Stafford building a résumé as a quarterback who can win in the fourth quarter

Matthew Stafford produced his 19th fourth quarter comeback win on Sunday.

Matthew Stafford produced his 19th fourth quarter comeback win on Sunday for the Detroit Lions.

On Sunday the Detroit Lions did something they hadn’t done all season — they won back-to-back games as they defeated the Oakland Raiders at Ford Field, 18-13.

The victory was unusual this season, but the way it happened wasn’t – the Lions came from behind in the final quarter, erasing a four-point deficit. The comeback was spurred by a touchdown run by quarterback Matthew Stafford. While it may seem like he rarely ever rallies the Lions, the fourth-quarter comeback was the 19th of Stafford’s career, a mark that stands as a Detroit franchise record.

Even more interesting is this fact: Stafford has now won 38 games as a starting QB and half of them have come with a fourth-quarter comeback. To be fair, the Lions have too often been in a hole late in games, but still, Stafford’s total of come-from-behind wins is increasingly impressive.

The Detroit QB has now started 87 games in the NFL, with a mediocre record of 38-49. But #9 has brought the Lions back 19 times in the 4th quarter through Sunday, often when it seemed as if Detroit was flat and headed for a defeat. On Sunday against the Raiders the Detroit offense looked anemic, settling for a trio of field goals as they watched a sluggish Oakland team take a 13-9 lead into the last quarter. But Stafford found another gear and orchestrated a long drive that included a scramble for a first time in Raiders’ territory on third and long, and the quarterback draw up the middle to find paydirt.

Why does Stafford seem to be so poised when his back is against the wall? Early in games the Texan often looks discombobulated, trying to thread passes into tight coverage or making poor decisions. When the bell rings for the fourth quarter, Stafford can become a completely different player. Unfortunately for Detroit the Lions are often in too deep of a hole to let Stafford be The Comeback Kid enough.

Stafford’s late-game heroics are also in evidence through his 11 game-winning drives (an offensive scoring drive in the 4th quarter or overtime that puts the winning team ahead for the last time). Last season Stafford did that an incredible five times as the Lions logged 11 wins and earned a trip to the playoffs. This year the playoffs are highly unlikely.

A look at other modern QBs shows that Stafford rates well in comeback wins through his first 87 games:

4th Quarter Comebacks
23 … Matt Ryan
22 … Tom Brady
19 … Matthew Stafford
18 … Peyton Manning
17 … Jay Cutler
17 … Andy Dalton
16 … Joe Flacco
16 … Eli Manning
16 … Philip Rivers
16 … Tony Romo
12 … Drew Brees
10 … Aaron Rodgers

Granted, Stafford has played for the worst team of those 12 quarterbacks, his Lions are more likely to be behind than any of the other QBs on the list. But still, he’s fared well running a hurry-up, wide-open, two-minute offense. Here’s the QB record for each of these same 12 players through their first 87 starts:

QB Record in first 87 Games
64-23 … Tom Brady
59-28 … Philip Rivers
58-29 … Matt Ryan
58-29 … Aaron Rodgers
57-30 … Joe Flacco
50-37 … Eli Manning
50-37 … Tony Romo
48-39 … Peyton Manning
48-39 … Jay Cutler
46-41 … Drew Brees
44-43 … Andy Dalton
38-49 … Matthew Stafford

Lastly, here’s what I’m calling Comebacl W/L PCT, that is the winning percentage for the quarterback in games in which they trailed in the fourth quarter. Note that this list is for the first 87 starts of each QBs career.

Note that Tom Brady is from another world and Matt Ryan is pretty underrated as a comeback leader. It’s interesting to note that three QBs rate close to Stafford or below him. Stafford actually rates ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees in comeback winning percentage through 87 games in his career. At 27 years old, we should remember that Stafford was a starter in the NFL at the age of 21, a relatively young age to be over center in this league nowadays. While Lions fans may think Stafford is doomed to be an also-ran and never win big in the league, he’s eight years younger than Romo right now, who is (when healthy) still playing great football.

Comeback Win/Loss PCT (Percentage of games won when trailing in 4th quarter)
.489 … Tom Brady
.442 … Matt Ryan
.364 … Philip Rivers
.348 … Joe Flacco
.316 … Peyton Manning
.304 … Jay Cutler
.302 … Eli Manning
.302 … Tony Romo
.283 … Andy Dalton
.279 … Matthew Stafford
.256 … Aaron Rodgers
.226 … Drew Brees

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