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Is Tom Brady still Mr. Clutch? Stats show a different story

02.02.12 at 10:09 pm ET
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Tom Brady will look to reverse a downward trend in big games when he leads the Patriots against the Giants in Sunday's Super Bowl. (AP)

In sports, there are revered and fundamental truths, statements and realities that are unquestioned and rarely debated.

Principally among them, especially in New England, is this: Tom Brady will always find a way to perform and help put his team in a position to win with the game on the line. In short, Brady is a clutch player and it’s that simple.

It is a reputation that Brady has deservedly built over the course of his distinguished career, with late-game heroics in big-game, high-pressure situations cementing his legacy as a winner.

But statistics from the 2011 season paint an entirely different picture of the revered quarterback. If anything, they show a decline in Brady’s late-game statistical performance from years when the Patriots captured the Super Bowl.

In the 2011 season in games decided by 0-7 points, Brady has completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions, all of which add up to a 90.8 passer rating, a mark that places him below Aaron Rodgers (119.2), Tony Romo (98.1), Matthew Stafford (98.0), Drew Brees (97.5) and Eli Manning (92.9).

Brady’s passer rating in games decided by 0-7 points is also down from three of the four years in which the Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl.

The problem hasn’t even just been when Brady’s production has dipped. It’s also been when it’s spiked, as he has performed significantly better in games which the Patriots have won by 15 or more.

Compared to his 90.8 rating in closely-contested games, Brady has a passer rating of 119.0 in games that the Patriots won by more than two touchdowns.

While it’s easy to assume that a quarterback performs better when his team is firmly in control of the game, Brady has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 1.6-to-1 in those 0-7 point games. As for that number in games decided by 15 or more? 13-1.

That contrast in performance is in fact a contrast to the rest of Brady’s career, at least in the Patriots’ most successful seasons.

In the 2004 season, the last time the Patriots won a Super Bowl, Brady had a 99.6 rating in games decided by a possession and a 83.9 rating in games when his team won by more than two touchdowns. The year prior to that, Brady had a 91.3 rating in those close games and an 83.9 rating in comfortable wins.

Essentially, the man known almost universally for his heroics in close games has been a far better quarterback when the game is beyond reach for the opposing team this season.

This isn’t a problem limited to this campaign. It began to show in the 2007 season. In the Patriots’ 19 games that season, in which they went 18-1, Brady had a 131.5 rating in his team’s numerous blowouts that season, but just a 94.7 rating in close games. Patriots fans need not be reminded of his subpar performance in the Super Bowl that year.

Of course, his isn’t to say that Brady hasn’t had his moments late in games this season. He led a game-winning drive to beat the Cowboys on Oct. 16. He responded from a costly interception to take the Patriots on a game-tying drive against the Bills in a Week 3 loss. And against the Giants, he engineered a 64-yard drive that gave the Patriots a 20-17 lead with 1:36 left in the game.

But too often this season, against some of the NFL’s best teams, Brady hasn’t answered the call.

In the Patriots’ 18 games this season against 14 different opponents, only three came against teams with winning records (the Steelers, Giants and Ravens). In those games, Brady had an even touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 77.7 passer rating. Against teams with losing records, those numbers ballooned to a 3.7-to-1 ratio and a 111.5 rating.

There is a clear drop-off in Brady’s productivity and effectiveness when facing off against the NFL’s best competition, a fact that isn’t in line with much of Brady’s career.

It’s even something that he recognized to a point after the win over the Ravens in the AFC championship.

“Well, I sucked pretty bad today, but our defense saved us,” Brady said after throwing for 239 yards, two interceptions and no touchdown passes. “I’m going to try to go out and do a better job in a couple of weeks, but I’m proud of this team, my teammates.”

While it’s hard to excuse Brady for his statistical shortcomings against those teams the question has to be asked — is this a problem that is limited to him? Largely, among other top quarterbacks, yes it is.

Brady’s 77.7 rating against winning teams puts him well behind the likes of Rodgers (111.2), Brees (111.2), Manning (96.6) and Ben Roethlisberger (91.1), as well as the likes of Rex Grossman (92.0) and Tavaris Jackson (79.3) in similar situations.

Brady’s struggles were certainly felt by the Patriots, as the team went 1-2 in those games, and were a Lee Evans dropped pass away from being 0-3.

In the playoffs, the biggest games of the season, Brady has also had his share of shortcomings beginning with the 2008 AFC championship against the Chargers.

In New England’s last six playoff games, Brady has thrown 13 touchdowns with 10 interceptions and posted just an 82.1 passer rating. Not so coincidentally, the Patriots went just 3-3 in those games, a far cry from his 14-2 record in his first 16 playoff appearances.

Brady’s recent playoff track record has caused some to question whether he still has the same big-game ability he used to routinely exhibit.

“Let’s be real: It’s fair to wonder about Brady’s, well, clutch-ness,” wrote ESPN New York columnist Rich Cimini this week in an article titled “Tom Brady not as great as advertised.” “He’s experienced some serious hiccups in recent postseasons, committing huge turnovers in critical moments.”

Not much can diminish what Brady has accomplished in the biggest of moments in the past.

He’s still got a better playoff win percentage than Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, John Elway and Troy Aikman. And he’s still the man that stepped up and led the Patriots on game-winning drives in two Super Bowls.

Statistically speaking, it just hasn’t shown of late.

Read More: aaron rodgers, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Joe Montana Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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