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Matthew Stafford, Comeback King: A statistical analysis

Is Matthew Stafford the current comeback king of the NFL? We analyze.

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

I’ve written a lot of articles on Matthew Stafford in my three years of covering the team. I’ve broken down just about every stat there is to break down when it comes to the former No. 1 pick of the 2009 NFL Draft. We’ve looked at the narrative of Stafford on the road against wining teams, we’ve compared him to the greats like Peyton Manning and we’ve even destroyed the narrative that all of Stafford’s yards come in the fourth quarter when the Lions are losing.

But I’ve never talked about the comebacks. I think it’s because if you look at the tone of those articles or any of the others I’ve written, you can see that I’m fighting against something on all of them. Whether it’s a narrative or to just plainly beat into the minds of some Lions fans that Matthew Stafford is really good, I was ready or a fight. Today’s topic doesn’t seem to require that.

If there’s one thing that everyone knows about Matthew Stafford besides that “he hasn’t won anything,” it’s that Matthew is as clutch as the day is long. So clutch that totally unbiased former teammate Dan Orlovsky shocked the “Good Morning Football” panel when he said he would take Stafford in the last two minutes over any other quarterback in the league. The facts he used were quite compelling.

Did you hear that? Orlovsky drops a bomb of a statistic:

“(Since 2014) Brady, Brees, Big Ben in fourth-quarter, two-minute kind of game-changing drives, they’ve done it 11 times (each), where they’ve taken the lead. Matt Ryan’s done 13. Matthew Stafford’s done it 20 times. 20 times. That’s a third of the games he’s played in, in that span. That’s nuts. The greater stat: He’s had 24 chances to do it, he’s done it 20 out of 24, and one of those times was Calvin Johnson’s fumble in Seattle.”

20-24. That’s insane. That’s also, as Dan mentions, better than any quarterback in the league during that time. I originally planned to just say, “yeah, of course” and move on with my day. It wasn’t until I got a look at the stats myself that I decided that we need to talk about this more. So here are a few things I picked up when looking at Matthew Stafford’s comeback stats.

Matthew is way better at this than we originally thought

The first thing that came to mind was that Matthew started this before the time period that Orlovsky gave in the video. Orlovsky mentions the 20 game winning drives from 2014 to now, but there’s 12 more from 2009 to 2013 that didn’t make that cut. That makes it 32 altogether. What I didn't know until this day was just how monumental that is in the grand scheme.

Pro Football Reference has charted every single game winning drive since 1960. Of the 250 quarterbacks that are ranked here, Matthew Stafford is sitting at 15th all time. 15th! That puts him in a category with the greatest 14 quarterbacks to ever do it. We’re talking Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, John Elway, Johnny Unitas and Drew Brees. The greats. Aaron Rodgers is tied for 67th, if you’re curious, and I know you are.

That’s some serious clutch action there. What should make you happy is that 15 of them have come since Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator. That guy still works for Detroit, if you haven’t noticed.

It’s not just the drive though

I love Pro Football Reference. If they didn’t chart quarterback wins, they’d be the greatest website in the world since that one where the hamster dances. Not only did they chart game winning drives, they also charted fourth-quarter comebacks. Matthew Stafford has 26 career fourth-quarter comebacks. Again, PFR charted every fourth quarter comeback since 1960 and of the 273 quarterbacks they cranked, Matthew Stafford comes in at 11th all time. 11th!

Let’s dive deeper into the fourth quarter comebacks

Twitter trolls can be good for something some times. Recently a Twitterer had something to say about Stafford’s comebacks that I normally would have ignored if I myself did not want to know. His claim is that blah blah blah 5-46 blah blah blah Aaron Rodgers is the GOAT, blah blah blah the comebacks are only three points every time. It was the last part that interested me. So I started to dig. Here’s a chart of what I found.

Lions fourth quarter deficits

Game 4th quarter deficit overcame Final Score
Game 4th quarter deficit overcame Final Score
Vs Browns six points 38-37
Vs Redskins five points 37-25
Vs Vikings three points 26-23
Vs Cowboys six points 34-30
vs Raiders six points 28-27
Vs Rams eight points 27-23
Vs Eagles 10 points 26-23
Vs Seahawks three points 28-24
Vs Cowboys 10 points 31-30
Vs Saints 10 points 24-23
Vs Falcons eight points 22-21
Vs Dolphins three points 20-16
Vs Vikings one point 16-14
Vs Bears four points 20-14
Vs Bears seven poins 37-34
Vs Raiders four points 18-13
Vs Colts one point 39-35
Vs Eagles two points 24-23
Vs Rams seven points 31-28
Vs Redskins five points 20-17
Vs Vikings three points 22-16
Vs Jags three points 26-19
Vs Vikings three points 16-13
Vs Bears four points 20-17
Vs Cardinals two points 35-23

So let’s digest this. The troll isn’t right, but, then again, he isn’t that wrong either. Matthew Stafford and the Lions were forced to overcome leads that averaged out to almost five points per game. 4.96 to be exact.

That’s not a symbol of Matthew having it easy though. The average NFL game comes down to three to seven points every week. In fact, 114 of the 256 games played in 2017 were decided by seven points or less—that’s 45 percent.

Is Matthew the current comeback king?

Well I suppose that really depends. If we’re talking about since 2014? Then yes, he is. As Orlovsky points out, no quarterback in the NFL has led more game-winning drives in the past four years. But as far as career, Stafford has a ways to go, and he’s in company with a few players that are still currently in the league, but age plays part here.

At 40 years old, Tom Brady has the most career game-winning drives of any active quarterback with 42. At 39, Brees comes in right behind Brady with 41. Ben Roethlisberger has 39 and he’s 36, Eli Manning has 35 and he’s 37 and lastly, Matt Ryan has 35 and he’s 32.

Matthew Stafford just turned 30 in February. He already has 32 game-winning drives, and if everything goes right, he hasn’t had his last. Outside of Matt Ryan, Stafford really doesn't have competition that’s going to be around long. There’s a good chance he could one day hold the record for most game-winning drives in a career. He’d have to first garner 23 more game-winning drives to pass Peyton Manning at number one. That won’t be an easy feat, but then again, nothing has been easy thus far.