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Monday Night Football: Just Say No to Quarterback Records in Close Games

Earlier today, Colin Cowherd pointed out that Aaron Rodgers was only 7-13 in games decided by 7 points or less as a starter, and Greg Bedard tweeted that the Packers QB was 1-11 in games decided by 4 points or less. You can probably guess my position on this issue. 

I am opposed to assigning wins and losses to the quarterback.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t evaluate the things that the quarterback controls that lead to winning and losing, such as completing passes or avoiding interceptions and sacks.  Do good quarterbacks win more games than they lose as a group?  Sure they do.  Do they win more close games?  I haven’t specifically looked at it, but I’m guessing it’s not as clear cut.

I know you might be surprised to look at a list of coaching records in close games.  Vince Tobin (16-6) has the best record in games decided by 3 or less, just ahead of John Madden.  Let that soak in.  Chuck Noll (0.395), Dick Vermeil (0.412) and Bill Walsh (0.419) all had losing records in field goal games.  As Football Outsiders pointed out here, great teams aren’t defined by their ability to win close games, but rather, blow out opponents.  History is littered with teams that were “clutch” in the regular season, and lost close games in the playoffs.  (I witnessed several in the 1990’s at Arrowhead).

Since we apparently have to judge quarterbacks by their record, though, let’s bring it full circle to tonight’s game.  David Garrard was a below average 12-14 in games decided by a touchdown or less through 2008, during a time when the Jaguars were an above average team and had a winning record overall.  Over the last two seasons, when the Jags have been a worse team, his record has shot to 8-4 in close games.  Then there’s our knight in shining armor in the Quarterback Win-Loss game, Vince Young, who is the anti-Rodgers.  The Titans are 18-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less with Vince Young as starter.

To test whether there is anything to a quarterback’s ability to win close games, I took every quarterback who started at least 10 games in 7 or more seasons since 1990 (I would have used more quarterbacks, but as we will see, I think it would have made more work to get to the same point).  I then looked at their record in games decided by a touchdown or less in their first 3 full seasons as a starter (plus any other seasons in the interim where they were not full time starters yet), and then in their next 3.  I calculated the correlation coefficient between the close game winning percentage in the first 3 and next 3.

The result:  -0.03.

For those that may not remember correlation coefficient, that basically means that there is no relationship between the close game records of our quarterbacks in the first 3 seasons when compared to the next 3.  This, of course, makes perfect sense.  Quarterbacks don’t control their defenses, or their coaches decision making, or the special teams coverage teams or field goal kickers, or random bounces of the ball.  The worst records in the first three seasons were turned in by Steve McNair (6-11) and Warren Moon (5-8).  They went 14-6 and 11-7 respectively over the next three seasons in close games.  At the other end, Brady, Marino, Brad Johnson, Jim Harbaugh and John Elway had the best early records in close games.  The Patriots kept winning close ones, while the Dolphins defense fell apart and they started losing shootouts, Johnson and Harbaugh changed teams and regressed to the mean, and Elway was about .500 in the regular season from years 4 to 6.

One of these quarterbacks may get credit for another close win tonight, but you’ll know better than to attribute that to the quarterback solely.  While some quarterbacks may play better under pressure, remember kids, if someone offers you “clutch” with a side of win-loss records, Just Say No. [photo via Getty]

 

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