Aaron Rodgers and the 4th Quarter Failings

Today, ESPN Insider writer Scott Kacsmar takes aim at the Green Bay Packers (Aaron Rodgers in particular) over what he believes to be Rodgers’ failures in the 4th quarter over his career.

He writes:

Trailing 34-30 with 3:47 remaining on Sunday, Aaron Rodgers had a chance to lead a game-winning touchdown drive to help the Green Bay Packers escape with a victory in Cincinnati. With the stage set for a classic finish after a wild game, this should have been a legacy-growing moment for the player many believe is the best quarterback in the NFL, right?

Not so fast. The Packers are just 5-24 (.172) in games when Rodgers had the ball in the fourth quarter, trailing by 1-8 points. Five comebacks in 29 tries? Tony Romo, considered by some to be a choker, led five comeback wins in the 2012 season alone. Among active starters, only Cam Newton (2-16) has a worse record than Rodgers.

He has numerous passing records, both a regular-season and Super Bowl MVP, but this is the one area on the résumé that continues to be a sore spot for Rodgers. Sunday was one of his worst finishes yet.

This time, while the drive was long in plays (13), it ended at the Cincinnati 20 after Rodgers’ pass was tipped on fourth-and-5. That was the third tipped ball of the drive, as the Packers’ offense ended the game with two interceptions, a fumble returned for the go-ahead score, and this turnover on downs.

These close-game failures have been the hush-hush hallmark of coach Mike McCarthy’s otherwise successful tenure as Packers head coach. While the blame should be distributed everywhere, why are we not looking at the quarterback more?

I’m going to trust that Kacsmar has his numbers correct. I know many have attributed two of the Packers close losses to Rodgers when it was Flynn that played all or the majority of the games against the Lions and Patriots in 2010, but I’ll give Kacsmar the benefit of the doubt here.

I take issue with anyone directly attributing a win to a quarterback in football, just like I scoff at the idea of pitcher wins and losses in baseball. These are team sports and teams win and lose ballgames. The pitcher and quarterback may influence the outcomes of these games more than other positions, but the whole idea of attributing these players wins and losses simplifies what is usually very complex.

Kacsmar seems to understand this is a team sport, and he address this later in the piece:

Of course, some of the 26 losses speak well for him. He has put Green Bay ahead seven times in the fourth quarter when trailing, only for the team to go on to lose the game. The defense is certainly deserving of blame for this.

Green Bay has allowed 20 game-winning drives since 2008, which is third-most in the league over that span. Last season, there was the Hail Mary to Seattle’s Golden Tate on that game’s final play. In Week 1 this year, Aaron Rodgers led the Packers to a 28-24 lead, only to watch Colin Kaepernick and the Niners score the game’s last 10 points for a San Francisco win.

While it’s been a team problem, all quarterbacks have close losses in which the defense failed them. The difference — in comparison to Rodgers — is that they always seem to have more wins, too.

I’ve watched every one of Rodgers games. I don’t think he’s perfect, but I do think he’s been as good or better than anyone else since he became a starter. In that timespan, I’ve never gotten the impression that Rodgers wasn’t clutch, but I was curious as to the circumstances in these close games that the Packers were losing.

Here is what I found out:

21 total losses in games decided by seven points or less


Game Team Score at the start of the 4th Did the Packers tie or take the lead (Y/N/# of times) Final Score Final Offensive Possession (4th/OT)
1 Atlanta 10-17 Yes 24-27 TD
2 @Tennessee 10-16 Yes 16-19 OT Punt
3 @Minnesota 24-21 No 27-28 Missed FG
4 Carolina 21-21 Yes (Twice) 31-35 Int.
5 Houston 7-13 Yes (Twice) 21-24 Punt
6 @Jacksonville 13-7 Yes 16-20 Int
7 @Chicago 17-10 No 17-20 Missed FG

2009:

Game Team Score at the start of the 4th Did the Packers tie or take the lead (Y/N/# of times) Final Score Final Offensive Possession (4th/OT)
8 Cincinnati 21-28 No 24-31 False start
9 @Minnesota 14-28 No 23-30 FG
10 Pittsburgh 14-21 Yes (twice) 36-37 TD
11 @Arizona 24-38 Yes (twice) 45-51 OT TD/Fumble

2010

Game Team Score at the start of the 4th Did the Packers tie or take the lead (Y/N/# of times) Final Score Final Offensive Possession (4th/OT)
12 @Chicago 10-7 Yes 17-20 Fumble
13 @Washington 13-3 No 13-16 OT Missed FG / INT
14 Miami 10-13 Yes (twice) 20-23 OT TD / Punt
15 @Atlanta 10-10 Yes 17-20 TD

2011

Game

Team Score at the start of the 4th Did the Packers tie or take the lead (Y/N/# of times) Final Score Final Offensive Possession (4th/OT)
16 @Kansas City 7-9 No 14-19 TD

2012

Game Team Score at the start of the 4th Did the Packers tie or take the lead in the 4th (Y/N/# of times) Final Score Final Offensive Possession (4th/OT)
17 @Seattle 6-7 Yes 14-12 Punt
18 @Indianapolis 21-19 Yes 27-30 Missed FG
19 @Minnesota 24-27 Yes (twice) 34-37 TD

2013

Game Team Score at the start of the 4th Did the Packers tie or take the lead (Y/N/# of times) Final Score Final Offensive Possession (4th/OT)
20 @San Francisco 21-21 Y 28-34 Inc.
21 @Cincinnati 30-21 N 30-24 Inc

Here are two things that immediately jumped out at me:

1 – 66% of the losses included Packer scoring drives that resulted in a tie game or a Green Bay advantage.

and

2 – 57% of the Packers final possessions in the 4th quarter were scores or missed FGs.

Note: there were two instances in which the Packers final drive occurred with under five seconds on the clock. I instead used their previous possession)

On Sunday at Cincinnati, Rodgers had one of his worst games as a professional. It wasn’t a good look for him, throwing a costly interception late and finishing the game with two balls batted down.

But I don’t believe that the narrative should be that he’s un-clutch or worse, he’s costing his teams games when the score gets tight late. The evidence will actually show that more often than not he’s put his team in position to win the game.

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2 Responses to Aaron Rodgers and the 4th Quarter Failings

  1. Excellent work.

    BTW, Kacsmar has gone after Rodgers every year since 2011 – check out the Cold Hard Football Facts website. The guy is not an analyst, he’s a stat freak. Big difference.

    • Don’t get me wrong, I love statistics too, but I think that’s what I was so disappointed with. He didn’t really dive into anything below the surface and look into what was actually happening in these games. That he’s even using W/L record, something I don’t even consider a statistic, as a means to determine player ability is pretty ridiculous in my opinion.

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