The greatest virtual experiment in Northwestern Athletics History, pt. 1
The column is back. And we’re harkening to my freshman year, where I once wrote a story that I called the “greatest experiment in Northwestern Virtual History.” For those who remember then, I attempted to take Trevor Siemian, aka Touchdown Trevor to the Super Bowl in Madden 16 with the Denver Broncos.
The experiment fizzled out after eight games because I was freshman with a short attention. I’ve got some good, or bad, news for you. The commitment has improved, and we are bringing the concept back in 2019.
We had the Touchdown Trevor Odyssey. I now introduce to you, the Clutch Clayton Chronicles. That’s right. I will attempt to bring Clayton Thorson, newly drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, to the Super Bowl in Madden 19 in the 2019-20 season.
Are there rules to this conquest? Yes. First, I turned off injuries, because well having Clayton get injured would defeat the point. Second, the difficulty is set on All-Pro and we’re using 10 minute quarters. Did I use to play on All-Madden? Yes. Could I still? Maybe. Will this experiment have a better chance of succeeding on this difficulty? Probably. Should you call into question my video game experience throughout this entire process? Probably.
Third, I’m only playing offense except in ‘extreme’ situations. I happen to be very good at playing the computer on defense in All-Pro with any squad rated high enough, and that wouldn’t be fair. Clayton won’t have a chance to control what his defense does in real life. Also in the interest of time, yeah, offense only.
Fourth, I turned the fumble sliders all the way down halfway through. For the first set of games I played, they were at 50, and fumbles happened too much for me to handle. I then put them at ‘0’ for two games, which funny enough, is the highest fumble setting you can get, so that was fun. After that, I fixed it, but you can still fumble if you get sacked in the motion of throwing. I just wanted to be able to run with Clayton with peace of mind.
Fifth, an important caveat. I have a bit of an advantage because I’ve played three seasons with Clayton as a quarterback before. Back in the fall, I decided to try and win a Super Bowl with the Browns, and I did with Baker as a rookie. I then drafted Clayton and made three straight Super Bowls, winning two in 2020 and 2022. Why did I play four seasons with the Browns? Well, after losing the Super Bowl in 2021, I felt the need for a Clayton Revenge Tour. Anyways, I generally have a feel for how Madden Clayton should be used, which is more than I did with Trevor back when I embarked on the Odyssey.
Sixth, the way I started this experiment was to simulate a year off the bat with the Eagles in a new franchise. Then I loaded the most popular user-generated draft class into my franchise and conducted the Eagles draft. I drafted all the players the Eagles did, but I can’t say the same for other teams. Kyler Murray is on the Giants and Dwyane Haskins took over for a retired Tom Brady in New England. I then gave myself a boost by trading the other quarterbacks on the Eagles roster to help Clayton out.
We traded Carson Wentz to the Dolphins for cornerback Xavien Howard, and Nick Foles for linebacker Mark Barron. We signed free agent Nate Sudfield, fresh off his release from the Eagles, back to the team to back up Clayton.
The Clayton we inherited in the NFL Draft is a 61 overall. For comparison, Carson Wentz started the season as an 87 and ended at an 85. Yeesh.
I’ve shown above his accuracy and throwing power, and his ability to jump (?). So good arm, okay short accuracy, bad at everything else, pretty solid at throwing on the run. The Madden iteration of Clayton is a scrambler, and not very accurate.
Last rule! And an important one. Every reference to Clayton above and here on out is to Madden Clayton, and not to the real Clayton Thorson. The real Thorson was awesome for four years at Northwestern, and I’m happy I get to unabashedly root for him in Philadelphia (my favorite team, if you somehow didn’t know). If I say Clayton sucks in the coming paragraphs, it’s Madden Clayton, who again is a 61 overall.
And before we get started, why did I do this? I don’t know. I love video games. That’s about it. Cool. Let’s get cooking
Week 1: Philadelphia Eagles vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Remember when I warned you that Madden Clayton sucks. Well yeah. On my very first drive in the first game we were moving down the field just fine. Get to the Red Zone looking for some nice mesh action. Nope. Clayton apparently was ‘under pressure’ and missed the target real bad.
I knew we were in for a long season. The baseline for competent quarterbacking in Madden is being able to throw slants, outs and drag routes, and if Clayton can’t do that, we’re in trouble. We settled for three here, and then Tampa Bay scored.
Then Clayton got sacked and gave up a scoop and score! Brutal. 14-3. We got the ball back in the second quarter already in the hole, but Clayton was undeterred. We marched down the field and scored the first real touchdown of Clayton’s pro career!
So a few things to note. The Eagles running back corps of Corey Clement, Ty Montgomery and Miles Sanders are not good! And the offensive line, after Jason Peter’s in-game retirement is not good! Running the ball is hard, and Clayton takes a lot of sacks as well. What you saw above is pretty much the standard recipe for success. Step up, roll right, and find the open man. If we don’t scramble a bit, the receivers won’t get open.
We kicked two more field goals in the third quarter but Tampa Bay scored a touchdown. Getting the ball to start the fourth, the Eagles trailed by five. Clayton, however, is clutch as we know, and drove the team all the way down to the goal line and then showed off his wheels:
First career rushing touchdown for our guy. Everyone is happy in Philadelphia. We tacked on a touchdown (Thorson sneak) after a late Bucs turnover and went 1-0 in week one. Just like we planned.
Wow. No INTs for Clayton, and an absolutely horrible showing for Jameis Winston. This is why we upgraded the defense.
We stayed pretty committed to the run in week one. Clayton showed off his dual threat ability. Hey, we might have something here!
Week 2: Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) vs. Detroit Lions (0-1)
Putting our 1-0 record on the line. Thankfully the Madden Lions are bad. We drove down the field and kicked a field goal on the opening drive. After the defense got a stopped, Clayton really found his groove, and made this sweet throw on the run for a touchdown:
Shrugging off defenders and throwing darts. Love it. Clayton just was *feeling* it at the Linc. We got the ball back and Clayton just dropped an absolute dime to Mack Hollins:
Look at that placement. We were up 17-0 and coasting to a win (thanks defense), but then Clayton (read: me) made a terrible read. Nothing like a pick-six to keep you humble.
We scored a touchdown the next quarter with a Clement dive up the middle to put the game away, despite some garbage time points.
Elite stuff. Other than that pick-6, Clayton carved up the Lions’ secondary.
2-0. Feeling pretty good.
Week 3: Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) vs Dallas Cowboys (2-0)
Well friends, it’s the third game straight in Philadelphia, and a division rival is rolling into town. Clayton was feeling good coming in, but things came off the rails quickly.
We couldn’t run the ball, and we made some bad throws, including an interception. Dallas put up 14 in the second quarter, and we had a chance to cut into the deficit at the end of the half. We drove all the way to the two-yard line and decided to run a fake field goal, and well, Jake Elliott did not come up clutch (ignore my gif maker):
He was wide open! The Cowboys went up 21-0 at the start of the third quarter and we were in a hole. Clayton cobbled together a long drive to make it a two-score game, and then after a field goal from Dallas, he ripped off this beauty:
What a throw. Unfortunately, the defense kept bleeding and the offense was pretty terrible. Division loss to a very talented Cowboys team, who was an 87 OVR. (The Eagles are an 85)
Those two interceptions mark what was below-average day from our guy.
Zeke. Just a tank. The Eagles are now 2-1.
Week 4: Philadelphia Eagles (2-1) vs. New York Jets (2-1)
I don’t know what the scheduling deal is, because it’s now our fourth straight game to open the season at home. Clayton and Sam Darnold traded some touchdowns early on to make 7-7, featuring a patented QB sneak. We settled for a field goal where they had a touchdown and it was 14-10 heading into the two minute drill at halftime.
After another great drive, Clayton went high at the end of the half to find Alshon and take a 17-10 lead.
The Eagles were sitting pretty at halftime, and then things went south for Clayton. He threw two picks in the second half and the Eagles offense crumbled. The Jets took a 21-17 lead and Clayton got the ball back with late in the fourth quarter with a chance to win the game.
Instead, he went three-and-out, and didn’t get the ball back until there was 10 seconds left. Enjoy this Hail Mary attempt.
Oof. What was a hot start has now degraded into some ugly football behind the second bad game from QB1.
Yeah. Not a great stat-line. The Jets offense was not even good in this one, and benefitted from a lot of short fields.
We’ve seen the good and bad from Clayton in four weeks. All things considered, we’ll take it, but the signs of incompetence are showing.
Week 5: Philadelphia Eagles (2-2) @ San Franciso 49ers (1-3)
First game of a road trip and I probably delivered my worst Madden game ever. It was so bad. Like, the worst. I have no highlights to show for it. We had a field goal. That was it. Clayton fumbled twice and threw two picks. He only threw for 154 yards. The Niners’ offense wasn’t very good either, but they didn’t have to be.
Yeah. That’s bad.
I don’t know what to say. This is the first game I’ve played in a long time where I thought to myself, “Wow, this really sucks! Why am playing 16 games with a 61 overall QB in the middle of May?”
Week 6: Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) @ Washington Redskins (2-2-1)
Second game of a road trip, and things have not changed. The Eagles are in a rut, and we put up just three points in the first half against the Redskins. Alex “Dink and Dunk” Smith hung 14 points on the board and Clayton had a fumble and an interception. Ew.
Doug Pederson said some angry words at halftime and Clayton came out rejuvenated. We drove down the field and punched in a QB sneak, but the computer decided to go for two, and somehow it didn’t think I was on offense, and we missed it.
Washington responded with a field goal at the very start of the fourth to take a 17-9 lead. Still just a one score game. Clayton came roaring down the field and made a huge throw to Mack Hollins with some assistance from a big Shelton Gibson block:
Notice Gibson is wearing, uh, 35, which we picked randomly because he used to wear 18, and we needed that for the chief. This time, I didn’t let the computer play the conversion, and we drew up a nice out route to Montgomery:
Was that even across the line? What a tight window and a near disaster! In any case, Clayton’s fourth quarter heroics tied the game. After a big stop, we got the ball back with a tie ball game with four minutes to play. Could Clayton engineer another winning drive? The early returns were poor, as he was saddled with a third and long deep in his own territory. Then this happened:
What a huge throw! Clayton managed the clock the rest of the way with some key rushing first downs, and Jake Elliott kicked a short game winner. Dub season.
Great performance from Clayton, even if there weren’t a ton of touchdowns.
Just a huge win for the squad to right the ship. We’re 3-3 and feeling good.
Week 7: Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) @ Buffalo Bills (1-5)
So this one is on me. The Bills were 1-5 and a 77 OVR and in the third game of a road trip I messed around too much. I threw only one pass attempt in the first quarter which you can see here:
I only ran the ball exclusively because I thought I could mess with the Bills defense, but we are definitely not good enough to do that. On the second pass attempt of the game in the second quarter, we threw a pick. The Bills scored. On the first play of the next drive, Clayton fumbled. It was bad.
We scratched across a field goal, but Buffalo’s offense decided to wake up from their coma and took a 22-10 lead. Despite the jokey first half, we refocused and Clayton put together another drive capped off by the classic scramble right and slant route for a TD:
Then uh, Clayton threw another pick and fumbled again and the Bills took a 36-17 lead. This was real bad from Clayton and my fault for not taking the Bills seriously. We scored a garbage time touchdown, but the fans are starting to get VERY restless back home in South Philly.
Only 24 attempts. 201 yards. Don’t joke around!
Week 9: Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) @ Green Bay Packers
What is up with the scheduling gods? We played our fourth road game in a row, and had to go play the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers. Could Clayton stand a chance against a very bad man? Before this game, I was really sick of all the fumbles, so I put the slider at 0.
Well after some drives stalled out, Clayton made his way down the goal line early in the second. It was time to pull out the patented QB sneak. Except, 0 on the fumble sliders means the MOST fumbles and this happened:
I nearly spiked my controller.
No worries, thought. Clayton is resilient, and after Green Bay scored but missed an XP, he drove right back down to the goal line, and pulled out a nifty play action pass this time:
Look at his ability to take a hit and deliver a throw on the money. Just a ton of toughness and grit on this guy.
Aaron Rodgers, however, does not care about our feel-good story and promptly scored two touchdowns to make it 20-7. Clayton responded with another great drive with a sneak that worked, so it went to halftime at 20-14 Green bay.
And then on the very first play of the first half, Clayton found the very fast Jakeem Grant (we traded for him) and he went to the HOUSE:
Look at that blocking from Alshon. And that pure speed. Clayton is hanging with Aaron.
We followed that up with another touchdown to take a huge 28-20 lead.
But Aaron Rodgers, bad man that he is came out in the fourth with two insane drives (I don’t know how insane they were, but I was mad at the defense) and converted the two-point conversion to make it 35-28.
Clayton got the ball back with three minutes and change to go, and a chance to tie the game. Except after a furious drive and a touchdown scored with 15 seconds to go, we went for the win on the two point conversion, trying to steal a result on the road.
Alshon Jeffrey dropped a catch on a slant and the Eagles lost, 35-34. Heartbreak.
Did Clayton outduel Aaron Rodgers? Yes. This was an unstoppable Clayton performance, and it just came up short.
The two fumbles were rough with the sliders. We basically avoided running the ball all game, and we found out the Eagles offense can be explosive if we abandon a conservative style. Unfortunately, explosive wasn’t enough against Aaron Rodgers. The Eagles are 3-5. Things are not great.
Week 10: Philadelphia Eagles (3-5) @ New England Patriots (7-2)
Wow y’all. For some reason, the clips I got from this game didn’t upload properly. but let me tell you. Clayton marched into Foxborough against Dwayne Haskins in a rematch of the Big Ten Championship and delivered a classic.
Dwayne was a beast, but Clayton was just better. We traded punches all game, and I exclusively threw the ball because I forgot to fix the sliders.
In our FIFTH straight road game, Clayton turned into a true gunslinger. We went blow for blow with the Pats and took a crucial 24-21 lead in the third. Unfortunately, Clayton had two of his four fumbles in the fourth quarter, and Haskins took a commanding 28-24 lead.
With three minutes left, Clayton had to deliver. And he did. He marched down the field with an incredible drive and took the lead with 1:47 left to make it 31-24. But then Haskins pulled off an incredible drive to get in field goal range and tied it as time expired. We went to overtime at 31-31.
The Pats got the ball first in overtime, but our miraculous defense came up with a huge stop to hold them to three. Clayton got the ball and just battered the Pats defense. He scored a walk-off touchdown on a QB sneak, which everybody at Gilette Stadium must have seen coming, and it was LIT.
Update: We have procured the clips from this game:
Take that Dwayne Haskins. Clayton got his revenge. 545 yards! It was insane.
Not a lot of rushing, but still a lot of fumbles. The Clayton QB sneak is a secret weapon. The Eagles are inching towards .500 and are not out of the playoff race yet.
Week 11: Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) vs. New York Giants (2-7)
We finally returned home to welcome a dismal 2-7 Giants team. Except they have Kyler Murray, Saquon Barkley and Odell Bekcham Jr. What filth.
Clayton was feeling it though, and on his very first drive of the game, he uncorked this beauty to Nelson Agholor:
63 deep accuracy? Yeah right.
Unfortunately, Clayton pulled a full-Delhomme and threw five picks. And with short fields, the Giants star-studded offense played up to its talent level and jumped out to a 31-7 lead.
It was real bad from Clayton. He clearly was reverse-due after that beautiful deep ball.
We had a nice pass here at the start of the fourth to start a potential rally:
We scored another after that, but there wasn’t enough time. Five picks will do that to you.
Ouch. Lot of yards! Low completion percentage and bad turnovers.
38 (!) touches for Saquon. Wow.
This was a bad performance, and through 10 games, the Eagles might have played themselves out of the playoff race at 4-6. The Bills and Giants games really stand out, as we could be 6-4. Instead Clayton and co. might need to run the table to have a chance at making the playoffs.
What will happen? Did I create an experiment only to crash and burn terribly? Can Clayton overcome his low rating with pure grit and heart to make a run?
You’ll have to tune in to part two to find out.