There are certain NFL players in the lore of the game that built a reputation for performing above and beyond when the weather got cold each year and the games became more important. You think of guys like Joe Montana, Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, and for some reason Eli Manning and Joe Flacco.
Then there are those guys that absolutely choke. What is it that makes someone a choker when it comes to football? Most people would agree that a choker is someone that has the ability to perform when there isn’t much at stake, and then flounder when everyone’s watching while an entire season is on the line.
With that said, there have been quite a few players and coaches that have earned the label of a “choker” for their lack of playoff success. Who are these chokers, and what stats are there to back it up? Here are the 15 biggest chokers throughout today’s NFL history, and since there is no tangible choking stat, there are in no specific order.
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15 Tom Brady
Tom Brady has a reputation for being one of the all-time playoff greats, but he certainly deserves his share of playoff criticism, as well. Brady won the Super Bowl in his first three trips, but since then has won the big one once despite 10 postseason visits. Brady lost two Super Bowl games to the New York Giants in 2007 and 2011, respectively, and his fourth Super Bowl appearance was only a couple of yards away from being a loss. Yes, Brady is 22-9 in the playoffs, but is 13-9 since 2005.
14 Jeremy Hill
Bengals running back Jeremy Hill is a newcomer to the choke artist list after his latest playoff performance. Hill had a costly fumble in the fourth quarter of the Wild Card game this year against the Steelers, and it ultimately ended up costing his team the game. So far in the playoffs, Hill has played two games and has just 97 yards on 25 carries and that crucial fumble to go along with it. Hill should have more chances to redeem himself, but he’s not off to a good start.
13 Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford has played 63 career games since 2010, and has yet to reach the playoffs or finish a regular season with a winning record. What makes Bradford a choker isn’t his lack of playoff success, but inability to perform in the fourth quarter during the regular season. Bradford is toward the bottom of the list of active quarterbacks when it comes to fourth quarter comebacks, leading just six in his career. Compare that to Joe Flacco, who has led 17 in his career that has lasted just two more years. Bradford also had a chance to win the NFC East in 2015 with the Eagles, but laid an egg against the Redskins in Week 16.
12 Matt Stafford
When things are going well for the Lions, Matthew Stafford does a fine job at padding his stats. When the Lions are down, Stafford hasn’t been able to come up big. Stafford’s completion percentage when the Lions are trailing is 5.4 percent lower than when they are ahead, and his average yards per attempt is 6.3 compared to 7.8, and that was just in 2015. Lions fans have bashed Stafford for not being clutch throughout his career, and it has been highlighted by the two playoff losses in his only two appearances, to New Orleans and Dallas.
11 Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer has been a revelation since leaving arriving in Arizona before the 2013 season, and has been among the best quarterbacks in the league in terms of stats since then. Palmer’s record in Arizona is 29-9, and it has brought his career record to 83-76. Palmer, however, doesn’t have much to show for his flashy stats, much like Stafford. Palmer’s first playoff appearance was marred by an early injury in 2005, and his two playoff appearances since then have ended with duds against the Jets in 2009 and Panthers in 2015.
10 Andy Dalton
There are only a handful of teams in the league that would prefer their current quarterback situation to one that involves Andy Dalton. Dalton is a solid quarterback, but he has built a reputation as someone that struggles when more people are watching. Dalton finished the 2015 season with a 4-9 career record in primetime games, but has helped lead Cincinnati to five playoff appearances. In the four playoff games that Dalton has started, however, the Bengals have not won a single one as Dalton has averaged just 218.25 yards during those games with one touchdown and six interceptions.
9 Alex Smith
No doubt that Alex Smith has been a solid regular season quarterback, amassing a 68-52-1 record, including a 30-16 mark with the Chiefs. Smith’s stats in the playoffs are on par with his regular season stats, and his touchdown to interception mark is 11 to 1, so what makes him a choker? Smith’s playoff runs have come to an end three times in the past five seasons in dramatic fashion. In 2011, Smith threw a game ending interception against Seattle, blew a massive lead against Indianapolis in 2013 and then led one of the slowest scoring drives ever against New England in 2015.
8 Russell Wilson
There will certainly be some controversy surrounding Russell Wilson on this list, especially with his 46-18 record in the regular season and 7-3 record in the playoffs. Looking back, though, it was the defense that came up big late in the 2013 NFC Championship Game, then any quarterback could have beaten Denver in the Super Bowl. The next year, Wilson cost his team a second consecutive Lombardi Trophy by throwing an interception to Butler, and that was after a bizarre NFC Championship Game they should have lost. In 2015, the Seahawks were bailed out in the Wild Card round by a missed field goal from Blair Walsh, and then Wilson’s struggles led to a huge deficit against Carolina in the Divisional round.
7 Billy Cundiff
It might seem like Billy Cundiff is retired, but he is currently a free agent and appeared in one game for Buffalo in 2015. Cundiff has a field goal percentage of just 76.2 percent, which is actually much worse than his 12 for 13 conversion rate in the playoffs. That one miss, though, was a killer. Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal against the Patriots in 2012 that would have tied in the AFC Championship Game, but choked it away. That kick, plus all of the makeable kicks he missed in the regular season, make him one of the biggest chokers at kicker in the league.
6 Tony Romo
Tony Romo is a quarterback that people either label the biggest choker in the league, or the most clutch, depending on who you ask. There is no doubt that Romo is the heart and soul of the Dallas Cowboys, but he’s had his moments in elimination games where his team has lost, whether it was his fault or not. It all started back in that Wild Card round game in Seattle when he fumbled the extra point snap, and only got worse when he lost the NFC East title in consecutive Week 17 games. Romo has played in six playoff games so far in his career, and his record is just 2-4.
5 Philip Rivers
Philip Rivers has more touchdowns and wins than any quarterback in Chargers history, but he also has the same number of Super Bowl wins with the franchise as anyone else who has played for them: zero. Rivers has an impressive regular season winning percentage at .575 and a touchdown to interception ratio of 2.08, but the playoffs are another story. Rivers has made five playoff appearances, and his record sits at 4-5 with a 1.22 TD to INT ratio. The closest Rivers got to being in a Super Bowl was in 2007, but after having knee surgery, he wasn’t his normal self and the Chargers lost 21-12 to new England.
4 Matt Ryan
Since 2008, Matt Ryan has been the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, only missing two games in those eight seasons. Ryan has a solid regular season record at 74-52, but his winning percentage in the playoffs is worse than literally any quarterback in NFL history at .200 (1-4). Ryan has thrown for an average of 246 yards in his playoff starts with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions and had a shot to go to the Super Bowl in 2012, but his team fell to the 49ers at the very end.
3 Peyton Manning
Just like Dan Marino, Peyton Manning is clearly one of the best quarterbacks to play in the NFL, and he has the stats to prove it. Manning is the all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns, and is the only person on our list to win a Super Bowl (unless you count Dan Reeves as a player). It’s strange that Manning has just one Lombardi Trophy, though, when you consider that he is in the midst of his 15th playoff appearance. His record is a paltry one at 12-13 with a TD to INT ratio of 1.58 compared to his regular season record of 186-79 with a ratio of 2.15.
2 Andy Reid
Just like Manning, Reid has a long track record of success in the regular season with a career winning percentage of .594, but has been mediocre in the playoffs with a record of 11-11. Reid needed five playoff appearances before reaching his first Super Bowl in the 2004 season while with the Eagles, only to lose to the Patriots. Reid has lost in his last six appearances since then without reaching the big game, reaching a conference championship game just once. The biggest knock on Reid in the playoffs has been his clock management, with some saying that it cost him a Super Bowl victory and a possible win this postseason against the Patriots (again).
1 Marvin Lewis
There is no doubt that Marvin Lewis has had an up and down career while the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, but his teams have finished with a winning record and playoff appearance every year since 2011. Despite 13 seasons with the Bengals, Lewis has absolutely nothing to show for it in the playoffs, as his career record is a miserable 0-7. Despite a record of 52-27 over the past five seasons, Lewis’s teams have not gone beyond the Wild Card round, but you can put the latest loss against the Steelers on Jeremy Hill.
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