Manning or Rodgers is Crunch-Time Conundrum

With two seasons headed in opposite directions, the Packers and Giants don't necessarily figure to play a close game Sunday. But the NFL is a week-to-week league, and nobody, not even Aaron Rodgers, has clutched up in the fourth quarter quite like Eli Manning this season.

Amidst a season of brilliant quarterback play from Aaron Rodgers, the New York Giants' Eli Manning can at least say he has something on the MVP front-runner for the Green Bay Packers.

He has more fourth-quarter comebacks.

If not for Manning's clutch play in several games this season – most recently and impressively in a 24-20 victory at New England on Nov. 6 – the Giants might be out of the NFC playoff picture entirely. But at 6-5, even with a three-game losing streak, they have a chance.

Manning's five game-winning drives lead all quarterbacks this season. His four fourth-quarter comebacks tie him with the Bengals' Andy Dalton, the Cowboys' Tony Romo, and the 49ers' Alex Smith.

Of course, fourth-quarter comebacks are really a chapter in the Manning story. Few will forget his late drive and touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress in Super Bowl XLII to upset the unbeaten Patriots, 17-14. And Packers fans might remember Manning putting the Giants in position to win a couple times during the NFC Championship at Lambeau Field four years ago before kicker Lawrence Tynes finally won it in overtime with a 47-yard field goal.

Manning's 18 fourth-quarter comebacks and 22 game-winning drives (according to over eight NFL seasons rank similarly to some of the top active quarterbacks. The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger (20 fourth-quarter comebacks and 26 game-winning drives), the Saints' Drew Brees (16 and 23), and the Patriots' Tom Brady (14 and 18) are considered among the most clutch in the league over the same time span.

Manning, especially this season, has succeeded more than failed. Three times, however, the Giants have entered the fourth quarter down by seven points or less and have lost. Just as Manning gets credit but was not entirely responsible for each of the comeback wins, not all of the losses were directly his fault, either. There is at least some shared responsibility.

Nonetheless, Manning has stepped up in big situations when his overall body of work might not suggest it (just an 81.9 career QB rating in the regular season). His counterpart this Sunday, on the other hand, has had much less of an opportunity of late to post a comeback win.

During their 17-game winning streak (including the playoffs), the Packers have not trailed even once in the fourth quarter. According the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the longest winning streak in NFL history by a team that has never trailed in the fourth quarter.

For Rodgers, who missed the second half of the Dec. 12 game at Detroit last season and the Dec. 19 game at New England due to a concussion, the streak extends even further. He has not trailed in the fourth quarter in 18 games, the last time being Nov. 28, 2010, at Atlanta.

In that game against the Falcons, Rodgers led the Packers back from a 17-10 fourth-quarter deficit with a 16-play, 90-yard drive highlighted by two fourth-down conversions. The last was a 10-yard laser pass to Jordy Nelson for a touchdown to tie the game with 56 seconds left. The Falcons, however, responded in short time with a field goal in the final seconds to win 20-17.

Since then, Rodgers has only seen a tie one time in the fourth quarter of a game – that coming in the season finale a year ago against the Bears at Lambeau Field. With the score 3-3 early in the fourth, Rodgers hit Donald Driver for 21 yards and Greg Jennings for 46 yards before a 1-yard touchdown pass to Donald Lee gave the Packers the deciding margin at 10-3, a trip to the playoffs and Rodgers his only game-winning drive of the 2010 season.

All told, Rodgers has just five game-winning drives and three fourth-quarter comebacks since taking over as the starter in 2008. By comparison, the Jets' Mark Sanchez, the Cardinals' John Skelton, the Lions' Matthew Stafford and the Broncos' Tim Tebow have had as many or more fourth-quarter comebacks in less time.

Part of Rodgers' low total is due to him helping build big leads in games that have been too much to overcome for opponents in the fourth quarter.

Part of it also has to do with the Packers having trouble on defense during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, unable to close out leads or failing to give Rodgers adequate help.

And then a final part is Rodgers not being quite as dialed in over his first couple of years as a starter as he is now.

Rodgers has a 113.0 quarterback rating in the fourth quarter this season compared to 99.5 in 2010, 104.9 in 2009, and 87.8 in 2008. His rating with 2 minutes or less to go in the half goes from a low of 69.4 in 2008 to a high of 102.3 this season.

As great as Rodgers has become, comebacks have not been part of his rise to the top. Really, his only signature comeback moment came in the 2009 season opener, when the Packers beat the Bears 21-15 in the game's final minutes. With the Packers trailing 15-13, Rodgers hit Jennings on a third-and-1 for a 50-yard, game-winning touchdown.

So, the question begs, who has the advantage if Sunday's game comes down to crunch time?

Manning or Rodgers?

Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave publisher Bill Huber a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.

Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at

Packer Report Top Stories