The Clutch Enigma: Drew Brees, Part II

Drew Brees has performed tremendously in the postseason, as we discovered earlier this week. But the playoffs are not the only part of clutch play. Drew Brees has played in over 150 games, in over 11 seasons, and has only made five playoff appearances (9 games). In order to do that, we’ll once again look at the situational statistics. Although Brees performed the best of our four quarterbacks in the playoffs, how does he hold up in situational stats?

Season 1st Half 2nd Half Last 2 Mins Behind Behind by 1 Score Tied 4th Quarter 4QW7

Margin: 1 Possession

Total QB Rating
2002 76.3 77.3 49.1 75.3 77.6 85.2 73.7 78.5 85 73.6
2003 66.4 69.4 77.4 69.7 54.3 73.5 75.6 77.4 81 67.5
2004 104.8 104.7 92.9 91.6 60.5 114.5 110.8 109.3 93.9 104.8
2005 102 71.9 70.5 82.9 87.3 86.3 60.1 49.3 71.5 89.2
2006 91.8 99.2 121.1 87.7 101.2 98.8 93.3 91.6 89.6 96.2
2007 92.5 86.1 86.2 79.1 69 94.1 78.5 76.8 96.1 89.4
2008 90.7 102.9 83.4 86.8 71.5 88.4 95.3 91.9 91.4 96.2
2009 109.4 113.8 105.4 109.9 126.9 93.5 115.6 111.9 101.8 109.6
2010 92.1 89.7 73 84.8 83.3 108.6 85.4 93.9 97.1 90.9
2011 108.3 113.2 111.5 104.7 104.4 114.9 108.7 112.4 97.5 110.6
Totals 93.4 92.8 87.1 87.2 83.6 95.8 89.7 89.3 90.5 92.8

Note: Brees’ rookie season of 2001 is not included due to his only playing in one game.

As usual, the data is all over the place, which isn’t helped by Brees’ erratic career thus far. But, when we break down the data into particular sections, Brees compares favorably. 

In the 4QW7 category, Brees has had some ups and downs, but has performed admirably over the last three years:


Brees was pretty scattered during his early years, and went through a stretch from 2005-2008 where he truggled in clutch situations. Coincidentally, his teams struggled during those years, putting up mediocre win totals (9, 10, 7, and 8). Over the last three years however, Brees has done a great job of bringing his level of play right up to his usual excellence, even raising the bar a little. During that span, his teams have won 13, 11, and 13 games in the regular season, and won a Super Bowl in 2009.

So, how do we compare those results with the other quarterbacks in our study? Brees has the playoff edge on Manning, Roethlisberger, and Brady, but what about clutch play overall? 

Well, we’ve already established that Eli is the best among the quarterbacks at raising his play during these situations, having a positive difference between the his Total QB Rating and his 4QW7 rating every year except 2010. Brady is the worst among them, having negative ratings in every year but 2002-2003. Big Ben has mostly negative ratios, but the negatives aren’t nearly as pronounced as Brady’s are, and he does have some positives mixed in. So how does Brees fit in? 

Brees has 10 qualifying seasons, from 2002-2011. He had very good, positive ratios in his early years, but was aided because of his low numbers in 2002-2003. It is a lot easier to raise your play when you start out at a low number (see Eli Manning and Tom Brady’s early years). In 2004, Brees burst onto the scene with a breakout season, and teams were taken by surprise. The next season, teams began expecting greatness from Brees, and his overall play dipped. But what was more interesting was the incredible fall in clutch play, which was over 40 points lower in QB rating than his overall play. Perhaps the pressure of being a franchise quarterback was getting to Brees.

But, after signing with the Saints in 2006, Brees flourished under Sean Payton, and improved dramatically in 4QW7 ratings. Over the next five years, Brees’ play as a whole would get better and better, and his clutch play improved as well, resulting in three straight positive ratios from 2009-2011. 

In total here are the numbers for the four quarterbacks: 

Ratio of Positive to Negative Seasons in 4QW7 ratios:

E. Manning- 7:1

Brees- 6:4

Roethlisberger- 2:6

Brady- 2:8

Total Ratings Differential for Career Rating vs. Career 4QW7 (positive is better)

E. Manning: 1.71

Roethlisberger: -4.38

Brees: -4.7

Brady: -13.59

If the question is who is best at raising their play in clutch situations, I’d say it’s clear that Eli is the winner of the four, while Brady is the big loser. In terms of Brees vs. Roethlisberger, it’s a much closer choice, but I think Brees gets the edge. 

While Roethlisberger’s total career numbers are better, it’s really because of Brees’ terrible year in 2005 (worst among the four except for Brady’s -43.8 in 2009). That year skews the data a little bit, but when you look at it year by year it’s not even close. Brees has two bad years: -39.9 in 2005 and -12.6 in 2007. His other negative years (2008 and 2006) didn’t even get below -5, and every other year was positive. Roethlisberer has three years of worse than -15 (2005, 2006, 2010), and only has 3 positive years in his 8-year career. 

Now, even though that is the level at which the quarterbacks raise their level of play, that doesn’t mean that’s the one that you’d want playing. If a career 85 rating quarterback raises his level to 90, and a career 100 rating quarterback stays the same, you’d want the better quarterback in the game. 

For that, we just look at the overall career levels of 4QW7, instead of the difference between that and total QB rating. 

The rankings look a little different then: 

Career Rankings: 4QW7

Drew Brees: 89.3

Ben Roethlisberger: 87.7

Eli Manning: 83.8

Tom Brady: 82.8

Of course, this matches one’s entire career, where Brees has been the best clutch player overall. But how about recently, like 2008-2011?

2008-2011 4QW7

Drew Brees: 102.5

Eli Manning: 92.45

Ben Roethlisberger: 85.43

Tom Brady: 85.4

Recently, it’s clear that Brees has been the best player in the clutch, with Eli Manning coming in second. While Eli elevates his play more in these times, Brees is the better overall player, and it shows. However, we must remember that Brees is older, at this point in his career Brees would have been about 81.8 in clutch situations. 

But, as of now, Brees has shown himself to be a very good quarterback in the clutch, encompassing both the playoffs and clutch situations overall. Why he is not mentioned more in mainstream media is a farce. 

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.