Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may not have been an elite performer right out of the gate to start his NFL career—the team’s tremendous success early on was tied mostly to a stellar run of defensive performances—but one facet that he instantly grasped early on in his career was the ability to sense, and to seize, the moment, to rise up and perform when necessary.
In other words, we are referring here to the somewhat ephemeral notion of ‘clutch’ ability, the tendency of a player to come through at the last moment when the delineation between victory and defeat is made clear: perform the task and win, or don’t and lose.
In terms of the game of football, this comes in the form of fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives, which, while obviously heavily invested in a full team effort—receivers have to get open and catch the balls, and defenses have to stop the other team from scoring more—are designated unofficially to quarterbacks.
And when it comes to the current makeup of the league, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to find Roethlisberger high up on the list of clutch quarterbacks around the NFL. This is just where we found him recently during an NFL Network segment, in which former NFL quarterback David Carr placed him in the number three spot, behind Eli Manning of the Giants and Tom Brady of the Patriots.
Before you lose your composure over the inclusion of Manning on this list—especially after last season’s Giants frequently managed to lose late fourth-quarter leads—it would be helpful to put some numbers to this, and fortunately, we have those numbers courtesy of Pro Football Reference.
Among active players, Roethlisberger and Manning are currently tied for career fourth-quarter comebacks, with each of them compiling 27 of them during their 12-year careers. They share second place, in fact, with the pole position commanded handily by Brady with 37 fourth-quarter comebacks. This, at least, makes the strong case that Brady is where he belongs on the list.
In terms of game-winning drives, we once again find Brady handily at the top with 48, followed by Drew Brees in second with 38. Roethlisberger is just one behind solely in third place with 37 game-winning drives, and Manning is fourth on the active list with 33.
But what about recency? Both Manning and Roethlisberger recorded two comeback performance last season, but Roethlisberger has had three apiece in each of the prior three seasons. Manning had just one in 2014, two in 2013, and three in 2012.
In 2011, however, he had a phenomenal run of late-game success, leading the Giants to eight game-winning drives and fourth-quarter comebacks (they usually, but do not always, go hand-in-hand).
How about playoffs? Roethlisberger had one of the great game-winning drives in Super Bowl history in Super Bowl XLIII, starting with a safety, then a hold, and then ending with what should have been the game-winning touchdown pass, only to have to make an even better throw the next play.
Manning, of course, had two impressive game-winning drives in Super Bowls of his own, earning Super Bowl MVP honors for both. And both came against very impressive New England teams, helmed by Brady. So I guess when you topple the most clutch quarterback in the league, twice, on the biggest stage, with your own clutch performance, you get a bit of a nudge.