- Bill Barnwell
Who did the most to help his team win on Sunday? The answer to this question is usually the most prominent quarterback who won a close game, especially if it was a comeback.
So that's Drew Brees.
But we can't say Brees -- even if he led the Saints back from a huge deficit -- because that deficit existed in no small part because of him. The best-fit narrative of the game suggested the Saints were buoyed by Brees' sneak at the end of the first half and took the game over after that. It doesn't fit, though: Remember that they started the second half with drives ending in an interception and a fumble, each by Brees.
There were only three other close games on Sunday, and none of them fit the script, either. The Steelers beat the Vikings by virtue of two long touchdown returns off turnovers. The Texans narrowly held on for a 24-21 win over the 49ers because they couldn't stop the Alex Smith to Vernon Davis connection. Imagine writing that sentence in August. And on Sunday night, the Cardinals held on to beat the Giants thanks mostly to the total ineffectiveness of Eli Manning and the Giants' offensive line.
So on whom can we pin our hero hat?
Well, on the same people who deserve it most weeks: the star players of teams that won by a large margin. Our research has suggested that teams that stomp weak opposition by several touchdowns often end up outperforming those teams that win close games over their same brethren. There's no art form in winning close games that often come down to clock management, nonpredicative events such as missed field goals and fumble recoveries, or who gets the ball last. Joe Montana was 78-22 in games decided by more than a touchdown but 40-29 in games that came down to a difference of seven points or fewer. Brett Favre is 106-51 in the comfortable games, 61-45 in the close ones.
You can do that exercise with any quarterback you want. Of course, those close games get more attention than the blowouts because they're more entertaining. They produce better stories for journalists and better memories for fans and players alike. There's no shame in that, but don't mistake ability in close games for a skill. If you're looking for a hero from the week's slate of games, find the biggest blowout and take the best player from the winning team.
More often than not, you'll be right:
2dESPN Stats & Information