A National Football League quarterback must possess a so-called “clutch gene” if he is to get the job done on a Super Bowl Sunday. The NFL championship game attracts more attention than does any other North American sporting event. Guys who cannot handle playing under those bright lights, if for only a few hours, don’t hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. They are the ones stepping up to the podium to speak with reporters as their opponents are on the field being interviewed by Terry Bradshaw while they sport brand new shirts and spray champagne as confetti falls onto the field.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from those champions are players who shrink when under extreme pressure. Most of them never get to a Super Bowl in the first place let alone fall apart on the final Sunday of an NFL season. Former Philadelphia Eagles starter Donovan McNabb immediately comes to mind. McNabb had several opportunities to carve out a memorable legacy for himself as the man to help guide the Eagles to a Super Bowl championship. He and those rosters lost each time a title was on the line, and part of the blame could go to an individual who is featured in this piece.
Who you would name to your list of the biggest chokers currently in the NFL somewhat depends on how you would define the word. It is not, for example, crazy or a “hot take” to feature quarterbacks who are guaranteed to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame not long after they retire in this piece considering there have been multiple instances in which they have been out-performed by seemingly inferior competitors. The amount of hardware these men have left on football fields because of making critical errors and miscues could fill a tractor-trailer and an accompanying minivan with little room left to operate those vehicles.
15. Tom Brady
Nobody would even think of mentioning Brady for such a list if we were in 2004. It’s a decade past that, however, and Brady has had eight opportunities to win an additional Super Bowl. He and the New England Patriots failed each time. Brady has, over that stretch of time, twice been outplayed by Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in AFC Championship games. Eli Manning of the New York Giants has owned Brady on Super Bowl Sundays. While there is the excuse that the contest took place at Lambeau Field, Brady lost to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the fall of 2014. Would that happen again if the two were to meet at a neutral site in February?
14. Billy Cundiff
Avoid clicking on this link, fans of the Baltimore Ravens. You probably didn’t need to be told that, but better safe than sorry. Cundiff had a chance to kick the Ravens into the Super Bowl on a cold January night at Gillette Stadium in 2012 when he lined up for what should have been a chip-shot field goal for any professional placekicker in the NFL. With the ball placed on the left hash mark, Cundiff hooked his attempt well wide of the left goalpost. Baltimore deserved to play for a championship that winter, and Cundiff has to make that kick ten times out of ten to earn his NFL salary.
13. Andy Reid
Teams like the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns who have seemingly been allergic to postseason play would happily take a head coach with Reid‘s resume. Those looking to achieve more than experiencing January football, however, would want to consider shying away. Reid had five – count ’em – five chances to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl, four of which came in a row. The Eagles played in only one title game, a contest Philadelphia lost to the New England Patriots. Add in that Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs gagged a massive lead away to the Indianapolis Colts in the 2014 AFC Playoffs, and the head coach deserves to be on this list.
12. Cam Newton
We may learn after the season that Newton does not deserve to be on this list due to the fact that he has been banged up since the summer months. Newton has been dealing with injured ribs, a taped-up ankle and a wrist problem (and other rumored ailments) throughout the regular season, and yet he has played whenever possible. Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has played down such concerns, however, and Newton has, on several occasions during his NFL career, been his own worst enemy by making avoidable and silly miscues. There are now some questioning if Newton can prove himself to be the future quarterback of the Panthers.
11. Matt Stafford
Whether or not you would add Stafford to a list of biggest chokers in the NFL depends on how much you would blame any quarterback for his team’s failings. Detroit is quickly becoming known for falling apart during the final quarter of regular seasons, so much so that it is a foregone conclusion in the eyes of many that the Green Bay Packers will easily glide to another NFC North title this holiday season. Stafford does not have a long history of collapsing when playing on the big stage, but he also has yet to notch that big win that you immediately think of upon hearing or reading his name.
10. Robert Griffin III
RG3 is a different kind of choker in that he is choking away the chance for him to be a top sports superstar in the country. Nobody can deny that Griffin has remarkable natural gifts and a skill set that could allow him to be close-to-impossible to defend against on a weekly basis. It is his commitment to the cause, or lack thereof, and his relationships with his teammates and not the fact that his body has betrayed him on multiple instances that has the Washington Redskins considering moving on from Griffin after December 2014. RG3 will not be able to blame only injuries if he turns out to be a pro football flop.
9. Alex Smith
This one probably smarts a bit for fans of the San Francisco 49ers. Smith had a nightmare performance in the 2012 NFC Championship Game when starting for San Francisco against the New York Giants. He completed just 12 of 26 pass attempts, and Smith had a hand in the 49ers converting only once out of 13 total third-down situations. Labeled a game-manager who isn’t going to routinely win shootouts, Smith has since moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs, and he was part of the KC side that blew the lead to the Colts in the previously mentioned postseason contest earlier this year.
8. Matt Ryan
I will listen to anybody who wants to argue that the Atlanta Falcons have never done well enough to put a solid offensive line in front of Ryan, and that Ryan could have found success with other organizations. Those individuals would, however, be ignoring that Ryan has had the fortune of being surrounded by talented offensive weapons, the type of targets Tom Brady would utilize so much that his offense would put up historic numbers. Ryan is right now not a big-game quarterback, and there are real reasons to believe that he may never get to that level.
7. Matt Schaub
Death, taxes, the New York Jets making the back page of the New York Post for unflattering reasons and Matt Schaub throwing an interception that gets taken to the house: You can set your watch to all of them. That Schaub remains on any NFL roster and sees playing time in 2014 tells you all you need to know about how much franchises covet quarterbacks with big arms. Schaub is not just a below-average quarterback who wouldn’t be No. 1 on any depth chart. He is a liability, a turnover and pick-six in waiting whenever he takes the field for a meaningful game.
6. Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick has had multiple opportunities to cement himself as a top quarterback over the years. He has been beaten each and every time. Some would point out that Kaepernick alone did not lose those games, a fair point minus the fact that teams live and die on quarterback play in the modern NFL. While Russell Wilson has emerged as one of the best young signal-callers in the league, Kaepernick has, in the eyes of some analysts, regressed. Kaepernick may put up some impressive fantasy football points from time to time, but he cannot yet be trusted to win a team the big game.
5. Andy Dalton
Dalton has not been in the league as long as Rivers, Cutler, Manning and Romo. The 27-year-old is not yet in his physical prime as it pertains to playing the quarterback position at the highest level. Dalton is not having his best season in 2014, though, and his 0-3 postseason record sticks out like a sore thumb when evaluating what is still a relatively brief NFL career. One has to imagine that Dalton’s winless January record played a major factor in the Cincinnati Bengals only guaranteeing the quarterback $17 million upon making him the team’s “quarterback of the future” earlier this year.
4. Philip Rivers
Rivers has gone through an impressive revival over the past couple of seasons, and he was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year for 2013. While he has all of the physical tools to be a superstar quarterback in the NFL, Rivers has not taken that next step to join the likes of Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger let alone enter the tier of the best QBs in the league, one that includes Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. An easy argument to make is that Rivers has never, in his pro career, played on the best roster in the NFL. The counter to such a comment is that elite quarterbacks make their teams that much better.
3. Jay Cutler
Cutler has a reputation for being a modern Jeff George, and that is not at all a compliment to the current starting quarterback of the Chicago Bears. There is no question that Cutler has a rocket arm and can fit passes into tight windows. The decisions that he has made in games over the years have been downright baffling, and Cutler’s meltdowns have become annual traditions. Chicago awarded Cutler with a deal worth a guaranteed $54 million, a contract that could pay the quarterback up to over $126 million. There are whispers around the NFL that some within the Bears are already regretting that deal.
2. Peyton Manning
Manning is the greatest regular season quarterback in pro football history, and those who would say otherwise know little about the NFL or are simply not fans of the player. That said, Manning’s postseason failures throughout his legendary career have been well-documented. Outside of those memorable losses to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, Manning threw a costly pick-six when taking on the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV, an interception that helped propel the Saints to the first Super Bowl victory in the history of that franchise. Manning and the Denver Broncos were mauled by the Seattle Seahawks at Super Bowl XLVIII, but that was more about Seattle being the better team than about Manning costing Denver a win.
1. Tony Romo
Fans of the Dallas Cowboys and those quick to defend Romo love nothing more than to pull out some statistic to prove that Romo is actually not a choker. Here is a stat for each of them: Zero – the amount of championships Romo has won while in the NFL. No Super Bowl ring. No NFC Championship to his name. Nothing of merit as of the posting of this piece. Romo is a quality quarterback who could start for most teams from September through the end of November. It is when December comes that coaches and general managers would shy away from Romo, who, at 34 years old and with an injured back, is running out of time to change his reputation.