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Article:Rethinking "quarterback comebacks"

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In the interest of full disclosure, I will announce that I am a Cleveland Browns fan and always have been.  I have nothing but loathing for John Elway, although that in itself wasn't what triggered this.

See, I hate the word "clutch".  I think it goes back to when my truck's transmission went out a few years back thanks in part to a faulty clutch, but I digress.  I hate the term as it's used (and abused) in sports.  For one thing, it's the ultimate trump card, and in reality it's as dumb as "My dad can beat up your dad".  I have closely analyzed every single quarterback that has ever participated in both regular season and postseason games, and do you know how many I found that actually perform better (by a meaningful amount) in the postseason than regular season?  FIVE.  One of those only played four postseason games in his career, although this was back in the days when only division champions played for the title.

The actual evidence in football for the very existence of "clutch players", particularly quarterbacks, is scant at best.  The evidence in baseball is even worse.  So barring any sort of ability to demonstrate an actual improvement in play, most people will fall back on that other favorite, "fourth quarter comebacks".  It's also largely pointless, because it is the sports equivalent to a shocking political ad.  It's meant to stir up a particular image and inflame emotions while covering the dastardly truth.

If I hear of a "fourth quarter comeback", the first image is Montana-to-Clark, Montana-to-Taylor, Couch-to-Kevin Johnson (first win after coming back!), and so on.  Most people think of these when a comeback is mentioned.  And yet it's simply not the case.  The truth is that a quarterback that leads his team back from a deficit or tie in the fourth quarter is credited with a comeback.

This absolutely defies logic and common sense.  Tom Brady is credited with a comeback in Super Bowl XXXVI (against the Rams).  The Patriots had a 17-3 lead to start the fourth quarter, and Brady led them to a pair of three-and-outs that led to the Rams tying the game late.  So Brady basically gets a few yards on a final drive, then lets his kicker hit the winning field goal.  Is that a comeback?  Heck no!  And yet it's credited as an example of "clutch" and "grace under pressure" and "being able to bang professional skank Tara Reid".  The only difference between Brady in 2001 and Manning in 2005 is that Brady's kicker hit a field goal and let his quarterback be branded as "clutch" until the end of time, while Manning's kicker shanked the dog crap out of it and allowed Manning to be branded as a "choker".

I submit to you my guidelines for what actually constitutes a fourth-quarter comeback.

1) The eventual winning team is trailing at the time the winning drive is undertaken (no ties; you can't come back from a deficit that doesn't exist)

2) The time left when the drive is completed must be 5:00 or less

3) Scoring can be achieved one of the following ways:

a) The quarterback throws a touchdown pass

b) The quarterback runs for a touchdown

c) A touchdown scored by a running back can be of no more than seven yards (thus ensuring that if a running back hits the gap and runs for 65 yards with 4:45 left, the quarterback doesn’t get an inordinate amount of credit for it)

Arbitrary?  Yeah, but so what?  Under the current "comeback" system, a quarterback whose team is tied at 17 with 14:30 left in the game can hand off to his fullback, who scores on a 75-yard trap up the middle, and somehow the lucky SOB gets credited with a comeback.  Absurd!

As for the idea of removing field goals from the equation...well, they're already partially removed.  If a quarterback facing a 2-point deficit leads his team from his own 1 to the opponent's 1 to set up a chip shot with :01 left, he has really done his job.  The kicker hits it, the quarterback gets credited with a comeback.  The kicker misses it, the quarterback somehow is the goat.  Let's just remove the field goals entirely.

Let's look at the glorious career of one John Elway.  He's credited with 47 fourth-quarter comebacks as it stands under the current system.  Let's do some work and bring some intelligence and logic to this party though.

47 comebacks minus 7 (seven of these "comebacks" involved a "comeback" from a tie) 40 comebacks minus 15 (field goals converted; if all 15 were missed, Elway would have 25 anyway) 25 comebacks minus 5 (more than 5:00 remained when the score was made) 20 comebacks minus 2 (running back score of more than 7 yards; more specifically, 17 and 20)

So John Elway goes from 47 "comebacks" to 18 COMEBACKS.  Unfair?  I fail to see how.  If anything, this is bringing common sense to an area that's defied logic for so long.

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