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Three years ago, I looked at the career leaders in 4th quarter (and overtime) game-winning touchdown passes. That post is ready for an update, and there’s been some interesting movement at the top of the charts.

As a reminder: tracking things like game-winning touchdowns is only interesting in a trivial sort way. I looked at all games, regular and postseason, in all leagues, from 1940 (and before 1940 for postseason games) to 2015, and counted all touchdowns scored that put the player’s team ahead for good (with one exception: I did not count touchdowns scored when down by 7 and the team successfully went for two afterwards). The table below shows all players with at least 4 such game-winning touchdown passes.

Incredibly, Johnny Unitas is still the record-holder in this category. In 23 games, Unitas threw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to win the game for the Colts. His first came against Washington in 1956, with his last coming 14 years later against the Bears. The table below provides a link to all 23 such fourth-quarter, game-winning touchdown throws by Unitas:

NumYearOppBoxscoreDateTrailing ByScore BeforeScore AfterReceiver
11956wasBoxscore12/23/1956-417-1319-17Jim Mutscheller
21957sfoBoxscore11/24/1957-121-2027-21Alan Ameche
31958detBoxscore09/28/1958-115-1421-15Raymond Berry
41959detBoxscore10/11/1959024-2431-24Raymond Berry
51959chiBoxscore10/18/195907-714-7Lenny Moore
61959ramBoxscore12/12/1959-226-2431-26Jerry Richardson
71960gnbBoxscore11/06/1960024-2431-24Raymond Berry
81960chiBoxscore11/13/1960-320-1724-20Lenny Moore
91961sfoBoxscore12/03/1961-417-1320-17Jimmy Orr
101962ramBoxscore09/16/1962-427-2330-27Jimmy Orr
111962wasBoxscore12/08/1962-121-2027-21Jimmy Orr
121962minBoxscore12/16/1962-317-1421-17Raymond Berry
131963sfoBoxscore09/22/1963-414-1017-14Jimmy Orr
141963minBoxscore11/17/1963-434-3037-34Jimmy Orr
151963ramBoxscore12/15/1963-316-1319-16Tom Matte
161964minBoxscore11/15/1964-414-1017-14Alex Hawkins
171965ramBoxscore10/24/1965-620-1421-20Jimmy Orr
181965phiBoxscore11/21/1965-424-2027-24Jimmy Orr
191966chiBoxscore12/04/1966-216-1421-16Raymond Berry
201967gnbBoxscore11/05/1967-410-613-10Willie Richardson
211969atlBoxscore10/05/1969014-1421-14John Mackey
221970otiBoxscore10/11/1970-320-1724-20Roy Jefferson
231970chiBoxscore11/29/1970-620-1421-20John Mackey

Tom Brady was at 15 game-winning touchdown throws three years ago, but threw two in 2013, two in 2014 (both in the playoffs), and one last year. It will obviously depend on how long Brady remains both active and at the top of his game, but he seems to have a very good chance of at least tying Unitas before his career ends.

RkQuarterbackCount
1Johnny Unitas23
2Tom Brady20
3Dan Marino19
4Brett Favre18
4Fran Tarkenton18
6Jay Cutler17
6Vinny Testaverde17
8Eli Manning16
8Peyton Manning16
8Drew Bledsoe16
8Joe Montana16
12Dave Krieg15
12Terry Bradshaw15
12Sonny Jurgensen15
15Drew Brees14
15Y.A. Tittle14
17Carson Palmer13
17Tony Romo13
17Ron Jaworski13
20Philip Rivers12
20John Elway12
20Warren Moon12
20John Brodie12
24Matthew Stafford11
24Ben Roethlisberger11
24Neil O'Donnell11
24Steve Bartkowski11
24Joe Ferguson11
29Matt Hasselbeck10
29Jon Kitna10
29Jim Kelly10
29Ken Stabler10
29Norm Snead10
34Aaron Rodgers9
34Jake Delhomme9
34Mark Brunell9
34Randall Cunningham9
34Ken O'Brien9
34Dan Fouts9
34Charley Johnson9
34George Blanda9
34Bobby Layne9
43Babe Parilli8
43Cam Newton8
43Russell Wilson8
43Andrew Luck8
43Joe Flacco8
43Kerry Collins8
43Marc Bulger8
43Jake Plummer8
43Aaron Brooks8
43Trent Green8
43Jeff Blake8
43Jay Schroeder8
43Tommy Kramer8
43Brian Sipe8
43Craig Morton8
43Roger Staubach8
43Joe Namath8
43Daryle Lamonica8
43Len Dawson8
43Charlie Conerly8
43Norm Van Brocklin8
64Matt Ryan7
64Kurt Warner7
64Elvis Grbac7
64Troy Aikman7
64Steve Young7
64Boomer Esiason7
64Bubby Brister7
64Doug Williams7
64Jim Plunkett7
64Joe Theismann7
64Jim Hart7
64Ken Anderson7
64Sammy Baugh7
77Ryan Fitzpatrick6
77Mark Sanchez6
77Donovan McNabb6
77Jeff Garcia6
77Trent Dilfer6
77Rich Gannon6
77Chris Chandler6
77Bobby Hebert6
77Don Majkowski6
77Phil Simms6
77Steve DeBerg6
77Chris Miller6
77Steve Grogan6
77Marc Wilson6
77Lynn Dickey6
77John Hadl6
77Earl Morrall6
77Bart Starr6
77Don Meredith6
77Frank Ryan6
77Jack Kemp6
77Ed Brown6
77Jim Finks6
100Daunte Culpepper5
100Ryan Tannehill5
100Alex Smith5
100Andy Dalton5
100Josh Freeman5
100David Garrard5
100Steve McNair5
100Byron Leftwich5
100Brad Johnson5
100Jim Everett5
100Stan Humphries5
100Erik Kramer5
100Neil Lomax5
100Richard Todd5
100Jim Zorn5
100Pat Haden5
100Roman Gabriel5
100Tom Flores5
100Rudy Bukich5
100Tobin Rote5
100Frank Tripucka5
100Paul Christman5
100Red Dunn5
123Derek Carr4
123Sam Bradford4
123Brian Hoyer4
123Kyle Orton4
123Michael Vick4
123Jason Campbell4
123Bruce Gradkowski4
123Chad Pennington4
123Damon Huard4
123A.J. Feeley4
123Tim Couch4
123Mike Tomczak4
123Jeff Hostetler4
123Mark Rypien4
123Billy Joe Tolliver4
123Jim McMahon4
123Jack Trudeau4
123Don Strock4
123Bernie Kosar4
123Danny White4
123Bert Jones4
123Archie Manning4
123Greg Landry4
123Bill Munson4
123Bob Griese4
123Lamar McHan4
123Otto Graham4
123Sid Luckman4

But let’s not forget about… Jay Cutler? With three such throws in 2013, another in 2014, and four last year (against Kansas City, San Diego, and a 4QGWTDP In Name Only against Tampa Bay), the Bears quarterback is now only three behind Brady and six behind Unitas for the record. For what it’s worth, Cutler also “lost” one such game by my 2-point conversion rule: trailing 38-31 against the Chargers in 2008, Cutler threw a 4th-and-4 touchdown and then the two-point conversion to Eddie Royal, but that doesn’t go down as a 4QGWTDP by this system. Then again, maybe Cutler doesn’t really deserve credit for that one, anyway.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Very odd to see both Cutler, Testaverde, and Krieg high on this list, but it’s another reminder what happens in the other three quarters makes or breaks games as well. I would have expected John Elway to be ahead of Carson Palmer, too.

    • Wolverine

      Testaverde played forever, so by volume alone he had a lot of opportunities for GWTP.

      I will always maintain that Dave Krieg was underappreciated in the 80’s. Those Seahawks teams were good, but had the misfortune of sharing a division with the Broncos and Raiders, which limited their opportunities to go anywhere (kind of like the late 70’s Oilers sharing a division with the Steelers).

      I agree that Cutler is somewhat surprising. But, as you alluded to, poor play in the previous 3 quarters may have made Cutler’s teams trail against opposition they shouldn’t have been trailing against in the first place.

      • Tom

        Yep…been looking at this stuff a lot lately (see my other posts here), and it’s kind of interesting…you have guys that play pretty well “in the clutch”, but perhaps they wouldn’t have needed to had they just played better earlier on…Andrew Luck comes to mind.

  • I thought Baugh seemed low, given how well he played and for how long. But even accounting for the pre-1940 years he still doesn’t gain much (2 4Q TDs while tied, none while trailing). I think the era is a big factor in that.

    Steve Young and Otto Graham look really low until you consider that they didn’t really have many opportunities to trail in the fourth quarter. Their teams were just too good.

  • AgronomyBrad

    Interesting take on the “TD followed by a 2-point conversion when trailing by 7” exception. What if the QB threw the TD pass and also threw for the conversion? Shouldn’t he get a little credit for that?

    • Sure. He should get credit for throwing a game-winning 2-point conversion.

      • AgronomyBrad

        So then in your Cutler example, he should get credit for that “go-ahead” score against the Chargers

        • No doubt. I would consider 2-point conversion game-winners a separate category. In any event, there have been only 4 in NFL history.

      • Tom

        Chase – see my post above. I’m getting together a post that deals with this very issue. For now, I’m giving a 15-yard bonus for 2-pt. conversion. No research behind that, it just feels right to me…I weight it almost as much as a TD since we can assume that getting that conversion is crucial to winning the game.

  • Richie

    Just for fun, I re-sorted the top 25 as a percentage of games started:

    http://img.ctrlv.in/img/16/05/26/574742e095879.png

    • Wolverine

      Nice! I think this is way more useful than raw totals. Testaverde is still pretty high on the list, to my surprise.

      • Richie

        I guess even better would be to know how many games each of the players trailed in the 4th quarter.

        • Tom

          Richie – this is not quite the same, but I’m preparing a post using TAY/P (Bryan Frye’s stat, ANY/A with rushing and fumbles included) to measure performance during the 4th quarter when the QB’s team is trailing by one score or tied (the same criterion for 4QC/GWD). The list is limited, since PFR “only” has play-by-play data back to 1994. Below are the top 5 QB’s since 1994, sorted by Value (TAY/P * plays):

          • Tom

            Point being, this metric has Cutler being pretty high on the “clutch” ladder as well…

          • Richie

            Clearly there is a mistake with your research. Everybody knows Romo is a choker.

            • Tom

              Yes, exactly…Peyton Manning’s name in there is another red flag…those guys are chokers, I’ve got to rerun these numbers…

            • sacramento gold miners

              It’s just the playoffs where Romo has problems. Tim Tebow has one fewer postseason win than Romo does.

        • He’s another way to think of it, though: in 17 of his 67 career wins, Jay Cutler threw a GW TD in the 4Q or in OT. That’s crazy — it’s over 25%!

  • Tim Truemper

    Couldn’t help to notice how many grabs by Jimmy Orr. Everyone remembers Raymond Berry but Orr was pretty good too.