Rant About Tom Brady and YPA

It must be July, because here we go again.

I knew immediately that the events on the evening of February 5th would make this a long offseason, but I haven’t really felt the need to go on a long rant about that game or the Patriots in general in the last five-and-a-half months. In fact, this might be the least writing I have done from February to mid-July in any of the last six years.

Personally, I had a string of bad luck — you know, things out of my control — and heartbreak that started around late January (Donald Trump’s inauguration day to be exact) and continued through late March before things eased up. I don’t want to go into details, but I suffered losses (family and pet) and had another health scare that required another CT scan (result: clear). I’ve been working hard on FOA 2017 (available soon) since May or so. In doing six teams (AFC West plus Miami and Detroit), and pushing most of the essays well past 4,000 words, this is probably the most work I have ever done for one of the books. I hope people appreciate it, even the Raiders and Dolphins fans.

But now that work on that is practically complete, I have more free time to think about random things as we wait for training camps to start. So Super Bowl LI has been back on my mind, ranging anywhere from Atlanta’s horrible game management to the history of big comebacks to that Tedy Bruschi style of “heart and leadership” that only Tom Brady can will his teammates to believe in.

I was going to write something in detail about that last part, but maybe we can save that for later this week if I’m still feeling the need to be cathartic. Today is about YPA, because I feel like I need to explain a tweet better from Monday where I admittedly spent way too many hours tweeting.

I often forget that some things that have become obvious to me are completely lost on others. The calculation of YPA and how it works should not be one of those things, but Twitter never ceases to amaze me.

I can only hope that a lot of those favorites are for comical reasons. There were other similar remarks, including the thought that 6.7 YPA is Bill Belichick playing to his team’s strengths, as if any offense would actually plan to have an inefficient attack. I was also told that 6.7 YPA means Brady is dominating. You know who has 6.7 YPA as his career average? Ryan Fitzpatrick. So dominant.

This was all a response to a tweet I made last night that didn’t go over so well once Peter King replied to it. Telling someone like me to “watch the games” is madness, but when typing 140 characters at a time, you can’t always explain nuance.

The “obvious” here was actually not so obvious, especially without turning it into a thread with follow-up points. What I meant was that Brady fans tend to think that he has winning records even in suboptimal situations (6.7 YPA is below average) because he is just that good or “clutch.” In the particular case of the 5-2 Super Bowl record, I see it as a quarterback fortunate to have that team record based on his play. It was the other non-Brady elements of the games that helped produce the record. Things like a Ty Law pick-6 helping the Patriots win a game in which Brady only led the offense to 13 points and failed to convert a third down. The Malcolm Butler interception at the 1-yard line. The absurdity of Seattle and Atlanta not running the ball in the fourth quarter in key spots. Every game was very close (decided by 3-6 points), so going 5-2 is quite fortunate in that regard.

YPA is a stat that has always correlated well with winning. In 2016, the team who won the YPA battle won over 70% of all NFL games. That’s not bad for a stat that does not care about rushing, sacks, turnovers, penalties, special teams, etc. Even in Super Bowl LI, Brady’s YPA was just 6.28 when the Patriots fell behind 28-3. It was 8.61, a league-leading type of number, the rest of the way during the comeback.

YPA correlates well with scoring points, which correlates well with winning games. This has been the case for decades in the NFL regardless of how the Patriots perform. And isn’t that really the point: how the Patriots, not just Brady, perform? His performance alone was rarely good enough to be the difference maker in these games. While Brady fans want to believe their guy has some special skill to win with a low YPA, I am saying he has no secret sauce that makes YPA invalid. The Patriots have just won a lot of close playoff games since 2001 for a variety of reasons.

Since 2001, the Patriots are 9-7 (.563) in the playoffs when Brady averages less than 7.0 YPA (min. 30 attempts). The rest of the NFL is 28-85 (.248) in that time.

The Patriots’ averaging scoring margin in those 16 games was +2.5. The rest of the NFL was -8.2. There were 14 wins by 1-4 points, and Brady’s Patriots had five of them.

Tell someone this, and it will likely get framed as “Brady won 56.3% of the time where other QBs only won 24.8% of the time. UberClutch! GOAT!”

We probably shouldn’t lambaste someone for wanting to think this way, but just so it’s clear, I will never agree with them or see things that way. When I look at the 16 games for Brady, and especially the nine wins, this is what comes to mind:

TBPOgames

(Yes, how fitting is it that of the last two times a quarterback threw a fourth-quarter, fourth-down interception that was fumbled back to his team, it benefited Tom Brady and “hurt” Peyton Manning. At least the Broncos were still up big at the time, but man, you can’t make this stuff up.)

I’m not saying the Patriots should have gone 0-16 in these games, but clearly there were a lot of favorable circumstances to aid Brady in the nine wins, and not many positives to speak of for him in the seven losses. While he still met his demise in 2006 and 2011, those were trips that could have easily been cut shorter if Marlon McCree and Lee Evans didn’t act the fool with the ball in their hands. Or without the greatness of kicker Adam Vinatieri on the types of 40-plus yard field goals that Mike Vanderjagt, Nate Kaeding, Pete Stoyanovich, and Scott Norwood choked on for other quarterbacks, Brady is doomed to start his playoff career 0-2 at home, averaging 12 points per game.

So many fans go wild when you suggest that their player has been the beneficiary of luck, but I think that’s mostly just a semantics issue. Anyone who understands the basic concepts of football can see that this is a team game where many pivotal plays are out of the quarterback’s control. When most games are close, especially in the playoffs, and a lot of improbable events have happened to swing those games, a lot of outcomes are not determined directly by the quarterback’s actions. So many good quarterbacks can repeatedly lead their team to a winning position, but it typically requires much more from the rest of the team to get to a large number of Super Bowls, for example. Luck is even defined as “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.” There’s a lot of skill involved in what the Patriots did in those wins (the field goals, the takeaways), but the common bond is that they weren’t the actions of Brady, but he still benefited with a win on days where he wasn’t at his best.

This isn’t me picking on Brady. This is what tends to happen when inefficient quarterback play is lifted by the slimmest of margins in the playoffs, and I can’t help it that Brady has been in that spot more than anyone in history. I said there were 14 wins by 1-4 points by quarterbacks under 7.0 YPA. Brady had five of them, but I can say similar things about the other games and quarterbacks.

For instance, Matt Hasselbeck needed Terry Glenn to fumble and for Tony Romo to botch the extra point hold in that infamous 21-20 win in 2006.

Donovan McNabb needed a 4th-and-26 conversion against the Packers in 2003, and a Brett Favre arm punt in overtime to get the 17-14 win.

Ben Roethlisberger should have lost his first playoff game against the 2004 Jets, but Doug Brien, after a Ben pick, missed his second field goal in the final two minutes. The Steelers won in overtime.

Mark Sanchez used a long kick return by Antonio Cromartie, and a terrible Jim Caldwell timeout, to down the Colts 17-16 in Peyton Manning’s final game with the team.

Eli Manning’s two NFC-CG wins are on the list. He didn’t play that poorly, but certainly used the field position boost from Brett Favre’s INT (2007) and two Kyle Williams special teams turnovers (2011). Eli did not complete a pass on either GWD in those games, because opponent mistakes did not require any of him.

A Favre interception also helped get Drew Brees to overtime in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, an overlooked “subpar” game for Brees that day. The Vikings had five turnovers in all, and Tracy Porter is the biggest reason Sean Payton isn’t just another Don Coryell at best.

Winning may be the only thing that matters to a team, and it is perfectly fine if a fan wants to feel that way too. However, the source of conflict is when those fans refuse to accept the fact that not everyone’s contribution to the win is equal. Sometimes a team wins in spite of its best player. I feel like we can always debate why a team won or lost a game, and which players were the most responsible for that result. It’s not always going to be agreeable or easy, but I know damn well there’s more to it than “YPA doesn’t matter because they won.” If that’s your logic, then scoring doesn’t matter either if you win. 3-0 win? Hail to the quarterback, I guess. Turnovers don’t matter if you win. Quarterback threw five picks in a 3-0 win? Hail to the quarterback, I guess.

I know this sounds crazy to some, but just check my Twitter mentions sometimes. These people really do exist, and I guess I’ve taken them on as my sworn enemy. Some fanbases are more rabid than others.

It will always be a losing battle when the opponent just wants to count rings, recheck the scoreboard, and deduce that 6.7 YPA is a dominant, never-punt strategy. I know this, but I continue to fight on, because I don’t know any other way to get through this job year after year. So I’ll continue to watch games, add old ones to my always-growing collection, take notes, crunch stats, and just call it like I see it.

Dating back to a snowy night in January 2002, I have simply never once watched Tom Brady play a game and thought I was watching the greatest quarterback ever. Unless he plays deep into his 40s at a level we’ve never seen before, I can’t imagine that I ever will feel that way about him. This ticks some people off, but I really don’t care about that, because I know what I’ve seen and I know I can back it up.

The effort just doesn’t always come across as clearly 140 characters at a time. Maybe I’ll just have to write that book one day, putting 16 years of knowledge to use.

 

 

 

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Peyton Manning’s Eight One-And-Done NFL Playoffs: Learn What You Are Criticizing

Peyton Manning lost another playoff game. Starting as a common quarterback narrative, the story has breathed too many years without more Super Bowl success to dispel, because we all know the “NFL For Dummies” handbook says to judge a quarterback based on championships won in the ultimate team sport.

So when Manning loses a playoff game, the popular thing to do is bash his reputation as a postseason quarterback, bash his losing playoff record (9-11), and call him a choker. The latest loss was probably the most painful one yet, and it gives Manning 11 playoff losses (tied with Brett Favre for record) and eight one-and-done postseason’s (another record).

But when someone throws that last fact out, they clearly do not realize what they are criticizing. If you want to bash the Colts and No. 1 seed 2012 Broncos for losing these games, five of them at home (by a combined 14 points), as a team, then feel free. They probably should have won at least 5-6 of them.

Though if you are bashing Manning based on his performances, then you need your head examined. Which other QB in NFL history could possibly produce these numbers and go 0-8 in the process without getting royally screwed over by his teammates and various other factors in a way no player ever has?

This is what you are knocking when you throw out the eight one-and-done seasons and 0-8 record:

  • 176/302 (58.3 percent) – This includes over 30 dropped passes in what equates to half a regular season
  • 2,075 passing yards (6.87 YPA)
  • 10 TD passes, one TD run
  • 6 INT – Three deflected off his own receiver’s hands, two thrown vs. 2002 Jets when Colts trailed 34-0/41-0 in 4th quarter
  • 82.0 passer rating – This would rank 23rd all time in postseason history (min. 150 attempts).
  • Six games with rating of 82.0 or better (five over 88.3, which is roughly career rating).
  • Seven losses by a combined 26 points; one other loss by 41 points.
  • Led in final 5:00 of fourth quarter five times.
  • Led in final 0:40 of fourth quarter four times.
  • Three overtime losses.
  • Two games where Manning’s last possession resulted in a missed field goal by Mike Vanderjagt (2000 MIA, 2005 PIT).
  • 2002 at Jets: Manning set Vanderjagt up for 41-yard FG, trailing 7-0. The next time he took the field, it was 17-0 Jets.
  • A memorable play where Nick Harper could have returned Jerome Bettis’ fumble for game-winning TD, but was tackled by Ben Roethlisberger.
  • Billy Volek came off the bench for Philip Rivers to lead Chargers on fourth-quarter comeback win (2007).
  • The worst average starting field position for any road team in the playoffs in the last 30 years (2008 San Diego).

These are not normal occurrences, and somehow the same quarterback keeps experiencing them, and becomes the easy target every year.

Saturday was the ultimate bow on top. Rahim Moore had a shot at a game-ending interception, and instead offers up what will go down as the worst ball misjudgment in NFL playoff history, resulting in Baltimore’s 70-yard game-tying TD. That is “Game Over” for any other quarterback. This was supposed to be “Manning’s best defense ever,” yet they suffered the biggest lapse and letdown in his career.

The game incredibly continued into overtime, and on Manning’s second possession, he went Favre and threw a bad interception. Immediately this cues the “Manning with another crushing playoff INT” talk, yet look at the list. This is the first time he’s ever thrown an interception in a close game like this that was actually his fault.

Just like how the Tracy Porter play in Super Bowl XLIV was the first time Manning ever turned the ball over in the fourth quarter/overtime in a one-score game in the playoffs. Yet the narrative is he always does these things. How does that happen when the facts show otherwise? These plays are first’s, not repeats.

What Manning usually does in the playoffs is give his team a chance to win the game in a way no other quarterback has. When they don’t, he takes the blunt of the criticism regardless of his play.

This stuff isn’t that hard to analyze. They only play 11 playoff games a year. Blame the quarterback when he deserves it. Don’t just blame Manning because of his status, and that you expect a touchdown every single drive from him. He’s not perfect. No one is in the playoffs.

In a 20-game sample, things are not going to even out, and they certainly have not evened out for Manning just yet, and he is really running out of chances. If the playoffs are supposed to be so important, so micro-analyzed, why are we seeing more garbage analysis than ever before? Just saying “9-11” does not prove a thing.

You know why quarterbacks who win a lot of playoff games do so? It’s not because they statistically out-produce Manning, because few do in the postseason. It’s because their teammates don’t muff onside-kick recoveries like Hank Baskett in the Super Bowl, miss clutch field goals like Mike Vanderjagt, forget a snap count on 3rd-and-1 with a chance to clinch the game, or allow a back-breaking 70-yard touchdown bomb.

Winning playoff teams limit their mistakes and finish games in the playoffs. There is no magical playoff quarterback formula about it. Manning was just over 30 seconds away from clinching his 50th game-winning drive, moving onto next week’s AFC Championship, and then disaster struck. A disaster other quarterbacks simply don’t have to deal with, because games never end that way.

Stop writing your stories before the game even starts, and pay attention to what actually happens. Be a defensive writer; one who reacts to what they see. Otherwise, you end up with garbage that truly defines the word “offensive.”

Peyton Manning: Crowning the NFL’s New Comeback King

Finally, history has been made. After waiting years for Peyton Manning to just tie Dan Marino – and NEVER John Elway – with his 36th comeback win in the fourth quarter, it only took five more games for that record-setting 37th fourth quarter comeback win.

It came in epic fashion, as Manning completed his first 13 passes of the second half for the biggest single-game comeback of his career (24 points).

Fitting that the go-ahead score came on a great touchdown to Brandon Stokley, who caught the 49th touchdown pass (vs. San Diego) in 2004 in one of Manning’s other comeback wins. Thanks should also go out to Philip Rivers. Consider this payback for the 23-0 comeback in 2007 in San Diego that Manning should have had when Adam Vinatieri blew the late kick.

Two articles on Manning today:

Peyton Manning is the NFL’s All-Time Leader in Fourth Quarter Comeback Wins

Captain Comeback Week 6

Crown his ass: Peyton Manning, new NFL comeback king.

My 3-Year Story of NFL Comebacks: Crusade Over Conspiracy

In light of the three-year anniversary of my first ever article, I have decided to share the ride’s ups and downs in my attempt to rewrite NFL history by blowing open a statistical conspiracy on the Denver Broncos and the use of fourth quarter comebacks.

Thursday’s article was basically the 8th chapter in the story (first seven are notably linked throughout here), but today is a perfect time to summarize the last three years, while also providing even more new evidence of a Denver comeback clusterfudge.

Documenting this process has been very important to me, and I hope it has been an entertaining and eye-opening look into the dark side of record-keeping and history.

The irony is I never had any intentions of being a journalist or anything of the sort, but this story has basically been my form of investigative reporting, and my angle to breaking into the business.

Please pass this link along and help spread the truth.

2009: The Rookie

August 6, 2009. Three years ago today, I crossed over from the world of internet forum/Excel-worshipping stat nerd to writer. I posted my first ever article.

Actually Doug Drinen of Pro-Football-Reference posted it, but it was my writing, and it was called “Guest Post: Quarterbacks and fourth quarter comebacks, Part 1.” (Chapter 1)

I thank PFR for giving me that first platform to turn my researched data into words, and I can only wish I would have written a better two-part article (Chapter 2) than I did. But that was my first time, and after hundreds of thousands of words later, I think I have a much better grip on this writing thing.

On that same day three years ago, Mike Tanier gave me a boost into the sports writing world by infusing my piece into his great Walkthrough column at FootballOutsiders. That helped spread the word and was phase one of my crusade. Thanks again, Mike.

I have said before I am not the first person to reject or disprove Elway’s mythical “record” of 47 fourth quarter comebacks, but I am the first to create a standardized system of fourth quarter/overtime wins so that we can track the real all-time leaders.

Though in my first articles you can see I was still caught up on trying to bunch all of these wins together, I soon after realized the best method is to make them two stats, and say “QB X has Y fourth quarter comebacks and Z game-winning drives in his career.” This continues to catch on, which I greatly appreciate.

Not long after those first two articles, I sold my database to Pro-Football-Reference and we put the comeback tables on every quarterback’s page for all to use. I added a part three (Chapter 3) to the series during the playoffs to explain the nuances of the data on the site. The data started showing up in writers’ coverage of the NFL.

I talked to Pittsburgh’s best sports writer, Ed Bouchette, for a story after game one of the 2009 season, and it made the front of the Sports’ section in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which had me excited as a local guy. Later that season I contributed data to articles which appeared on Forbes and The Wall Street Journal.

2010: The Plot Thickens

For a newcomer, things were going pretty well, though not once had I heard anything from the Denver Broncos. E-mails to the head of PR went unanswered, as did any phone call attempt. I can’t even get Woody Paige or any Denver-related media person for that matter to slay the dragon. Are they afraid they’ll lose their job or something?

I was also ill-prepared in the instance that Peyton Manning, who pulled to 35 comebacks, one shy of Dan Marino’s record 36, broke the record. I never could get into contact with the Colts on this matter either, despite the fact Manning and Johnny Unitas are two of the most prolific QB’s ever in this area. I will be over-prepared this season in the event that Manning finally ties and then surpasses Marino.

In the summer of 2010 I contacted NFL spokesman Greg Aiello after reading a 1996 article in which he stated the league would look into making comebacks a standard stat. I figured I have already done so much of the necessary work, so why not push him on it?

He eventually got me into contact with another NFL employee, and from there it was passed to the Elias Sports Bureau, who handles the league’s statistics. I must admit I was poorly prepared in adding a professional proposal, and basically just went off the three articles I had written at that point. Had I sent them something along the lines of what I have to work with today, things may have been much different.

Instead, the response was basically that teams are going to keep doing what they want in their media guides and press releases, and Elias, who only uses game-winning drives and never comebacks, was not changing anything.

The one time I tried to call Elias myself, a Spanish woman answered, creating a Consuela from Family Guy-esque moment, and I just hung up out of frustration. If you’re not familiar with the ESB’s website, it is basically an ad for buying a baseball book. It would be easier to reach the CIA for information or discussion.

I recently found this great article by Michael Weinreb, which talks about researcher John Turney’s similar plight with career sack totals. The NFL only made them official in 1982, but obviously sacks occurred for decades prior to that. With NFL Films having every game, why not go back and create the historical record of sacks? I of course fully support Turney’s position.

Weinreb’s characterization of dealing with Elias was classic:

So I called the Elias Sports Bureau, which keeps all the official statistics for all the major sports leagues in this country. I spoke to a man whose name I cannot use because he never gave it to me, and whom I cannot quote because he declined to be quoted, and who didn’t want to be forced to repudiate my premise. At times, I felt like I was engaging in a semantic discussion with the Comic Book Guy from “The Simpsons.”

To summarize: The Elias Sports Bureau feels as if there is no need to revise the history before 1982 because it would be impossible. They claim it would be impossible because there is no uniformity, because there was no standard definition of a sack before 1982, because then you fall into that statistical booby trap of comparing generations, and therefore, to go back to the play-by-play sheets and videotapes is both time-consuming and useless. In fact, Seymour Siwoff of Elias told Pro Football Weekly a couple of years ago that the only reason sacks were adopted as an official statistic in 1982 is because an increased number of incentive clauses and bonuses were built into contracts. This led to increased complaints and queries about statistics, which essentially, Siwoff said, “forced our hand.

It’s not impossible when people like Turney and me are willing to do the work. We may not be the Elias Sports Bureau, but I dare you to check the research and try and question the validity. It doesn’t take a genius to find mistakes in the “official” record.

In the 1990s, George Halas and Fran Tarkenton each held NFL records for most wins as a head coach and starting quarterback, respectively. But go figure, they each had one more win than they actually earned.

In 1992, Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Joe Horrigan found an error in Halas’ total based on a game he won despite having already left for World War II. Horrigan had the total changed from 325 wins to 324 twenty years ago, and it came at an important time as Don Shula was nearing the NFL record.

Sound familiar to anything? I tried contacting Horrigan recently, but he did not return the call.

When I was researching QB starts, I made note of this 1963 game that Fran Tarkenton could not have possibly started, as evident by his lack of any pass attempts or runs, and the fact that every newspaper archive said it was Ron Vander Kelen making his first career start. So I took it away from Tarkenton, which moved his record down from 125 wins to 124, and I put that total on PFR. I also changed it on Wikipedia, and before long, noticed some teams like the Patriots and Colts changed it in their media guides.

Last year I passed it along to the Minnesota Vikings’ PR and they agreed and made the change. They were very courteous about it, unlike some teams would be. Note: the Denver Broncos still have Tarkenton at 125. Gasp.

We’ll get another look next month when Tom Brady (124) takes the field. Right now he’s tied with Tarkenton, and the next win should surpass him.

But back to comebacks, because 2010 was when some really interesting stuff went down.

I wrote this article about the chronology of the records (Chapter 4), which expressed some of the stunning semantics blunders that went on between Elias, Denver and the Miami Dolphins in the mid-90s. That clued me in that this has been a problem that’s been going on for nearly two decades without a correction.

In late November, I put together an article that shines some of the sweetest irony you’ll ever see in life. Do you know what John Elway really did 47 times in his career? (Chapter 5)

47 is the number of times he had the ball in the fourth quarter, trailing by one score, and did not win the game.

46 losses and a tie. How unbelievable is that? I found similar results for Roger Staubach, who was falsely considered to have 23 comeback wins (real number: 15), yet 23 ended up being the number of losses in his career opportunities.

Speaking of Staubach, I experienced an incredible moment of success followed by disgust in the fall of 2010. The NFL Network aired a great NFL Films series called Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players. During Staubach’s video, the narrator said that Staubach had 15 fourth quarter comebacks in his career.

15, which is my number I put out there in the second article I wrote. Someone had to see it, because you wouldn’t get that number anywhere else. Remember, I was in contact with the NFL that summer, making them aware of the issue. It was a sense of accomplishment. If they use the right number for Staubach, then what was to come for Elway and Marino?

What came next was the first moment I thought there might be a conspiracy that goes beyond the Broncos’ botching the stats for their star quarterback. With Marino aired and no mention, they teased before commercial break about the “king of comebacks” coming up next.

It was Elway, and the first line out of the narrator’s mouth included “a record 47 comebacks.” I could have broken my TV if it wasn’t so expensive. How do you use the factual number for Staubach, ignoring the Cowboys in the process, but then go and use Denver’s falsified number for Elway? It’s absurd.

I contacted NFL Films about it, but nothing came of that either. Could not get in touch with someone that had a clue of what I was talking about.

On the field, Peyton Manning was less than a minute away from that record-tying 36th comeback in the playoffs, but a long kick return by Antonio Cromartie put a damper on the ending with the Jets getting the walk-off field goal win. After seven straight comebacks to get to 35, Manning lost his next six opportunities and hasn’t played a game since that Wild Card loss.

2011: Captain Comeback Begins

Last year I had full intentions of doing a weekly column where I go over all the fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives of the week. This would provide an undisputable account of each week’s games, and with lots of exclusive data.

With PFR moving away from blogging, I joined the new site Football Nation last July and one of my first articles (Chapter 6) was about the news I received from the NFL that their Record and Fact Book for 2011 was going to feature game-winning drives. They only limited it to since 1970 and listed the top five, but it was accurate, had Dan Marino at the top, and it was a step in the right direction.

From Football Nation, I quickly got involved with the Cold, Hard Football Facts brand. That would be the destination of Captain Comeback, which had a very successful first season. By midseason I found a format I love, and will continue to provide this type of analysis each week during the season.

Last summer I refined my database of fourth quarter/overtime wins, which allowed for me to have good information done in a timely manner for my articles. I focused more on writing and building a brand rather than trying to get the Broncos or NFL to change anything.

It was a great season with plenty to write about in this area.

Even with Peyton completely gone in 2011, his brother Eli picked up the slack with a record-tying seven comebacks of his own. Tony Romo’s “clutch vs. choker” persona being questioned was good to write about. There was also the Tim Tebow story, which meant good news for me. Even got to correct Elias again on stats related to Tebow’s game-winning drives. And of course the whole Green Bay Packers/Aaron Rodgers mystery of how they’re such an anti-comeback team (3-18 record) continues to be a key story for me.

Getting the @CaptainComeback name on Twitter and networking/promoting there has been a huge boost as well. Interacted with a lot of cool people the last 12 months.

2012: Big Plans

This offseason I have been hammering away at completing an even bigger database in the hope that I can get the information people have been looking for the last three years: full comeback/GWD opportunities. I have been teasing some of the information here on my blog and in some articles lately, and hope to have results during the season.

I also have thought about writing a book in the future on this topic. A complete guide, from going over this history of how screwed up the semantics and use of comeback stats have been, with full tables of stats on teams and quarterbacks, and numerous case studies that you would expect from analysis of thousands of the close finishes in NFL history. So much great stuff could come from these databases. I’m excited about just the possibilities alone.

Peyton is back this year, so hopefully that will lead to a lot of attention over this Denver story. You can say I haven’t done enough to get it out there, but I always thought on-field action backed with indisputable research would always speak louder than anything I do by myself. But admittedly, I could have done (and do) more to get it out there.

I called ESPN’s Outside the Lines on Saturday to pitch a show idea about this story, and I should probably not stop at that one voice message.

I cannot rely on Peyton alone. I thought him joining Denver would do the trick (Chapter 7) by itself, but  of course the Broncos have gone with a defense that makes it look like Manning’s comebacks never existed by not mentioning them once in 678 pages of their media guide.

And these are the days of searchable PDF files, so they can’t say it’s in there and I just missed it. If they try and add it in now, I have the original copy saved and the revision date of 6/24/12 listed inside.

The use of their media guides against them was fun to compile last week, and I went even deeper over the weekend to look at their material from the Jake Plummer era. It further proves how badly the Broncos are botching comeback records and fabricating Elway’s legacy in the process.

This is from a 2006 press release:

There’s a lot going on here. First, it’s very interesting to see Denver focus on only comebacks, as evident by the 21 and the table. Note: in the 2006 media guide, it even calls them “pure” comebacks. What’s awkward is the table saying since 1995, yet Drew Bledsoe’s total is listed since 1997. Something wrong with the five comebacks he had in 1995-96?

I know that for Bledsoe’s career (since 1993), he had 24 comebacks, but I bet my life they are not the same 24 games Denver had in mind here. Peyton did in fact have 19 comebacks then, which gives me a good idea of what number, if any, they will try and say he has this year. Hint: it will be about a dozen off what they have for Elway.

Plummer’s 21 is a farce. They include this 2002 game against Seattle as a comeback/GWD for Plummer, even though it consisted of Arizona blowing the lead to start the fourth quarter, and MarTay Jenkins returning the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

“Pure” comeback, baby. Plummer was so good he got the offense the 4QC/GWD without even taking the field. The masters of comeback deception have outdone themselves here, as I have never seen any team credit their quarterback for a fourth quarter win like this when the return score did all the work.

One could argue Plummer started his career in Arizona, so maybe they were working off bad information. A logical argument, but I have the evidence this isn’t the case.

This is the Denver Broncos’ 2006 media guide claiming in Plummer’s player bio that the Seattle game was Plummer’s 17th comeback. Note the list of games here. That game, listed appropriately in “other games of note” at the bottom, was on 9/15/2002.

If you put the game in chronological order, it would be the 17th game on that page. This is Denver calling all of Plummer’s fourth quarter wins comebacks, even though three of the games (4, 9, 15 on PFR) were just game-winning drives where Arizona never trailed in the fourth quarter. And of course counting the Seattle game is pure lunacy. Plummer never even took the field for the opportunity, let alone do anything to deserve the comeback/GWD.

The Denver bio goes on to say Plummer finished 2002 with 21 comeback victories, even though six of them weren’t actually comebacks for him.

Plummer joined the Broncos in 2003, and his lone comeback/GWD of the season was noted by Denver as being his first for the team and the “22nd of his career.”

In 2004, Plummer had four game-winning drives, but only one of them involved a comeback (Carolina game). This time Denver says that Plummer led “four fourth quarter or overtime game-winning or game-tying drives on the year” to increase his total to 26.

Where they really blow it is when they give Plummer credit for his 19th comeback victory twice in two different seasons (2002 and 2004). Fancy that with both coming against Carolina, but they are two different games set over two years apart.

What does it show? When he was with Arizona, Denver refused to consider the difference between a comeback and a GWD, and just called them all comebacks. When he joined the team, they tried to get cute with “pure” comebacks, but outsmarted themselves when it came time to keep track of the stuff.

The 10/10/2004 game against Carolina was not Plummer’s 19th comeback. It was his 17th. Even if we get dumb about it and count the 2002 Seattle game, then that’s 18, which still comes up one short.

In 2005, Plummer had a comeback (9/18/2005 vs. San Diego) and two game-winning drives, though nothing specifically mentions them.

If the 10/10/2004 Carolina game was the 19th “pure” comeback of Plummer’s career, and he had 21 through 2005, then that means Denver is counting either the 12/12/2004 game against Miami or 11/24/2005 game in Dallas as a “pure” comeback, despite the fact Denver never trailed in the fourth quarter either time.

That would explain the bogus 21 comebacks at the beginning of 2006. However, that means there was another change when Plummer actually did have a comeback in Week 2 over Kansas City, but the number remained at 21 comebacks. Game-winning drives went up to 29.

Sticking with 2006, after a game-winning drive over Baltimore, the Broncos now went with 22 comebacks and 30 game-winning drives.

Even though the graphic clearly states the teams were only tied 3-3 in the fourth quarter, they add one to Plummer’s comeback total. The 0-point “deficit” is a popular thing for the Broncos.

And that is one of the core factors in how they were able to fabricate a record for John Elway, and get away with it all these years. If they can’t even handle a few Jake Plummer games from the digital media era, then it’s no wonder they had such ridiculous numbers for Dan Marino the 1990s.

That is why pure ignorance like the following from the Denver Post in 1996 has been allowed to exist: “Despite what you’ve heard and saw again Monday night, Elway is the NFL’s king of comebacks, not Dan Marino. Elway has 41, Marino has 32.”

Why is this so hard for people? In the words of Denver’s own PR man Jim Saccomano from a 1996 Denver Post article:

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you’re either ahead or behind and you either won or you didn’t.

Nope, it doesn’t take a genius. It takes Captain Comeback. It takes someone willing to put in the effort and call out a team when they are indisputably wrong.

From the confines of my home, I have done my part to rewrite NFL history. My history does not stand for one team winning the semantics battle to falsify a record to make their Hall of Fame quarterback look better.

For once, I feel very optimistic about this 2012 season, and the next chapter in the crusade over comeback conspiracy. The darkest days are behind us. The hardest work has been finished. Now we wait for new history to unfold, and put the past behind us.

Pass the link, and spread the truth my friends.

Joining Reality to End Perception’s Dynastic Hold on the NFL

If conventional wisdom is what most people believe to be true, and if most people are stupid, then what does this say about conventional wisdom?

Writing an article that goes against the grain is one of the toughest things to do, but is also my favorite. This week has shown some good examples of that, and I’ll highlight some others I’ve done in the past.

Perception is one hell of a difficult thing to shake out of people’s minds. I like to dig into how these perceptions are built in the first place, and then expose them with the facts, or the reality of the situation.

So much of what happens early on in a player’s career shapes their long-term perception. Even if years go by and that player is far removed from his past success, the perception could still be so strong that they get a pass anyway.

For example, people still think Tom Brady is a great postseason QB, even though he hasn’t put together consecutive quality starts since his last Super Bowl win more than seven years ago.

Cam Newton instantly received a lot of hype in 2011 because he started the year with back-to-back 400-yard passing games. Never mind the fact Carolina lost both games or that Newton did not even play well against Green Bay, it was the simple fact that he had a ton of yardage (volume) as a rookie that made people go wild.

Problem is little did we know at the time that 2011 would be a record-setting season where passing yards were never gained at a higher rate. League records were set for 300-yard and 400-yard passing games, and three quarterbacks went over 5,000 yards. It was the season with the most points scored and highest yards per pass attempt since 1965. We didn’t know how badly the lockout would hurt the defenses.

But stats like passing yards will only take you so far. Super Bowl rings and playoff success still drive the biggest perceptions of players.

When Tony Romo bobbled the snap on the field goal in the 2006 Wild Card game at Seattle, he started a perception that follows him to this day.

Romo is known as a choker because most of his biggest failures have come in nationally televised games. It happened again at the start of last season when he lost to the New York Jets on Sunday Night Football. He fumbled and threw a late interception in the fourth quarter.

Romo is today’s player who “fails in the clutch every single time”, even though facts clearly show otherwise. He fares just as well as Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach did in similar situations for Dallas, but he doesn’t have rings like those players. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t have the teams they had either.

While a lot of the perception is a matter of selectively choosing what to remember, maybe the worst kind is using flat-out lies to build someone up.

How about when a team popularizes a stat for their quarterback, does not research it properly for other team’s quarterbacks, claims they have the record, and manages to shape  a legacy over it?

That happened in Denver.

Aaron Rodgers’ Hidden Flaw

Imagine being in the presence of the most beautiful woman in the world. But as you get closer and things are heating up, the dress rises and it’s The Crying Game all over again. She was hiding something deep between her legs all along.

That’s basically the equivalent of Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers.

Yesterday I wrote another article about Aaron Rodgers in the fourth quarter, and the stat that no one ever talks about in regards to Green Bay.

  • Aaron Rodgers is 3-18 (.143) at fourth quarter comeback opportunities.
  • Bill Kenney was 3-27 (.100), and may be the closest comparison in record.

Kenney is a forgotten Mr. Irrelevant from the 1980s Kansas City Chiefs. Rodgers is the league’s latest superstar QB.

Yet because he has one postseason that earned a ring (one-and-done the other two times), Rodgers gets the pass here.

Someone like NFL Network’s Jamie Dukes will even go as far as to say (multiple times on the air) that Rodgers had the best game of his MVP season in the Packers’ playoff loss to the Giants.

This is the same person that will remind you that Romo missed Miles Austin on a third-down pass against the Giants in December.

That night Romo played a fantastic game, a game that no other QB has lost with that kind of performance, and yet some will only focus on that one play.

It’s fine if certain players are held to different standards than others, but make sure players are still being held accountable. What you did a couple of years ago should not change the reality of how bad you screw up in the future.

I love writing articles in support of the players/teams getting unfair criticism. I love writing articles that take the shine off the overrated players/teams.

I will continue to call it like I see it, guided by the way of facts and real, tangible evidence.

If you’re curious about any other relevant, active quarterback with a record like Rodgers in the fourth quarter, well there’s this one to bring the week full-circle:

Cam Newton is 1-8 (.111) in fourth quarter comeback opportunities.