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Tom Brady is the most clutch quarterback in the NFL, and the numbers prove it

When plays need to be made, Brady makes them.

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NFL: Super Bowl LIII-New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Rams Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Brady’s reputation as a clutch player goes all the way back to his days at Michigan: dubbed the ‘comeback kid,’ he showed even at a young age that the pressure to perform was no burden to him. His NFL career was more of the same pretty much from the moment he became the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback: he led three game-winning drives during the 2001 regular season, and two more in the playoffs.

Since then, Brady has proven himself a master in the clutch time and again. From his outstanding late-game performances in the Patriots’ three most recent Super Bowl wins, to numerous comebacks — some of which seemingly impossible: when New England needed Brady to make play, far more often than not that was exactly what he did. The 2018 season, which again ended in a title for the veteran and his team, was more of the same.

When looking at the plain statistics, we can see that his fourth quarter performances during the regular season were not necessarily spectacular by his own lofty standards but still very good — especially considering the Patriots’ instability at the wide receiver position, particularly early during the year. The postseason, meanwhile, saw a drop-off in most statistics but was still statistically solid with the exception of a lone interception:

Tom Brady in the 4th quarter, 2018

Season Attempts Completions Completion % Yards Yards/Attempt Touchdowns Interceptions Passer Rating
Season Attempts Completions Completion % Yards Yards/Attempt Touchdowns Interceptions Passer Rating
Regular season 112 81 72.3 1,065 9.5 5 5 98.3
Playoffs 34 22 64.7 301 8.9 0 1 80.6

Of course, numbers without proper contextualization are to a degree meaningless as they leave too much room for erroneous interpretation. This becomes especially evident when looking at Brady’s postseason run: while his passer rating of 80.6 may suggest struggles in the fourth quarter and overtime during the Patriots’ three playoff contests, the actual game tape in combination with the opponents and surroundings tell a different story.

Just take a look at the AFC Championship Game on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs, a game New England won 37-31 in overtime. After throwing an interception that went through the hands of Julian Edelman early in the fourth quarter, Brady led the Patriots offense on two touchdown drives in regulation to each time take back the lead for his team. In overtime, he then converted three 3rd and 10s en route to Rex Burkhead’s game-winner.

Brady was similarly successful in the Super Bowl as well, proving once again that he knows how to handle the big moment better than any player in the league. In fact, more advanced statistics — those basically applying some of the aforementioned contextualization — gives us an even clearer picture of the six-time world champion’s performance in the clutch. And the numbers become more reflective when that is the case.

For example, let’s add time and game situation to the equation: how do Brady’s numbers look when a game is tied or New England is behind with less than four minutes left in the contest? We can see that his numbers improve when compared to the previous chart:

Tom Brady in the 4th quarter, 2018 (trailing/tied with <4 minutes to go)

Season Attempts Completions Completion % Yards Yards/Attempt Touchdowns Interceptions Passer Rating
Season Attempts Completions Completion % Yards Yards/Attempt Touchdowns Interceptions Passer Rating
Regular season 17 10 58.8 167 9.8 1 0 111.6
Playoffs 11 7 63.6 96 8.7 0 0 91.5

Of course, more context needs to be added still to make a somewhat accurate assessment of Brady’s performance in the ‘clutch’ — especially compared to other passers. Enter advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus, which recently released its 2018 All-Clutch team. And based on “plays in the fourth quarter of games within seven points,” PFF came to the conclusion that Brady was the cream of the crop in 2018.

PFF’s Ben Linsey shared the rationale behind this conclusion:

Tom Brady has been the standard at the quarterback position for the better part of his career, and in a year in which he took home his sixth Super Bowl title, Brady earns a first-team spot on the Clutch Team with his 90.5 grade when it mattered most. He picked up big chunks late in tight games — 1,073 passing yards on 107 attempts — and those 10.0 yards per attempt led all quarterbacks with 50 or more attempts in clutch time.

Coming in ahead of the Green Bay PackersAaron Rodgers (89.6) and Seattle Seahawks passer Russell Wilson (84.9), Brady proved himself the best crunch time quarterback in the league yet again. The more traditional statistics already hinted at his excellence, but PFF’s rating of 90.5 appears to be more reflective of what can be seen on the game film: that Brady consistently came through when he needed to last season.

At soon-to-be 42 years old, he may be the oldest quarterback in the NFL but he is still among the game’s elite. And when it comes to being clutch, Brady is still in a class of his own.