There was a time in the NFL when a quarterback who passed for 400 yards in a game had done something really special. That time has passed.
Consider this: In 2005, there were only two 400-yard passing games all season, both by Marc Bulger of the Rams. In 2013, that total has already been surpassed, and Week One isn’t even over. Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Colin Kaepernick all topped 400 yards this week.
NFL quarterbacks have picked up this season right where they left off in the last couple of seasons. Over the last 35 weeks of the regular season, stretching back to Week One of 2011, there have been 36 quarterbacks who threw for 400 yards in a game. Basically, in the NFL these days, we average a 400-yard passer a week.
And when you see something every week, it stops being special. In the 1970s, there were five 400-yard passing games for the entire decade. When Joe Namath topped 400 passing yards, he had done something really great. When Eli Manning went for 450 in Sunday night’s loss to the Cowboys, it sure didn’t feel like a great game.
Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach and Bart Starr are among the Hall of Fame quarterbacks who never passed for 400 yards in a game. Matthew Stafford is only 25 years old and has already done it five times.
What has changed? That was the question Brian Kenny posed to me on his NBC Sports Radio show this morning. The primary difference is the rules: Quarterbacks are protected from hits. Wide receivers are protected from hits. Pass interference, illegal contact and defensive holding are called much more stringently.
What has also changed is that young quarterbacks come into the league ready to command an NFL offense immediately. In the old days, it took years for quarterbacks to make the transition from the college game to the NFL. Now young quarterbacks can do it immediately. In NFL history, there have only been four 400-yard passing games by rookie quarterbacks, and all four of them happened in the last two years.
Despite playing at a time when 400-yard passing games were less common, Dan Marino is still the all-time leader, with 13 games of at least 400 yards passing in his career. But it’s just a matter of time before Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, both of whom have nine career 400-yard games, surpass Marino.
Manning or Brees might even surpass Marino this year.