The season thus far has produced fourth quarters full of comebacks, collapses, and commanding execution that have defined the fates of games. In these moments, play-callers fall victim to the state of the game, opening opportunities for the players to execute and make game-changing plays. However, no other player is magnified more in crunch time than the quarterback, whether their play is good, bad, or ugly.
Looking at quarterback performance in the fourth quarter in the above tiers, we highlight some notable signal-callers and their performance thus far utilizing SIS’ Independent Quarterback Rating (IQR). This metric builds on the traditional passer rating formula by isolating competitive throws (by excluding throwaways and only including accurate completions etc.) and eliminating the effects of results outside his control (dropped passes, dropped interceptions etc.).
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
IQR: 111.0 (3rd)
The current MVP favorite has led the Bills to a 5-1 record and has performed admirably in the fourth quarter. In addition to having the third-highest fourth-quarter IQR, Allen is second in adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A, a stat that incorporates touchdowns, sacks, and turnovers in yards per attempt) at 9.6 and 5th in positive pass percentage at 53.7% (min. 20 attempts). Allen doesn’t waver in confidence when it comes to crunch time. He is tied for fifth in on-target percentage (On-Tgt%) at 83.3%.
Not only is Allen getting it done through the air, but he is also succeeding on the ground. Allen is third among QBs in rushing Total Points and is tied for second with six first downs picked up when calling his own number.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
IQR: 99.6 (7th)
The fourth quarter is when Joe Burrow has put on his best performances thus far. When comparing his numbers in quarters one through three to the fourth, it is evident that Burrow shines the brightest in crunch time. His ANY/A increased from 5.7 to 7.0, his On-Tgt% increased from 77% to 80%, and his EPA per attempt (EPA/A) increased from -0.10 to 0.09, placing him in the top 10 in each category in the fourth quarter. Part of this bump in success can be attributed to facing less pressure as Burrow’s pressure rate drops from 32% in quarters one to three to 18% in the fourth.
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
IQR: 79.5 (21st)
Unlike Burrow, Patrick Mahomes has seen a surprising decline in performance in the fourth quarter this season. The former MVP’s ANY/A drops from 8.4 (tied for first) to 3.6 (tied for 26th), EPA/A drops from 0.26 (first) to -0.14 (18th), and positive pass percentage drops from 54% (first) to 42% (23rd). What is also concerning is that Mahomes is less accurate in the fourth quarter, as his On-Tgt% drops from 76% to 72%. If the Chiefs want to get back to the Super Bowl, Mahomes will have to improve in fourth quarters to avoid another letdown.
Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
IQR: 60.3 (30th)
Across the AFC West, another young superstar QB is having trouble in the spotlight at the end of games. Justin Herbert’s performance has dropped significantly when entering the fourth quarter. His ANY/A drops from 7.8 (6th) to 4.2 (T-24th), On-Tgt% drops from 77.5% (11th) to 71% (24th), and his EPA/A drops from 0.15 (4th) to -0.29 (28th). Another alarming fact is that his 7.0 average depth of target (ADoT) in Quarters 1-3, which ranks 29th, drops to 4.2 in the fourth quarter. That’s good for the second-lowest in the NFL.
Herbert and the Chargers have a conservative approach in the fourth quarter, holding back what is known to be one of the more electric arms in the NFL. However, Herbert and the Chargers have to be more aggressive to win big games in crunch time if they are going to knock off the perennial powerhouses and take the step they want to take.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
IQR: 56.4 (33rd)
The Ravens’ three losses this year have come at the hands of blown second-half leads, with two of those leads blown in the fourth quarter. Quarterback play has undoubtedly been one of the main reasons the Ravens are getting out to big leads but also part of why they’re blowing them. In quarters 1-3, Lamar Jackson is third in IQR at 113.2 and eighth in ANY/A at 7.3. Also, in his usual self, Jackson is averaging 0.52 EPA per rushing attempt, which is good for fourth in the league among QBs. However, the fourth quarter has not been good for Jackson. His ANY/A drops to 3.3 (29th), and EPA per rushing attempt drops to -0.22 (12th).
Additionally, an On-Tgt% of 66.7% puts him in the bottom tier of QBs. What is also concerning is that Jackson is also getting better protection in the fourth quarter, as the pressure rate he is facing decreases from 31% to 24%, making it easier for him to get the ball downfield when needed. If he wants to be the highest-paid QB in this league, Jackson has to play better when it matters the most.
James Weaver contributed to this report.