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So Bills say EJ Manuel has the clutch factor? Let's take a closer look at that

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I can keep an open mind about stuff.

This blog post will be an exercise in going through the process of figuring out whether selected data should change my opinion about EJ Manuel's rookie season.

BuffaloBills.com writer Chris Brown posted a story today with the headline "Manuel's play late in halves & games shows clutch factor." The team tweeted a link to the item with a triumphant photo of Manuel and the hash tag "#clutch factor."

"What's been largely overlooked," Brown writes, "is what appears to be a clutch factor to Manuel's game that simply can't be taught."

My first reaction: Wow, that's quite a statement. Brown's premise is that Manuel's performances in the final four minutes of first halves and games indicate the rookie was born with the "clutch" chromosome.

My second reaction: "Clutch" is a dangerous word.

You know who was considered clutch his first two NFL seasons? Mark Sanchez. Big-time clutch factor there. Fourth-quarter comebacks. Sudden death. Road playoff victories.

Sanchez also has really big hands and was coddled by a coaching staff and front office. The Jets didn't want him challenged by his backups or high-round draft picks. They constantly micromanaged Sanchez's psyche.

But I digress.

Back in January 2011, when I still worked for ESPN.com, I kicked around the idea of a "Clutch QB rating" with former Football Outsiders columnist Bill Barnwell, now of Grantland.com.

My thought was that a Clutch QB rating should include fourth-quarter, third-down and red-zone passing stats. Barnwell didn't disagree, although he asserted the best indicator of "clutch" came in the postseason.

Barnwell's general sentiment was people can gerrymander statistics to fit whatever definition of "clutch" they want.

The BuffaloBills.com analysis raises a point I'd quibble with. Nobody considers the end of the first half any kind of legacy-making crucible. We don't extol John Elway or Tom Brady for their heroics right before halftime.

Anyway, rather than take a lump of four-minute data and sign off on the idea an unproven rookie has demonstrated the "clutch factor," I'm about to go through Manuel's stats and game-by-game performances.

I have no clue how this will end. I'll just write whatever I come across as I encounter it and perhaps reach some sort of conclusion.

First, I'm going to look up how well Manuel performed in those critical situations mentioned above.

In the fourth quarter: 51 of 87 attempts (58.6 percent) for 520 yards and four TDs with three interceptions for a 76.8 passer rating. Manuel ranked 26th in the NFL here. His third-quarter rating was 2.3 points higher.

In the fourth quarter and winning/losing by seven points or fewer: 27 of 51 throws (52.9 percent) for 285 yards and two TDs with one interception for a 74.4 passer rating.

On third down: 47 of 99 throws (47.5 percent) for 510 yards and two TDs with two interceptions for a 61.4 passer rating.

On third down and between 3 and 8 yards to go: 24 of 55 passes (43.6 percent) for 243 yards and one TD with one interception for a 55.3 passer rating. This is the most common third-down passing situation.

On third down and 9 yards or longer: 16 of 30 attempts (53.3 percent) for 192 yards, one TD and one interception for a 70.4 passer rating.

In the red zone: 10 of 21 passes (47.6 percent) for 71 yards and six TDs with no interceptions for a 95.4 passer rating.

We also saw how much less effectively Manuel played away from Ralph Wilson Stadium. Winning on the road might be considered at least a symptom of "clutch."

Manuel had a 64.4 passer rating on the road, 27.4 points lower than his passer rating at home.

Now a look at his games ...

Week One, New England Patriots

Clutch situations: With the help of a defensive touchdown and an interception that set up Manuel's first NFL touchdown pass right before halftime, the Bills went into the fourth quarter with a 21-17 lead.

What happened: Manuel made the Patriots pay for their turnover right before the half, finding Scott Chandler for 19 yards and Robert Woods in the end zone for an 18-yard scoring strike. ... On three fourth-quarter possessions, Manuel completed two of six passes for 11 yards. The final legitimate series was a three-and-out with 4:31 to play. ... The Patriots let Manuel complete a 12-yard pass -- meant for laterals all over the field -- to end the game. ... The Bills lost, 23-21.

Week Two, Carolina Panthers

Clutch situations: With 1:38 to play, the Panthers kicked a field goal for a 23-17 lead. The Bills had to have a touchdown to win.

What happened: Manuel was impressive. He picked apart Carolina's injury-ravaged secondary. ... He completed six of his eight attempts for 51 yards. Five of his attempts were dumped to C.J. Spiller or Fred Jackson, but Manuel completed a couple nice throws downfield. ... Buffalo also benefitted from a 20-yard Luke Kuechly pass-interference call that wiped out an interception. ... Manuel punctuated the drive with a 2-yard TD toss to Stevie Johnson for the victory.

Week Three, at New York Jets

Clutch situations: The Jets dominated the action but committed 168 yards in penalties and two turnovers to jar the door open. The Bills tied the score at 20 with 10:39 left.

What happened: Manuel hooked up with Chandler for a 33-yard touchdown. ... The Jets answered with a touchdown to retake the lead. ... The Bills had four more possessions, but got past the 50-yard line once. ... Manuel completed five of his final 15 throws for 15 yards, not counting a spike to stop the clock.

Week Four, Baltimore Ravens

Clutch situations: None to speak of, really. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw a career-worst five interceptions. The Bills took a 20-7 halftime lead and fended off a late rally.

What happened: Manuel could've been far better in the second half. Buffalo added only a field goal in the third quarter, nothing in the fourth quarter. ... A pair of second-half Manuel interceptions helped Baltimore get back into striking distance. ... Buffalo's fourth-quarter possessions were interception, three-and-out, three-and-out and kneel out the clock. ... Manuel also fumbled, but Johnson recovered.

Week Five, at Cleveland Browns

Clutch situations: None for Manuel.

What happened: Manuel managed the game nicely, but the Browns scored 17 straight points before halftime. ... He injured his knee in the third quarter. ... Manuel missed the next four games.

Week 10, at Pittsburgh Steelers

Clutch situations: None again. The Steelers won with ease, 23-10.

What happened: Manuel, returning from his knee injury, made the game easier for Pittsburgh with a discouraging display. ... Nearly half of the completions BuffaloBills.com used to show Manuel's clutchiness came in garbage time at Heinz Field. ... Taking over with 4:34 to play, Manuel went 12 of 15 for 87 yards and a TD toss to Chris Gragg. ... Prior to that drive Manuel was 10 of 25 for 62 yards and an interception.

Week 11, New York Jets

Clutch situations: None again. The Bills, propelled by a defense that toyed with Jets rookie Geno Smith, were up 20-0 at halftime and cruised to victory.

What happened: Manuel had his best game of the year, going 20 of 28 for 245 yards and two TDs. ... He posted a 121.9 passer rating. ... None of it could be considered clutch.

Week 13, Atlanta Falcons

Clutch situations: Some interesting moments in Toronto. The game was close throughout. Manuel can't be blamed for the demoralizing overtime defeat, but did he do enough?

What happened: Buffalo took a 31-24 lead on Spiller's 36-yard touchdown dash with 11:48 remaining. ... Buffalo had four possessions after that. The first two were three-and-outs, with Manuel completing one of four passes, almost getting intercepted by William Moore and blamed for delay of game. ... Manuel moved them on their next drive, but Johnson fumbled. ... Chandler fumbled on the second play of overtime. Atlanta kicked a  36-yard field goal to win.

Week 14, at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Clutch situations: None. At all.

What happened: With the Bills' playoff hopes still alive, the Bills curled up in a fetal position. ... Buccaneers running back Bobby Rainey went 80 yards on the second play for all the points they would need. ... Manuel was 18 of 33 for 184 yards and no TDs with four interceptions. He got sacked seven times.

Week 15, at Jacksonville Jaguars

Clutch situations: On the road, the Bills were down in the second quarter and tied early in the fourth quarter.

What happened: Manuel picked up his second fourth-quarter comeback of the season and won his first road game. ... In an otherwise quiet second half for Manuel, he got the ball to fullback Frank Summers for a 1-yard TD with 9:35 on the clock. That capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive. ... Manuel didn't throw another pass the rest of the game. ... The clutch play was Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore intercepting Chad Henne in the end zone with 3:15 left. ... Manuel hurt his knee during the game and missed the final two games.

So how do I feel about Manuel's "clutch factor" now?

One of my suspicions was proven correct. A large portion of BuffaloBills.com's data occurred in games that were already decided and didn't impact the outcome.

Pittsburgh was one of Manuel's worst two games, but almost half of his four-minute, end-of-game success took place at Heinz Field against defenders just trying to finish without getting hurt.

We saw glimmers from Manuel, though. He has posted two legitimate fourth-quarter comebacks, one on the road and the other against a team that earned a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Because of that, I can't say Manuel won't become a clutch quarterback someday. He could be the circle-the-wagonest wagon-circler we've ever witnessed around these parts.

Maybe he will turn into the next Brett Favre.

Or perhaps he'll be another Mark Sanchez.

But the idea of declaring that Manuel might possess "clutch factor" DNA after 10 games makes me hope the Bills' new analytics department will go deeper with its evaluations.

  • Sand Ripper

    Manuel doesn't throw touchdown passes...he throws clutchdown passes.

    • j e gilly

      somebody has to say it...when's the last time an african american won a superbowl? upc

      • chas territo

        Race card, stupid comment made by a man of color, right? Why does or where does race enter the picture? Why do you bring up race? Are you so damn blind that you see, read or hear something even remotely racial in anything nowadays about players being discriminated upon? NO, dip snot, you don't. So stfu! GO BILLS!!

  • ptato22

    It's obvious the Bills' season is over and Bills' writers have no idea what to write about. It's been said many times before that it's too early to know what to make of EJ. He only played 10 games and missed way too much practice time both before the season began and then during it. He might be great some day and then again he might suck. This year they need to get another big time receiver and just forget about coddling him and make him open up the field and take chances. The sooner they know what they got the better. Instead of running 2/3 of the time on opening day, let him throw at least 35 times - up the field, to tight ends, running backs whatever. Let's just see what we get. Honestly, it's time to forget about conservative play calling: 14 years of failure should be enough to suggest that taking risks can't be any worse.

  • Jimbuffalo

    I agree. Glad to see you ignore marketing on this assertion. I certainly hope for the best, too. But Clutch? Premature emasculation.

  • kevin kresse

    I prefer when Chris Brown writes his own stuff. This article seemed to be a PR Puff piece. Good of Graham to see the trees from the forest, though there were signs in the Carolina and Atlanta game that in critical moments Manuel did not choke. The difference between being clutch and not choking is important, perhaps they are flip sides of the same coin.

    We all know Manuel has to deliver significant progress this 2nd season. We all know the offense did not improve from the previous season, in part because they were learning a new offense and they had new QBs.

    If Manuel does not deliver throughout the other 45 minutes of the game, what he does before halftime and in the 4th quarter will not save him long term.

    But there is something to be said for Manuel having signature moments that give us hope that he will be, as Whaley admitted, the Savior of the franchise we all want.

    And it would have been better to look at what happened offensively and defensively that led to Manuel's signature moments, than reducing the qualitative clutch factor into another quantitative statistic.

    We end up with the smell taste. Elway stunk up many a game until the 4th quarter when, usually at home, he seemed to come to life, freelancing his team with scrambles and dramatic broken pocket passes to receivers downfield. Perhaps there is something about 4th quarter comebacks that reveals the Clutch Factor, and it matters not how good statistically were those comebacks but only whether they happened.

    In the Patriots game, perhaps the clutch 4th quarter drive to finish the game ended with the unclutch drop of a pretty easy pass from Manuel to Johnson, just as an unclutch fumble from a Manuel to Johnson completion wiped out a great victory drive from EJ in Toronto.

    More important than Manuel being clutch in his rookie season is high paid veterans being clutch in the prime of their careers.

    What can we do about Manuel's receiving group and offensive line?

    Manuel needs Brady's offensive line protection and Manning's receiving core if we want to truly know how clutch EJ can be.

    Manuel was under constant attack on the road in the way he never was at home. Pittsburgh, Tampa and New York were poor games on his part. But in two of those he had no support from his offensive line.

    The Bills need to focus on the offensive line with the same commitment they have their defensive line if they want to be a playoff caliber team.

    Even Jim Kelly looked average when his offensive line struggled, Indeed, his best years took place before he lost his two all pro tackles to free agency. The Bills were never the same after their departures.

  • Greg

    One stat I'd like to see is of Manuel's third down completions, how many were for a first down, not completions. A clutch QB gets first downs.

  • JT

    Manuel has a big arm and is a running threat but everything about him is too slow.But he had allot of injuries that hampered his rookie season.Like him or not the Bills are committed to him.But i still wouldnt be surprised if a guy like McCarron is sitting their in the 2nd or 3rd round they take him.Until Manuel gets his head up to the speed of the game he will never improve.

    • chas territo

      Allot is 2 words, A LOT. Dictionary or thesaurus may help. GO BILLS!!

  • MaoSayTongue

    I wonder if all these "fans" would be giving up so soon on EJ if he were a white QB . . . just saying.

    • chas territo

      Usage of the Race Card?? Right, they bad mouth /ej because he is a man of color? You are so dumb and wrong. Nobody had anything to say because of color, it was because they are/were not happy with his results this past year.We, the fans do not care to see racism or racist comments because they are not what we see anywhere with our team or individual players.Get real, man! GO BILLS!!

      • MaoSayTongue

        Was Frederick Douglass playing the "race card" when he wrote his narrative?

        • chas territo

          Do you know what year this is or decade? FD is no longer relevant to today's standards on race. What you posted was an ignorant comment that really was nothing to do with EJ or QB's of color. Using the Race Card is ok only when there is a definite Race issue, not one you make up out of the blue. Yes, I'm Italian and Native American as well, but YOU will never hear or read me complaining about my heritage because it is not EVER relevant!! GO BILLS!!

          • Byron

            Chas Territo I don't believe in the saying "race card" because basically that term is used when people of a different "ethnicity" want to degrade what blacks have been going through for centuries. You're basically saying that you can use a phrase that you think has some ground by stating blacks should just forget about racism all together, and just play nice as long as they are still considered second class citizens you know? At any rate, I do agree with MaoSay when he says if EJ was a white guy he'd definitely get cut some slack this past year. Yes, we can all agree that he played terrrible at times, but he's only been in 10 NFL games in his career, and that's too small of a sample size to judge for "any" rookie QB coming straight from college. He definitely has room to improve, but him getting bashed in media outlets is only adding fuel to the fire for the racists out there who love to comment when a black, who happens to be playing a high profile position does not excel the way that they see fit. If he does terrible next year then we are all going to know that he's not a good QB period, but if he lights it up then I can almost guarantee that he'll be praised, and the race card comments will never be used again, or at least it won't be used until the "liberals" say it to defend against someone making a racial allegation...

          • chas territo

            Mao is just dumb to say race has anything to do with howEj has been talked about! EJ has had nothing what so ever written or said about him being black! Not one damn thing! I live in Buffalo and while racism is everywhere, the Bills do not use any kind of racist oppression at all!! EJ is our QB, not our Black QB!! Notice nothing ethnicized in that statement? It's because we, the fans, the bi;;;s and everyone associated with our city does not see him as black! They, we, I see him as a QB who happens to play for the Bills!! Now, Mao in his ignorance used a racial question, he kept a Bs thing alive and when others defend his action, racism stays alive! Get real man, his kind of comments makes white people get riled up and angry, further keeping racism alive. We do not need racial comments like what Mao posted, we need more dialogue!! Go away if you can't or don't see what I'm saying is true!! GO BILLS!!

  • chas territo

    I've been censored for a comment they wont let me post!! I didn't know WGR and it's Nazi's are here too??

    • MaoSayTongue

      Probably because you're Italian.

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Vic Carucci returned to The Buffalo News as a Bills beat reporter in September. Carucci covered the Bills for 17 years before joining NFL.com as a columnist in 1999. Prior to rejoining The News, he spent three years as a senior editor for the Cleveland Browns.

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida.