Who would you like to have running the ball on fourth-and-inches with the clock winding down? Or trying to stop that runner? Who are the NFL's best performers in crunch time, when the pressure is the most intense? I've selected a roster of players and coaches, even an official, who are at their best in a tight game's dying moments.
QUARTERBACK ON THIRD-AND-LONG, WHEN THE CLOCK IS YOUR ENEMY AND YOU'RE OUT OF TIMEOUTS: BRETT FAVRE, PACKERS
You need the gun, the ability to jam the ball into small areas, the courage to take a chance. On patterns such as the 16-yard comeback or the deep corner route, Favre and the Giants' Kerry Collins can get more velocity on their passes than anyone. The more speed on the pass, the less chance of an interception—and, yes, a greater chance that it could be dropped. But remember, this is third down, and there's another play left.
QUARTERBACK ON THIRD-AND-REAL LONG (18 YARDS OR MORE): MICHAEL VICK, FALCONS
The odds on completing a third-and-18 pass are slim, so you have to have the running threat back there. Who knows what effect his recent injury will have on his flamboyant style, but I expect he will pick up where he left off. He can take off and go for the first down himself—especially against a defense that's on its heels—or take off, pull up at the line and throw. In the game against the Steelers in which he brought the Falcons back from a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit, Vick converted third-down situations with 22, 23 and 24 yards to go.
QUARTERBACK ON FOURTH-AND-LONG: JEFF GARCIA, 49ERS
He'll run if he has to and dive for the first down. In a one-play scenario, in which the margin for error is zero. I'll take Garcia over Vick on experience.
QUARTERBACK TO RUN THE TWO-MINUTE DRILL: GARCIA
A few years ago I'd have said Favre, but over the last two seasons Garcia has proved to be the master. I counted six games in 2001 and '02 in which he led the Niners to victory in the two-minute offense. During the same period. Favre had only two such wins.
RUNNING BACK ON FOURTH-AND-INCHES: ZACK CROCKETT, RAIDERS