Detroit Lions: The definitive Matthew Stafford clutch stat

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Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Using a relatively new statistic to determine exactly how clutch Matthew Stafford has been with the game on the line for the Detroit Lions.

Matthew Stafford has led the NFL in game winning drives three separate times during his decade plus as the Detroit Lions quarterback. His ever-growing collection of fourth quarter comebacks (28) is well beyond his years, and ranks among some of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.

So why is his ‘clutch gene’ still up for debate with some critics? What else is needed to prove that postseason success or not, there are statistically very few people that you’d rather have with the game on the line than Matthew Stafford?

The official measures used by Pro Football Reference to determine what counts as a ‘fourth quarter comeback’ and a ‘game winning drive’ are admittedly pretty loose. A comeback happens with “an offensive scoring drive in the fourth quarter (or overtime) with the team trailing by one score”. As long as their team wins or ties, the comeback stands,  no matter how much time was left or how many points the team eventually wins by.

‘Game winning drives’ is even shakier. While conjuring images of John Elway marching 98 yards in a two minute drill with the NFL Films music playing in the background, the true definition at Pro Football Reference is “an offensive scoring drive in the fourth quarter or overtime that puts the winning team ahead for the last time.”

By that definition, Quarterback X gets credit for a game winning drive, even in the following scenario:

  • X’s team blocks a punt and recovers it inside the five, with 14:56 remaining in regulation and trailing 3-0.
  • X hands it to his running back, who scores on the next play.
  • X’s team picks off a pass on the following drive and takes it the house.
  • X gets injured, but his backup Quarterback Y tosses a 50 yard touchdown one drive later.
  • Final score is 21-3, Quarterback X does next to nothing, but gets credited with both a game winning drive and a fourth quarter comeback.

The above scenario is obviously a little extreme, but there are plenty of weak real life examples out there as well. For instance, Stafford gets credit for both a comeback and a game winning drive in a pretty forgettable 31-17 win over Cleveland in 2013. Sure, he was hot in the final frame (two touchdown passes and a field goal drive), but this is hardly the type of last second white knuckle adventure commonly associated with the two terms.

For another example of ‘comeback’ and ‘game winning drive’ being stretched to their absolute breaking point, consider that Aaron Rodgers gets credit for both in a 48-25 win over the 2008 Lions (yes, those 2008 Lions).  The Packers got up 21-0, stopped playing for a few quarters, found themselves trailing 25-24 for about half a second in the fourth quarter, and then rattled off 24 straight to end the game. Game winning drive? Comeback? Please.

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