The Clutch Enigma: Drew Brees, Part I

As part of our examination of clutch quarterback play, we’ve looked at Tom Brady, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger. Now, we move on to a man often overlooked in these discussions: Drew Brees. 

As we have with all of our quarterbacks, we will start with an examination of his playoff performances, and then proceed to situational statistics on Thursday. 

Reg. Season Games Comp. % Yds/Attempt Yds/Game TD % Int. % Sack % Rating


55.56% 8.19 221 3.70% 0% 6.9% 94.8
2002 16 60.84% 6.24 205 3.23% 3.04% 4.36% 76.9
2003 11 57.58% 5.92 192 3.09% 4.21% 5.57% 67.5
2004 15 65.50% 7.90 211 6.75% 1.75% 4.31% 104.8
2005 16 64.60% 7.15 224 4.80% 3.00% 5.12% 89.2
2006 16 64.26% 7.97 276 4.69% 1.99% 3.15% 96.2
2007 16 67.48% 6.78 276 4.29% 2.76% 2.40% 89.4
2008 16 65.04% 7.98 317 5.35% 2.68% 2.01% 96.2
2009 15 70.62% 8.54 293 6.61% 2.14% 3.75% 109.6
2010 16 68.09% 7.02 289 5.02% 3.34% 3.66% 90.9
2011 16 71.23% 8.33 342 7.00% 2.13% 3.52% 110.6
Totals 154 65.94% 7.44 265 5.13% 2.66%  3.66% 94


Playoffs Games Comp. % Yds/Attempt Yds/Game TD % Int. % Sack % Rating

2004 1 73.81% 7.60 319 4.76% 2.38% 4.55% 101.2
2006 2 58.02% 7.37 299 3.70% 1.23% 6.90% 88.3
2009 3 70.59 7.18 244 7.84% 0% 1.92% 117
2010 1 65.00% 6.73 404 3.33% 0% 1.64% 95.4
2011 2 68.22% 8.67 464 6.54% 1.87% 4.46% 110.1
Totals 9 66.84% 7.60 331 5.61% 1.02% 3.92% 103.9

One of the interesting thigns about Brees’ career is how much his displacement from San Diego to New Orlieans helped it. In San Diego, Brees showed flashes of ability, and even made it to the Pro Bowl in 2004. However, his value rose and fell year to year, even game to game. So, it’s hard to be mad at the Chargers for letting an inconsistent quarterback such as Brees go after a major shoulder surgery in 2005, especially considering the inconsistencies for Brees during the year that year. 

But, when Brees went to New Orleans to play under Sean Payton, he flourished. He became a perennial Pro Bowler, a player in the top 3-4 QBs every season. Before the Saints, Brees had never been a high-volume passer, never throwing for more than 3600 yards. Under Payton, Brees never threw under 4300. 

As interesting as it is, this article is about Brees’ playoff performances, not his career tendencies. Fortunately, this data is clear on that: Brees has played fantastic in the playoff. 

Looking at it game by game gives us the same picture. Brees only has one game with a rating under 90, a tough NFC Championship Game against the Bears in 2006, where he had a rating of 83.2. This was after all, the Bears defense who was 3rd in the league in points allowed, and second in DVOA. That game was the only game where Brees performed poorly in the fourth quarter as well, although he did have a couple minor gaffes during his first playoff game in 2004. 

Unlike the other quarterbacks we’ve looked at, Brees keeps his play from the regular season during the playoffs, not dropping dramatically or rising (although his level of play is high enough that raising it would be ridiculous):

BreesPlayoffsBut, if Brees is such a good playoff quarterback, then why is he so often overlooked when clutch quarterback play is discussed? 

Well, one reason is the sheer volume of playoff experiences. Brees has only reached the playoff five times in his 11 years, one less than Roethlisberger, and tied with Eli Manning (although Manning has 12 games to Brees’ 9), and those players have three less years in the league. In comparison to playoff regulars like Brady and Manning, Brees’ numbers are underwhelming. The other factor in those numbers is the timing. QB mantras and reputations, although usually wrong, have their roots in the early parts of a players life. Brees only made the playoffs once in his first five years in the league, where as  Eli and Big Ben took their teams 4 times in their first five years. So, Brees gets overlooked in the “playoff QB” discussion. 

Another reason why Brees is overlooked is his TEAMS’ lack of wins in the playoffs. Colts fans know this myth well, as we’ve had to fight it for years now. Unless a quarterback at least gets to Super Bowls, then his playoffs are seen as useless, and can even become a bad thing on a QBs resume. Brees is 5-4, and has only gotten to the conference championship twice, Super Bowl once. And again, those were later in his career. 

If we took a poll right now, among NFL fans across the country and around the world, who would rank as the better playoff quarterback: Eli Manning or Drew Brees? 

Odds are that Manning would rank higher. Yes, even though his completion percentage is over five points worse than Brees’. Yes, even though Brees’ YPA is better. Yes, even though Brees 22:4 TD to Int. ratio is far better than Eli’s 17:8 ratio. And yes, even though Eli’s career playoff rating is almost 15 points worse than Brees (89.3 to 103.9). 

But Eli has won two Super Bowls, and has that magical “clutch” factor. And Eli has done it more recently. And he’s done it in fantastically memorable fashion, with two dramatic comeback wins. 

And so, the myth continues. 

But I don’t believe in myths. So, I will continue to say that Eli Manning is a streaky playoff quarterback. I will also say that Eli Manning is pretty darn good in clutch situations as a whole. 

But, I will insist that Drew Brees is by far the better playoff quarterback. Unlike the other players we’ve seen, Brees doesn’t have the massive drops in production in the playoffs, keeping his high level of play in the post season. We don’t know yet if Brees’ play is good in the clutch overall (we’ll look at that on Thursday), but we can say that he is very good in the playoffs, and should be recognized as such. 

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.