Observations show that maximally-steep breaking water wave crest speeds are much slower than expected. We report a wave-crest slowdown mechanism generic to unsteady propagating deep water wave groups. Our fully nonlinear computations show that just prior to reaching its maximum height, each wave crest slows down significantly and either breaks at this reduced speed, or accelerates forward unbroken. This finding is validated in our extensive laboratory and field observations. This behavior appears to be generic to unsteady dispersive wave groups in other natural systems.