ESPN Says Aaron Rodgers is Not Clutch Due to 5-24 Record When Trailing in 4th


Aaron Rodgers has a fatal flaw. When it comes to close games, the Packers lose too many when they have a chance to win. At ESPN Insider, Scott Kacsmar pointed out Rodgers’ failures in close games in saying that this should prevent him from being considered a top quarterback.

This comes on the heels of a wild game in Cincinnati, that saw the Bengals take the lead on a fumble on 4th down that was returned for a touchdown. Green Bay still had an opportunity to win the game, but Rodgers’ fourth down pass was tipped at the line, and Cincinnati won 34-30. The Packers fell to 1-2.

That loss put the Green Bay Packers at only 9-26 in games with a fourth quarter opportunity for a game-winning drive, and 5-24 when trailing in the fourth quarter with a chance to take a lead. That puts him in dead last among all the current and retired quarterbacks listed in the article.

I already put my thoughts on quarterback won-loss records in close games out there a few years ago, when the talk of Rodgers in close games came up. In that piece, I did a quick study and noted that the correlation coefficient in close games from years 1-3 to years 4-6 for the quarterbacks examined was basically zero. (The Packers are 8-6 in games decided by 7 or less since the start of 2011). Let’s set aside, though, whether this is likely to continue and whether Rodgers really does have some sort of flaw that leads to performance in close games.

This part caught my eye:

Of course, some of the 26 losses speak well for him. He has put Green Bay ahead seven times in the fourth quarter when trailing, only for the team to go on to lose the game. The defense is certainly deserving of blame for this.

Green Bay has allowed 20 game-winning drives since 2008, which is third-most in the league over that span. Last season, there was the Hail Mary to Seattle’s Golden Tate  on that game’s final play. In Week 1 this year, Aaron Rodgers led the Packers to a 28-24 lead, only to watch Colin Kaepernick and the Niners score the game’s last 10 points for a San Francisco win.

While it’s been a team problem, all quarterbacks have close losses in which the defense failed them. The difference — in comparison to Rodgers — is that they always seem to have more wins, too.

I went through the other active quarterbacks listed (Manning, Manning, Brady, Brees, Ryan, Roethlisberger, Flacco, Rivers, Romo and Cutler) to see how many failed game winning drives they had, where they would have been credited, but for the opponent responding with a score. Basically, I wanted to see how often other quarterbacks lost out on failed game-winning drives when the defense gave up points.

So, here you go. As it turns out, Rodgers and the Packers have won only 9 of the 16 games he has been the QB for a go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. That’s pretty bad. The other quarterbacks all won between 75% (Flacco) and 96% (Peyton Manning) of games they took a lead in the fourth quarter. The average was 84% winning percentage when scoring go ahead points in the fourth.

I list the actual winning percentage (taken from Kacsmar’s piece) and an adjusted percentage that hypothetically assumes all quarterbacks were failed by the defense equally, as well as the percentage of games won by the quarterback’s team after leading a potential game winning fourth quarter drive.

So, while Rodgers is down at the bottom of the list, if Green Bay had maintained leads at the same rate as the other elite quarterbacks, he would be ahead of Rivers, and a lot closer to Romo, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees. Some of maintaining the lead can fall on the QB – like picking up a key third down with the lead and not turning it over. A lot of it involves other factors like the defense, coaching, and luck.

How has Rodgers played late in close games? Here is a summary (from the pro-football-reference play finder) of the numbers for each of the eleven quarterbacks in the article, since 2008 (when Rodgers became the starter), in the final five minutes of a game when trailing by 8 or less, or tied.

That list is sorted by passer rating, and Rodgers is second. The poor record in close games is shocking given his overall caliber of play in the final five minutes compared to other elite quarterbacks. What are we missing? Ordering of plays and a few key moments, special teams and field position, running game contribution, luck, and the defense.

So far, while Rodgers’ close game record has not been great, it also involves a lot more than him. If his teams were holding leads like New England has for most of Brady’s career, we probably would not be reading about him today.