The truth about the front-running Green Bay Packers

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jul 17, 2012



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts Minister of Truth


Since last season, the Cold, Hard Football Facts have been ahead of the curve on the Green Bay Packers. That should be expected, as the Mike McCarthy/Aaron Rodgers-era Packers are truly one of the most unique teams in NFL history.
 
We have said the Packers could be the league’s next dynasty, and highlighted their 19-game winning streak as arguably the best ever.
 
But fans do not like to hear the truth, and the truth that McCarthy’s Packers have a serious crunch-time issue with pulling out close wins, and the problem is amplified in games started by Rodgers.
 
The record is 3-18 (.143) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities under Rodgers, which may historically compare best to the forgettable Bill Kenney and the 1980s Chiefs (3-27 record). 
 
Overall, Green Bay is 7-26 (.212) in fourth quarter comeback opportunities since McCarthy became the coach in 2006. That is seven fourth-quarter comebacks in six seasons. The New York Giants produced seven fourth-quarter comebacks in 2011 alone – albeit a number that tied the league single-season record.
 
While Green Bay fans have spent the last year pointing fingers of blame for the record, citing bad luck and other reasons, the truth is you cannot change the record. It is what it is, and it’s as rotten as an abandoned Wisconsin cheese factory.
 
For a great team with a championship, no one historically has been in need of jumping out to big leads and avoiding the necessity to gut out a close win with a late drive like Green Bay.
 
The kicker, Mason Crosby, is a bit shaky. The defense has had some real breakdowns. Rodgers has failed to seize the moment to win several games given the opportunity.
 
They are all to blame for this mark, and we have never said otherwise.
 
Fortunately, we are here to give all Green Bay fans a three-step program to understand what the record really means, and even the way to turn a negative into a positive. You just have to try and hide the heart from the head and let the Cold, Hard Football Facts guide you.

Step One: Admit There’s a Problem

Some Green Bay fans seem to think fourth-quarter wins are irrelevant to their team and their MVP quarterback.
 
Any fan of any team that thinks this is wrong.
 
What if we told you there was a team, 13-3, that was one drive away (at home) from the Super Bowl? And on that drive, in overtime, the quarterback threw a back-breaking interception that set up the game-losing field goal?
 
The next year, that same team started a new quarterback, and instead of maintaining that 13-3 performance, they regressed to 6-10 because they lost almost every single close game they played.
 
The next year, they made the playoffs at 11-5, but settled for a wildcard berth because they again were only 2-5 at fourth quarter comebacks.
 
And in that wildcard game, they made an incredible comeback from a 21-point deficit, only to blow the game in overtime when it came time to finally win it. In the highest scoring playoff game ever, the quarterback suddenly misfired to a wide open receiver, and then coughed up the ball for a game-ending fumble touchdown.
 
Two years later this team challenges the perfect season, but after getting to 13-0, they trail in the fourth quarter for the first time in 19 games to a major underdog. The quarterback has his worst game of the season, and the streak is over. When it comes time for the playoffs, the 15-1 favorites lay another egg at home, and lose by 17 points.
 
This is not a fictional team. This is the Green Bay Packers since 2007.
 
Yes, the Packers have made the playoffs the last three years, and won Super Bowl XLV. Of course, the 2010 Packers did it in their own unique way, becoming just the third Super Bowl champion – following the 1993 Dallas Cowboys and 2004 New England Patriots – to go an entire season without a single fourth-quarter comeback win.
 
They also did it the hard way, by having to win three road playoff games just to reach the Super Bowl. That’s because they were a 10-6 wildcard team, despite the league’s second best scoring differential (+148), and despite never trailing by more than seven points all year long.
 
How were they only 10-6 then? They were just 1-6 when it came to game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime. At least they got the one win, which was a game-winning drive to beat Chicago in Week 17. That rare close win enabled them to make the playoffs.
 
However, even with the win Green Bay still would not have made the playoffs if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6) did not blow a Week 15 game against the Detroit Lions. Detroit came back to force overtime on the last play of regulation, and then won the game with a field goal. A fourth-quarter comeback by the Lions may have never been more important to the Packers.
 
The 2010 Packers also got the tiebreaker over the New York Giants (10-6) thanks to their dominant head-to-head win. Fans of the Giants will remember that season for the 21-point lead they blew in the fourth quarter to Philadelphia. That game just so happened to be on the same day Detroit beat Tampa Bay.
 
Later that evening, Green Bay lost in New England with Matt Flynn making his first career start. They would not lose or trail in the fourth quarter of their next 19 games.
 
But to act like fourth-quarter wins have nothing to do with it all, well that is pure nonsense. Coming through in those big moments of leverage, when your win probability can go soaring near zero or 1.00, is what shapes every single NFL season.
 
Fourth-quarter wins are often the difference between 7-9 and 9-7, sitting at home versus being in the playoffs, between the AFC championship and the Super Bowl, and the thin line between success and failure.

Rodgers: One of these things is not like the other

Aaron Rodgers has a very high status in the NFL right now, yet this is the one area that continues to elude him. It seems to be no coincidence that the largest fourth-quarter comeback win of his career is from a two-point deficit, or that his first such victory came in a game he led by 21, fell behind by one point, and went on to win by 23 (against a team that would finish 0-16).
 
Since 1960, 26 quarterbacks have produced in one season as many game-winning drives (6) as Rodgers has produced in his career. Those efforts include contemporary elites such as Tom Brady, the Manning brothers, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger.
 
There is no denying Rodgers does not produce the comeback wins that seemingly come so routine for the other top quarterbacks in the league. That’s not to say it demands a top quarterback. Even John Skelton already has more fourth-quarter comeback wins (5) than Rodgers (3), and he has played in only 13 games.
 
In games where Green Bay does not lead at halftime, the Packers are 6-18 (.250) since 2008 (just 2-8 at home). One of those losses Rodgers did not finish because of a concussion.
 
When you look at the rest of the league in that second-half situation, you see the teams with the very best quarterbacks own the top four spots for winning percentage: 
  • Tom Brady and New England (11-12; .478)
  • Peyton Manning and Indianapolis (14-20; .412)
  • Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh (11-16; .407)
  • Drew Brees and New Orleans (11-17; .393)
Green Bay at .250 is tied for No. 21, which all comes back to not finishing games in the fourth quarter.
 
There are some truly amazing numbers with Rodgers and the Packers.
 
When trailing by at least 7 points at any point in the game, Rodgers is 8-18 (.308) as a starter. Only three of the wins came when trailing in the second half. Just how long did Green Bay trail in the second half of those games? The Falcons kept them down for 11:18, but the lead only held for 157 seconds at Carolina, and 51 seconds at Minnesota
 
Somehow, that 8-18 record includes an 0-8 record at home when trailing by 7 points at any point in the game. Consider Rodgers’ rival in Detroit, Matthew Stafford, has managed a record of 4-9 (.308) when trailing by 17+ points in his brief career.
 
Rodgers’ record is 2-14 (.125) when trailing by more than 7 points at any point in the game. The two wins came early last year at Carolina and Atlanta, with Green Bay already within a score by halftime, and never trailing in the fourth quarter of course.
 
Even backup Matt Flynn has the largest fourth-quarter comeback win in Green Bay the last four years, and that was a three-point comeback against Detroit last year. That effort also came after falling behind 9-0 in the first quarter.
 
If we come back in five-to-eight years and still find Rodgers with a scarce number of comeback wins and game-winning drives, then we guarantee you the Packers will have consistently put up stats prettier than their record, lost numerous games they “should” have won, not to mention a lot of playoff disappointment and plenty of free space in the trophy case.
 
We know the mainstream media has established zero identity for the Packers in close games. It’s just not even a topic yet. While they are busy debating Eli Manning as a hero and Tony Romo a choker, Rodgers and the Packers sit aside, heaped with praise, trying not to dangle that carrot hidden deep up their rabbit hole. 
 
Green Bay fans, we demand that you take a good, long look down that rabbit hole and admit this is a problem. That’s your first step.

Step Two: Throw away the bad arguments

The Cold, Hard Football Facts are not interested in perpetuating the choker mythos that plague too much of sports talk. We care about the facts, and the facts prove that the Packers are a bottom-tier team at getting the job done in crunch time.
 
Over the last year we have seen several counter arguments to the original front-runner article, and after last week’s reprise, now is the perfect time to end those arguments once and for all.

Bad argument No. 1: “They’re so good in quarters 1-3; lack of opportunity is the reason for only three comeback wins.”

At the time of last year’s article, the Packers were six games into their winning streak. Little did we know they would take this front-running thing to a new level with 19 straight wins without trailing in the fourth quarter, breaking the previous record of 13 (1942-43 Washington Redskins).
 
This led to a simple argument that Rodgers and the Packers do not have more comebacks because they never need them. Well, if it was just based on these 19 games, then that would be indisputably true. But the greatest streak of avoiding comebacks in NFL history is over, and the Packers have trailed in the fourth quarter of three of their last four games.
 
Before last season, Rodgers had 19 games with a fourth quarter comeback opportunity in his 52 starts. That mark of 36.5 percent only trailed Philip Rivers (40.2 percent) out of the select quarterbacks we looked at.
 
In updating the list for 2011, which means the 13-game streak of comeback avoidance is added, it still proves Rodgers has had similar opportunities to his peers and some past greats.
 
Fourth Quarter Comeback Opportunities
QB GS Total 4QC Opp. Pct.
Tony Romo 81 33 40.7
Philip Rivers 103 41 39.8
Ben Roethlisberger 127 44 34.6
Peyton Manning 227 77 33.9
Eli Manning 130 43 33.1
Drew Brees 162 52 32.1
Joe Montana 187 60 32.1
Dan Marino 258 82 31.8
John Elway 252 80 31.7
Brett Favre 322 102 31.7
Donovan McNabb 177 56 31.6
Aaron Rodgers 68 21 30.9
Kurt Warner 129 39 30.2
Troy Aikman 180 50 27.8
Tom Brady 181 44 24.3
Steve Young 157 37 23.6
 
Though he is on the lower section, the 30.9 percent is close to the sample’s average of 31.9 percent. Tony Romo and Steve Young appear as outliers. Rodgers is much closer to your average case for a quality quarterback. Again, this is even when adding a 19-game streak unlike any in NFL history.
 
In the 2011 regular season, the average team faced 6.4 fourth quarter comeback opportunities. That is 40.0 percent of their 16 regular season games. Keep in mind the table above contains only good quarterbacks with a winning record in their career. Not the average case, nor do most of these players start every game for their team.
 
Most games in the NFL are going to be close in the fourth quarter. Last year it was 59.2 percent of games (158 of 267) having a fourth quarter comeback opportunity. This is not something you can avoid forever.
 
Rodgers has had the opportunities. Green Bay just has not had the success.
 
There’s no denying the Packers are great at front-running. In 39 of Rodgers’ starts, they never trailed in the second half, save for two overtime losses where they only fell behind on the final play (37-2 record).
 
They have had 25 games under Rodgers where they jumped out to a two-score lead before the opponent even scored. They have 20 games starting with a 14-0 lead or better. Half of those 20 have been a 17-0 lead or better (three-score game).
 
While they have earned the reputation as a dominant team early in games, they do not exactly blow the rest of the league away at doing so.
 
  • Since 2008 and including playoffs, Green Bay is No. 2 in average first quarter scoring margin (+2.33 points per game). Atlanta is No. 1 (+2.42 points per game).
  • Green Bay ranks No. 2 in average halftime scoring margin (+5.39 points per game). New England is No. 1 (+5.62 points per game).
  • Green Bay ranks No. 2 in average scoring margin through three quarters (+7.74 points per game). New England is No. 1 (+8.87 points per game).
  • Since 2008 and including playoffs, the Packers have 25 wire-to-wire wins (games where they never trailed). Baltimore actually leads the league with 27. Five more teams have at least 20 such wins.
  • Since 2008 and including playoffs, Green Bay is tied with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for No. 2 in the league in games (41) where they scored first. Atlanta is No. 1 with 45.
  • Green Bay’s 24-1 mark when leading by 10+ points at halftime matches that of Philadelphia for most such games in the league since 2008. Atlanta has the best record (22-0).
The Packers have a lot of nice numbers, but 3-18 is not one of them, and a lack of opportunity is an invalid argument against it.

Bad argument No. 2: “Rodgers’ record is misleadingly bad because of 2008.”

Some people will say that the 3-18 record is a result of growing pains suffered in 2008, which was Rodgers’ first full year as a starter. The record at fourth quarter comebacks was 1-7 that season.
 
The fact is the record has been bad every season of his career.
 
Year 4QC Opp. Total 4Q/OT Record
2007 0-1 0-1
2008 1-7 2-8
2009 2-5 2-5
2010 0-3 1-4
2011 0-2 1-2
Total 3-18 6-20
 
The last column includes game-winning drives (games where it was only tied in the fourth quarter/overtime, such as the win in New York last year).
 
In each season there has been a losing record. Before 2009, the comeback record was 1-8 (.111). Since that time, it has been 2-10 (.167). That includes an active streak of seven consecutive losses since the last win on 12/13/2009.
 
You can say his play has improved, as some of his best performances in defeat have come in that span, but the record is not bad only because of 2008.
 
There is also no proof that this will even itself out over time. Tell that to Mr. Irrelevant Bill Kenney and his 3-27 record.
 
Sure, Peyton Manning rebounded from a bad rookie year (1-7 at game-winning drives), but he did it immediately in his second season. Maybe Rodgers will pull a Steve Young or Alex Smith – two quarterbacks that actually make sense to compare him to for very different reasons – by doubling his career comeback total in one season this late in his career. That is about the only past precedent.
 
Rodgers is already entering year eight (fifth as a starter). 2008 is a problem of the past. Look to the present, and the reigning 0-7 record in his last seven opportunities.

Bad argument No. 3: “It’s not Rodgers, the team has been unlucky.”

Not going to mull this one over in great length, as we can play the “what if?” game for days, but the bottom line is simple.
 
Some think Rodgers has been a victim of bad team play in these situations, such as in the form of the defense blowing the lead late, or Mason Crosby missing game-winning field goals.
 
The fact is these things happen to all quarterbacks. Does it happen to some more than others? Sure. Has it happened to Rodgers a historically excessive amount of times? No.
 
Leading by a small margin in the fourth quarter and seeing the defense give up the lead does not mean the quarterback is free of blame.
 
In two of 10 blown fourth quarter lead losses for Rodgers, the reason Green Bay even had a fourth quarter lead was because of a Charles Woodson pick six, and a 2008 game in Minnesota when a 21-10 deficit was erased thanks to interception and punt returns for touchdowns in the third quarter.
 
Yet Green Bay fans tend to blame Mason Crosby for missing a 52-yard field goal with 0:26 left for losing the game. Could he have made the kick in a dome? Yes, but a 52-yard kick under that pressure is not easy. When you look at the expected points summary for that game, the most negative contribution to Green Bay’s day was Rodgers and the passing game.
 
In a game Green Bay loses by a point, it’s hard to just forget that Rodgers gave up four points on two safeties in the first half. Most quarterbacks will not be involved in two safeties in their career, let alone one quarter.
 
Rodgers vs. Contemporaries - Failed 4QC/GWD's
Type A.Rodgers T.Romo M.Schaub J.Flacco E.Manning
Failed 4QC/GWD 20 22 21 17 24
Blown 4Q Leads 10 12 9 10 10
Lost Comebacks 4 3 4 5 6
Clutch FG Misses 3 4 2 2 3
 
There is Rodgers compared to four of his contemporaries (Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Joe Flacco and Eli Manning) during their failed comebacks and game-winning drives (read: close losses). Nothing glaring stands out.
 
But if you look at someone like Joe Flacco, who has a less than great reputation, don’t the fans of Baltimore have cause to say he is unlucky? More unlucky than Rodgers even.
 
  • It was the vaunted Baltimore defense that let Ben Roethlisberger drive 92 yards for a game-winning touchdown with 0:43 left in 2008, winning the AFC North in the process.
  • At New England in 2009, Flacco played a very good game, but Willis McGahee being stuffed on fourth down, and Mark Clayton dropping a 4th-and-4 pass with 0:14 left in the red zone ended Flacco’s comeback attempts.
  • A week later Flacco lost a comeback when Ray Lewis and Co. watched Carson Palmer drive 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 0:22 left; enough time for Flacco to add a desperation interception to his stat sheet rather than a kneel down for the win.
  • Yet even a week later, Flacco came back from a 17-point deficit in Minnesota for the lead, only to see Brett Favre take it back. After leading the Ravens in position for a game-winning field goal, Steve Hauschka was wide left from 42 yards away at the gun.
  • On Thursday Night Football in Atlanta in 2010, Flacco goes 5/7 for 70 yards and a go-ahead touchdown with 1:05 left. Baltimore blows the lead with 0:20 left, and Flacco doesn’t have enough time left to answer.
  • In the 2010 AFC Divisional at Pittsburgh, Flacco finds Anquan Boldin late in the fourth quarter for the go-ahead touchdown, but he drops it. On a last-ditch effort on 4th and 18, Flacco finds T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but he also fails to make the catch for the first down.
  • Finally, in the biggest moment of his career, Flacco is leading a great drive to win the 2011 AFC Championship at New England, and delivers a perfect pass to Lee Evans in the end zone. He drops it with 0:22 left, and two plays later Billy Cundiff blows the 32-yard field goal.
 
Unlucky? Not when the perception is that Flacco is not that good of a quarterback, and Baltimore has four elite players on their defense that get all the credit. No, we couldn’t possibly be realistic and put the blame on the defense for failing in many big spots, and giving Flacco credit for putting the team in position to win.
 
Still think fourth quarter wins don’t matter? At the very least, that’s three more division titles for Flacco, three more home playoff games, and a trip to the Super Bowl last season. All of that was within Baltimore’s grasp. One drive or even one play made the difference.
 
Moral of the story: Rodgers has had his moments of being screwed over by his teammates. But join the club, because it’s a team game and these things simply happen.
 
What doesn’t happen to others is coming away with a record like 3-18 at fourth quarter comebacks.
 

Step Three: Turn a negative into a positive

We have admitted there was a problem. We have shot down the bad arguments used to justify the problem. Now it is time to turn that negative into a positive by giving Green Bay fans the proper counter argument to their close game woes.
 
If Rodgers and the Packers don’t kick your ass, then they at least are going to give you all you can handle, as they are one of the most competitive teams in NFL history.
 
That is the way you need to look at it as a fan. When Green Bay’s not 6-20 in their failed comebacks and game-winning drives under Rodgers, they are 39-3 (.929) in the games he starts and finishes.
 
Only the 2008 Cowboys (L 27-16), 2008 Saints (L 51-29), and 2009 Vikings (L 30-23) got the best of Green Bay, meaning the Packers were never within one score and possession of the ball in the fourth quarter. Those games were quite some time ago.
 
Green Bay even led in the fourth quarter of all three of Matt Flynn’s major appearances in his career.
 
The Packers play too well each week to be blown out. They should still have a lot more than seven comeback wins in six seasons under McCarthy, but their level of competitiveness is unmatched.
 
The fact is a team and quarterback can really distort their fourth quarter comeback record by not playing well enough to realistically come back. If you get blown out, you aren’t going to hurt your record then.
 
The 1992-93 Indianapolis Colts, using Jeff George and Jack Trudeau at quarterback, had a 6-2 record at fourth quarter comeback opportunities. They even had a lost comeback, so they were one stop of Dan Marino away from a 7-1 record. Factor in game-winning drives, and they were 10-3.
 
Yet, the records were practically meaningless, as the Colts went 13-19 in those two seasons, and failed to make the playoffs. Since they were thoroughly defeated 16 times, these Colts failed to keep it close enough to have more opportunities for fourth quarter wins.
 
The reason Green Bay’s bad record is not meaningless is because they have demonstrated over several seasons that if the game requires a comeback and/or game-winning drive, chances are the Packers are losing. That flaw is not found so profoundly in the league’s other elite teams throughout history. That is why the Packers are the ultimate front-runners.
 
To keep it a positive, focus on the competitive aspect of it. Who wants to watch their team get blown out anyway?
 
Tom Brady has long been the media’s gold standard for “clutch” quarterback play. His career record at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities is a sterling 25-19 (.568); possibly the best ever when setting a specific minimum requirement for games played. It’s a record that completely dwarfs Rodgers’ 3-18.
 
Yet what does the record hide? You can start with the fact that New England has had the best clutch kicking, with their kickers never failing for Brady in any of the losses. The defense, though showing some holes in recent years, once did an incredible job of thwarting the opponent’s comeback attempts. Brady has only two lost comebacks, and both were against the Giants.
 
No, what the 25-19 record’s really missing is more losses.
 
The hidden factor is that Brady has an unusually high amount of bad performances in games the Patriots lost in his career. When your quarterback plays poorly, it is hard to stay close for the fourth quarter.
 
Brady has played in 43 losses in his career. One was a blowout he came off the bench for in his NFL debut, while his first fourth quarter comeback attempt was also off the bench against the Jets in 2001.
 
Brady has 41 losses as a starter in his career. One of those games, Brady was done after the first quarter, and it was Matt Cassel trying the comeback attempt. So replacing that game with the Jets game, and 41 losses is a perfect number to use for Brady.
 
That means Brady has only had a fourth quarter comeback opportunity in 19 of his 41 losses (46.3 percent). Adding in game-winning drives, and Brady has kept it to a tie or one-score deficit in 21 of his 41 losses (51.2 percent).
 
By comparison, Rodgers has played in 27 career losses (23 as a starter). As already mentioned, he did not make it to the second half in Detroit in 2010. He had three games off the bench in dire situations. His breakout performance was in Dallas in 2007 when he took over for Favre and had his first comeback opportunity.
 
That means Rodgers has had a fourth quarter comeback opportunity in 18 of his 23 losses (78.3 percent). Adding in game-winning drives, and Rodgers has kept it to a tie or one-score deficit in 20 of his 23 losses (87.0 percent).
 
If Brady played better, he would likely have a worse record at comebacks. If Rodgers played worse, he would likely have a better record at comebacks.
 
Funny how that works.

Conclusion

You take the good with the bad. While by now you should almost expect someone on the Packers to find a way to screw the next comeback attempt up, there is also a positive to all of this.
 
The Green Bay fans should revel in the fact they have a team and quarterback good enough to keep them competitive each and every week. Whether it’s a blow out or another close loss, the Green Bay Packers are one unique team that certainly gives us plenty to talk about.
 
Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. He is the only NFL writer who would sneak in a Rites of Spring reference in the intro. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive. Please send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.

From our partners




Must See Videos
NFL Draft Changing Cities, Moving Out Of New York City | FootballNation.com
2014 NFL Draft: No Dunking In Football
2014 NFL Combine Winners

Team Pages
AFC East NFC
South
North
West

Connect With Us
Sign up for our newsletter to recieve all the latest news and updates...
Privacy guaranteed. We'll never share your info.




The Football Nation Network

© Copyright 2014 Football Nation LLC. Privacy Policy & Terms of Use
Some images property of Getty Images or Icon/SMI