Has Matthew Stafford lost his late game mojo?

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is well known throughout the league for his late game heroics, but it’s been a while for the 11-year pro.

It’s the games that every fan remembers, when the Detroit Lions and their quarterback Matthew Stafford are down by a score late in the fourth quarter. With his back against the wall, number nine in Honolulu blue proceeds to lead his team to victory in last-minute dramatic fashion.

Pro Football Reference credits Stafford with 28 fourth quarter comebacks which is tied for 11th most in the history of the National Football League. He completed eight fourth quarter comebacks during the 2016 campaign, which is the most ever in single season. In an ideal world, a good quarterback and a good football team would take a lead in the first quarter and never relinquish it, but as all football fans know, that’s just not realistic.

Stafford also ranks 13th all time for successfully completing 34 game winning drives according to Pro Football Reference. Different from fourth quarter comebacks, game winning drives do not require trailing your opponent in the fourth quarter. This stat does not count games won on special team touchdowns, defensive touchdowns, or other scenarios that don’t include the quarterback.

The most recent fourth quarter comeback on Stafford’s record was week one in 2019 against the Arizona Cardinals. The Lions collapsed after leading 24-6 in that game and found themselves tied at 24 by the end of regulation. The Cardinals kicked a field goal on their first drive in overtime to take a 27-24 lead, and Stafford led his team to match it, thus a “comeback”. The game resulted in a tie.

The most recent game winning drive attributed to Stafford was week two in 2019 versus the Los Angeles Chargers. The Lions trailed the Chargers 10-6 when Stafford hit Kenny Golladay for the go-ahead touchdown with 7:28 left to go in the fourth quarter. Later on, trailing 10-13 Los Angeles was driving on Detroit’s 28-yard line with 1:10 to go when Philip Rivers’ pass was intercepted by cornerback Darius Slay.

I don’t think that either of the two situations should count towards a fourth quarter comeback or a game winning drive respectively. Getting credit for blowing a lead and salvaging a tie is hardly praise worthy. Likewise, scoring to take a lead with more than seven minutes to play isn’t exactly a dagger that the opposition can’t come back from.

I spent the time to analyze the data and created a new statistic and named it, clutch game winning drives. I eliminated fourth quarter comebacks that didn’t equate to wins, and only counted game winning drives that scored within four minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Stafford has 24 clutch game winning drives in his career.

For comparisons sake, Peyton Manning is the NFL all time leader with 54 game winning drives in the regular season, 29 of which (according to me) would be considered clutch. Drew Brees is second all time with 50 game winning drives and of those, 32 are clutch.

While Stafford’s end of game prowess is impressive, Matthew hasn’t had a clutch game winning drive since December 10, 2017. Since then, he has started 27 games with a 11-15-1 record. Which begs the question, is there any magic remaining in the right arm of number nine?

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This Lions team, which missed Stafford for the second half of last season, led 14 out of 16 games and only won three. Detroit has a plethora of needs to fill this offseason, none more important than Matthew Stafford regaining his late game mojo.