Week 9 brought out the best in veteran quarterbacks, and Tom Brady proved again Sunday night why he’s still one of the most clutch players under center.
Tied at 17 entering the fourth quarter against the Packers, Brady took advantage of Green Bay’s costly errors and put the game away down the stretch. The 41-year-old was flawless in the final frame, completing all six of his pass attempts for 104 yards, a touchdown and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
- LATEST ANALYSIS
▶ Pack loss among 5 most humbling of week
▶ Rodgers irked by Brady’s more complete Pats
▶ Chadiha: Steelers bully Ravens
▶ Texans’ Thomas rips former team
▶ Trotter: Swaggering Saints hand Rams first loss
If it feels like Brady plays great in crunch time on the regular, it’s because he does. He ranks second all time in fourth-quarter comebacks (35), behind only Peyton Manning (41), and fourth all time on game-winning drives (44). He’s not the only active quarterback in the top 15 in each of these categories, though. Joining him on the NFL’s all-time fourth-quarter comebacks list are Drew Brees (fifth with 31), Ben Roethlisberger (seventh with 30) and Eli Manning, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford (all tied for 11th with 26). These same six players hold top-15 spots in the NFL’s all-time game-winning drives list.
This season is a bit of a different story, as Brees is the only QB of the aforementioned six who has a notable number of game-winning drives or comebacks. Brees and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton have each orchestrated four game-winning drives, while Houston’s Deshaun Watson follows with three. All three of these QBs have had a trio of fourth-quarter comebacks in 2018, while Jared Goff, Case Keenum, Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers each have two.
That said, Week 9’s matchups got me thinking about clutch quarterback play and who I’d want if the game was on the line. Here are my five most-clutch QBs in 2018:
1) Tom Brady: The factor that works the most in his favor here is his 19 years of experience — and all with the same head coach. No active quarterback has been in the same system as long and evolved with that system like Brady’s done with the Patriots. Like all sports greats, the game slows down for Brady in big moments. The five-time Super Bowl champion has the ability to stay extremely calm while also staying extremely competitive, which allows him to perform at a high level under pressure. He doesn’t let the emotion of the game get to him, even on the biggest stage.
2) Drew Brees: If Brady is 1A, then Brees is 1B. Brees actually ranks one spot above Brady on the NFL’s all-time game-winning drives list. One thing that separates Brees from Brady is accuracy. When I was younger, I watched Troy Aikman, to learn from his accurate passing and precision. As accurate as the Cowboys great was, I think Brees has taken it to another level. The 39-year-old’s ability to decipher a defense, then put the ball in the exact spot it should be in, is the best I’ve ever seen. In crunch time, a quarterback only gets a certain amount of chances to advance the ball. Sometimes Brady misses those throws. Brees doesn’t.
3) Aaron Rodgers: Mike McCarthy’s system has held Rodgers back with his old-school, West Coast-style offense. Honestly, Bill Walsh or Steve Mariucci could start calling plays this week, and the Packers’ offense would look exactly the same. Green Bay is often too predictable — UNTIL Rodgers hits the "unpredictability" button. Rodgers can buy time and create something out of nothing if the initial play isn’t there. He does it better than anyone, and we’ve seen it a thousand times. If the Packers don’t have Rodgers, they are 4-12 every year. That’s how good he is.
4) Patrick Mahomes: The second-year pro is a younger version of Rodgers. Although Mahomes isn’t as accurate or consistent, he has a bigger arm and more play-making ability. I know what you’re thinking: Wait! A stronger arm and more play-making ability than Aaron "Hail Mary" Rodgers? Yes! We’ve seen his 80-yard heave last spring and what he’s been able to do in Kansas City as a first-year starter. His talent and ability check all of the boxes, but the one thing I love most about this kid is he is absolutely fearless. There’s no situation he is afraid of, and I want that in my quarterback if the game is on the line — win or lose.
5) Philip Rivers: The Chargers veteran is one of the most competitive players in the league. You can see the visible influence he has on his teammates over on the sideline and on the field. It feels as if the Chargers — especially this year’s version — are never out of a game. That is partly due to that competitive drive. It also stems from Rivers’ downfield accuracy. There’s no limit to Rivers’ range and ability to stretch the field, so Los Angeles can always rely on his right arm in any situation.
Each week in the 2018 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season’s efforts. Now, let’s get to it — the Week 10 pecking order is below.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.
We’re nine weeks into the 2018 season and Todd Gurley no longer holds the No. 1 spot. Gurley and Mahomes have been neck-and-neck for several weeks and Sunday’s performances gave me the go-ahead to switch them. Mahomes had himself another memorable day with a career-high 375 passing yards against the Browns. Through nine weeks, the second-year pro leads the league in passing yards (2,901) and passing touchdowns (29). Don’t expect his production to drop in Week 10 against the Cardinals.
In a game featuring the two best running backs in the NFL, I’d say Alvin Kamara won the day as Gurley having one of his least productive games this season (13 carries for 68 yards and a TD; six receptions for 11 yards). The Rams back is still having a heck of a season, though, and there’s no question he’s still the top overall RB in 2018.
Brees’ Saints edged Jared Goff’s Rams in a game that featured 737 combined passing yards. The veteran QB kept his name in the MVP conversation with a four touchdown day and one of his best outings of the year.
Tom Brady nor Aaron Rodgers were great in their hyped up Sunday night clash. An improved Packers defense limited a Patriots’ passing attack that was without Rob Gronkowski, but Brady did a good job avoiding pressure by getting rid of the ball quickly (time to throw: 2.43 seconds, lowest in a game by Brady this season). As I mentioned above, Brady is so good at making adjustments when faced with challenges.
Rodgers, whose Packers are 0-4 on the road, wasn’t able to get a true chance at a late comeback after the Patriots put the game away following Aaron Jones’ fourth-quarter fumble. Rodgers played well — not great — but the Patriots were the better team.
The Rams didn’t have an answer for Kamara, who finished with 82 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries and 34 receiving yards and a TD on four catches. It was his third game this season with three scrimmage touchdowns.
Thielen’s streak of consecutive 100-yard receiving games ended at eight Sunday afternoon, as he had just four catches for 22 yards against Detroit. He did, however, notch his sixth straight game with a touchdown reception, one game shy of the single-season franchise record set by Randy Moss in 1998 and tied by Chris Carter in 1999.
The fact that Thomas had phones under the goalposts meant he knew a big day was coming. What he got, though, was a HUGE day. Thomas finished with a career-high 211 receiving yards and a touchdown that helped secure the win over Los Angeles.
Hopkins continued to prove why he belongs in the top 10 with a dominant performance (10 receptions for 105 yards and one TD) in the Mile High City. He caught 10 of Houston’s 17 receptions (58.8 percent), the highest percentage by any one player in a game this season.
According to Next Gen Stats, Brown has struggled in press coverage against the Ravens compared to other teams since 2016. Sunday, he caught just two of five targets vs. press coverage for 17 yards. Not great for one of the best receivers in the game, but he was able to get in the end zone for a sixth consecutive game.
Two more touchdowns for Kelce, who is on pace to set career highs in receiving yards (1,317) and receiving touchdowns (11). He is Mahomes’ favorite target right now with a team-leading 51 receptions.
I was really impressed with how well Goff played after the Rams went down 35-17 at the half. He stayed poised in a big game, gave his team a chance with a major second-half comeback and finished with 391 passing yards, three TDs, one INT and a 115.7 passer rating.
His pick-six (second of the season) in the fourth quarter put the Seahawks in a compromising position down the stretch. Wilson almost orchestrated a drive that would’ve tied it up (pending a two-point conversion), showing he’s still one of the most dangerous players under center.
Rivers has had a great start to his 15th NFL season and helped the Chargers pull off a huge road win, becoming the first AFC team to win in Seattle since 2011.
Andy Reid constantly puts Hunt in situations where he can succeed, and the running back makes of those opportunities. Sunday against the Browns, Hunt racked up 141 scrimmage yards (91 rushing, 50 receiving) and three total touchdowns. Already this season, Hunt has 13 scrimmage touchdowns, which surpasses his 2017 total of 11.
Dropped out: A.J. Green, WR, Bengals (previously No. 13).
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15
A.J. Green, WR, Bengals: Green was able to rest his toe injury he suffered in Week 8 during the Bengals’ bye week, and Marvin Lewis said Monday the veteran will not need surgery. There’s no timetable for his return — the reason for dropping out of the top 15.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants: Really hoping the Giants get something going after the bye week. If they want to have success in their first game back — against the 49ers on Monday night — OBJ will need to make some plays against Richard Sherman. That matchup alone makes this game interesting.
Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: Julio caught his first receiving touchdown of the season. And it’s about time! He had a huge day against Josh Norman to help the Falcons win their fourth straight.
James Conner, RB, Steelers: Conner is sure making a case for why he should be the Steelers’ starting RB when (or if) Le’Veon Bell returns. He has 10 scrimmage touchdowns through eight games and is averaging 135.6 scrimmage yards per contest.
Cam Newton, QB, Panthers: He’s been more efficient this season than in his 2015 MVP campaign, a huge reason the Panthers sit at 6-2 heading into the second half. Newton has been superb the last three games — 69.9 completion percentage, 245 passing yards per game, six touchdowns, zero INTs, 114.8 passer rating.
Follow David Carr on Twitter @DCarr8.
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