston Texans QB
|Allen debuts at No. 24 after getting a crack at the Texans' starting job following Davis Mills' benching. He's been below average in the clutch in limited career opportunities.|
Trevor Lawrence Jacksonville Jaguars QB
|Lawrence catapaults six spots up the leaderboard after Sunday's thrilling win against the Ravens. He's now played three straight solid games, which has also carried over into the clutch. (+6)|
Taylor Heinicke Washington Commanders QB
|Heinicke is keeping the Commanders' starting QB job with Carson Wentz healthy enough to return. He's had his moments in the clutch this year, like an improbable comeback against the Colts, but his fourth-quarter interception into double coverage against the Eagles could have easily cost Washington the game. He has the second-worst career conversion rate (26%) on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances late in games, ahead of only rookie Kenny Pickett. (-2)|
Kyler Murray Arizona Cardinals QB
|Murray drops a spot in the rankings after the Cardinals went three-and-out on three straight drives before the Chargers' game-winning score on Sunday. He also mismanaged the end of the loss to the Eagles this year and ranks 26th in career conversion rate on game-tying/go-ahead drive chances (32%). (-1)|
Mac Jones New England Patriots QB
|Jones is 0 for 9 on game-tying/go-ahead drive opportunities in the fourth quarter and overtime this year, the worst 0-fer in the NFL. He didn't get the Patriots offense moving late against the Jets and Vikings in the last two weeks and threw a bad, late interception off his back foot against the Ravens earlier this year. (-1)|
Sam Darnold Carolina Panthers QB
|Darnold has the second-worst passer rating in late, close games (54.8) for his career among current starters, better than only rookie Kenny Pickett. (+1)|
Justin Fields Chicago Bears QB
|He may be emerging as a star quarterback, but has yet to make an impact in the clutch. The Bears are 5-18 on game-tying/go-ahead drive conversions in the fourth quarter and overtime this year. They've lost six straight games that have been decided by one possession. Fields has the worst passer rating in the final five minutes of regulation this year (31.4). (-2)|
Kenny Pickett Pittsburgh Steelers QB
|Pickett remains in last place in our rankings even after leading a go-ahead touchdown drive on "Monday Night Football" against the Colts. He's only converted on 2-of-9 chances to tie or take the lead late this year and has a 45.7 passer rating in late, close games, which is worst in the league.|