Eli Manning vs. Ben Roethlisberger: Which Quarterback Is the King of Clutch?

Vincent Frank@VincentFrankNFLCorrespondent INovember 4, 2012

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

Four Super Bowl championships and five conference championships combined. Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning have had tremendous amounts of success in their careers and are bound for Canton. 

One, Roethlisberger, got down to brass tax immediately, winning the Lombardi in just his second NFL season. Meanwhile, it took the younger Manning brother until his fourth season to bring the trophy to New York. 

Both entering the league in 2004 and both being future Hall of Fame players, Big Ben and Manning will always be tied at the hip...In a good way.

Today's article is going to compare and contrast their nine-year NFL careers and attempt to draw a conclusion about which one is more clutch.

First Championships

2005 saw Roethlisberger take on history and lead Pittsburgh to the championship. However, the supporting cast that team had was one of the primary reasons that it went the distance. The quarterback threw for less than 200 yards six different times and compiled less than 25 pass attempts seven times. 

Its defense ranked third in scoring and fourth in total defense. James Farrior, Aaron Smith, Joey Porter and Troy Polamalu all made the Pro Bowl team. Meanwhile, Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker combined for nearly 2,000 total yards at running back. 

Roethlisberger led Pittsburgh to only two fourth-quarter comebacks during the regular season, but played near flawless football by throwing just nine interceptions throughout the entire year. Though, his 3.4 interception percentage was the second-highest of his career for a full season. 

In reality, the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers reminded me a great deal of the 2011 San Francisco 49ers. A dominating defense, solid running game and "game manager" at quarterback. You still cannot discount what Roethlisberger did in just his second NFL season, leading Pittsburgh to the Lombardi, though the 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl will forever be mired in controversy. 

It is hard to imagine now, but Manning was well on his way to becoming a bust. The former first overall pick was just one game over .500 in his first 39 starts and struggled a great deal with interceptions. In fact, Manning threw 55 interceptions between 2004 and 2007. Even more interesting, Manning led the NFL with 20 interceptions during the 2008 regular season. 

Speaking of 2007, that season didn't start out too well for Manning and the Giants. They lost their first two games of the year by a combined 32 points. Talk was afoot about Tom Coughlin's job security as the head coach and Manning's ability to actually be a solid starting quarterback in the NFL. 

New York did run off a six-game win streak before falling to the Dallas Cowboys for a second time as Manning threw two more interceptions. Two weeks later, he had a four-interception performance against the Minnesota Vikings. 

Needless to say, there wasn't a great deal of confidence heading into the season finale against an undefeated New England Patriots team. While the Giants did hold firm throughout that game, they lost 38-35 in the final minutes, enabling Tom Brady and company to go undefeated. Little did we know that these two teams would cross paths later. 

New York would get ultimate revenge against Dallas in the NFC divisional playoffs as a one-yard Brandon Jacobs fourth quarter touchdown sealed a comeback and set the Giants up with an NFC Championship Game matchup with Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers, who were considered huge favorites at the time. 

While Manning didn't throw a single touchdown in that game, he was instrumental in bringing the Giants back from a 10-6 halftime deficit. Manning completed 8-of-13 passes in the fourth quarter and overtime. The game ultimately went to an extra stanza where Corey Webster intercepted Brett Favre, setting up a game-winning 47-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes. 

Now it was all about "the rematch" as New York took on a still undefeated New England team to decide the championship. Maybe you remember this catch, which sealed a Giants' victory in the final quarter. 

As you can see, Manning escaped at least three sacks and got the ball to David Tyree for a miracle 32-yard pass on third down with the Giants down by four. A few plays later, Manning hit Plaxico Burress for a 14-yard touchdown to give New York the final lead of the game. Talk about clutch! 

The Clutch Factor

Surprisingly enough, both Manning and Roethlisberger have tallied a total of 28 game-winning drives in their nine-year NFL careers, which puts them behind only Peyton Manning for the most in the NFL during that span. 

However, it is important to delve further into the "clutch" factor when comparing the two. 

Manning does lead Roethlisberger with five career game-winning postseason drives compared to three for the latter. Though this is an important statistic to look at, both of Manning's Super Bowl wins have come this way, while only one of Roethlisberger's two championships have come via the clutch. Let's take a gander at how each of these quarterbacks have performed in the fourth quarter during their careers. 

2004-2011: Fourth Quarter Statistics

Eli Manning: 602 completion percentage, 8,251 yards, 65 touchdowns, 41 interceptions and a 86.6 rating. 

Ben Roethlisberger: .598 completion percentage, 6,884 yards, 43 touchdowns, 31 interceptions and a 84.8 rating 

2004-2011: One Score Game in Fourth Quarter

Eli Manning: .589 completion percentage, 4,594 yards, 44 touchdowns, 28 interceptions and a 80.6 rating

Ben Roethlisberger: .574 completion percentage, 5,037 yards, 33 touchdowns, 24 interceptions and a 82.6 rating

Obviously, both of these quarterbacks are extremely close as it relates to their success in the fourth quarter. That being said, Big Ben's numbers are a bit skewed due to a disastrous fourth quarter performance in 2006.

He threw four touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions and compiled a 55.5 quarterback rating. It's not a coincidence that Pittsburgh finished that season with a .500 record. In fact, 2006 represented the only year that Roethlisberger finished with a losing record as a starter (7-8). 

Postseason Success

Manning possesses a career 8-3 postseason record with all eight wins coming in the two seasons that he led New York to the Super Bowl Championship. Both times he had to lead the Giants to four postseason wins in order to hoist the Lombardi. Manning has won eight of his last nine playoff games, throwing 15 touchdowns compared to four interceptions during that span. 

Meanwhile, Roethlisberger's story is a little more complex. He has lost his last two postseason games, accumulating a 75 quarterback rating in the process. This was coming off the heels of his second Super Bowl Title in 2010. To say that Big Ben failed to light it up during that particular playoff run would be an understatement. He threw just three touchdowns in as many games. 

Overall, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback has a 10-4 career playoff record, but has thrown just three more touchdowns than interceptions and compiled a pedestrian 83.7 rating. Remember, he completed just 9-of-21 passes with zero touchdowns and two interceptions against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. Hines Ward, who caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Antwaan Randle El, actually won the MVP. 

Roethlisberger, however, did come through in the clutch against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. He led Pittsburgh on a game-winning eight play, 78-yard touchdown scoring drive in the final three minutes of that game, going 6-for-8 in the process. That drive culminated on an amazing six-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with just 35 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. 

For his part, Manning has been downright clutch when it counts the most in the Super Bowl. On the surface, his 84.9 quarterback rating during might not seem too great, but that's just on the surface. The younger Manning has tallied a 128.5 quarterback rating in the final stanza, throwing two interceptions compared to zero interceptions while completing a whopping 71 percent of his passes. 

That right there is as clutch as it comes. Seriously, only Joe Montana has turned up that type of performance in the Super Bowl in the modern history of the National Football League. 

Drawing a Difficult Conclusion

This comparison, or debate, if you will, probably doesn't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. Both Manning and Roethlisberger are already first ballot Hall of Famers, that really isn't even in question here. They have combined to win four of the eight Super Bowls since joining the league in 2004. 

Manning went toe-to-toe with Tom Brady on two separate occasions, coming out on top each time and outplaying a quarterback that has now made five Super Bowl appearances. 

Meanwhile, Roethlisberger's clutch performance against the Arizona Cardinals towards the end of Super Bowl XLIII is something that makes legends. 

When drawing a final conclusion about who is more clutch, I have to look at what Manning has done and how he has led the Giants, literally on his back, twice to win the ultimate championship in American professional sports.

Last year was a prime example of this. I am not even talking about his performance against New England in the Super Bowl. Instead, Manning's game against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game last season was something extraordinary. 

Manning was hit a total of 12 times and sacked six times, but came through when it counted the most against one of the best overall defenses in the NFL in front of a loud crowd at Candlestick. Overall, he completed 32-of-59 passes for two touchdowns and zero interceptions. That was one gutsy performance and cemented Manning's status as the most clutch quarterback in the NFL today. 

With all due respect to Roethlisberger, who has been clutch himself, no one compares to Manning at this point. 

*All statistics provided by ESPN, Pro Football Reference and the National Football League. 

Follow me on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL

Also get your fantasy sports fix over at eDraft. 


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