— by Mark Ross
This just in: the NFL has become a pass-happy league. And while that may not seem like breaking news, a closer look at early-season numbers tell the story. The first four weeks of the season featured the four highest single-week passing-yardage totals in NFL history, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
The highest single-week passing-yardage total belongs to Week 2 (7,946 passing yards), followed by Week 4 (7,886), Week 1 (7,842) and Week 3 (7,772).
In Week 1 alone there were five games in which each team had a player throw for 300 yards or more. That set the NFL record for most games with multiple 300-yard passers in one week. In total, 14 different quarterbacks threw for 300 yards or more in Week 1, the the highest one-week total in NFL history.
The first week of the NFL season ended with even more history that Monday night as the New England Patriots' Tom Brady became just the 11th quarterback to throw for at least 500 yards in a game and posted the fifth-highest single-game total in NFL history when he torched the Mimai Dolphins for 517 passing yards. Combine Brady's output with Dolphins' quarterback Chad Henne's 416 passing yards and you have the only game in NFL history in which one team had a player throw for 500 or more yards and the other team had a player throw for at least 400.
And if that wasn't enough, when you take the Patriots (516) and Dolphins (390) net passing yard totals, you get the most prolific NFL game ever in terms of combined passing yards. And we're just getting started.
Brady, who currently leads the league in passing yards (1,553) and touchdowns (15), has already set several NFL passing records to start this season. In Week 3 he broke the record for yards passing in three games, a mark previously held by the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees. Brady's passing yardage total through the first four games of the season is the second-highest total since 1970.
Speaking of Brees, he has put up some impressive numbers of his own as he is leading the league in completions (120), is second in yards (1,410) and fourth in touchdown passes (10) through the first four games. Similar to Brady, those numbers rank Brees in the top five since the merger in completions (tied for second) and passing yards (fifth) through four games. Brees also has completed 20 or more passes in 24 consecutive games, the longest such streak in NFL history.
And not to be outdone or left out, there's Aaron Rodgers. The quarterback of the defending champion Green Bay Packers has picked up right where he left off after being named MVP of Super Bowl XLV with his early-season play as well. Rodgers trails only Brady in touchdown passes (12) and has completed a league-high 73 percent of his passes with just two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 124.6 through the first four games.
This past Sunday alone Rodgers accounted for six touchdowns, passing for four and running for two, in the Packers' 49-23 dismantling of the Broncos. He also passed for 408 yards, making him the first player in NFL history with at least 400 passing yards, four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns in a game. In addition, prior to that game, no Packers player in their long history had produced more than five TDs in one game. Five different Packers had previously accounted for five TDs, including Pro Football Hall of Famer Paul Hornung and Brett Favre (who did it on three different occasions).
And it's not just veterans like Brady, Brees and Rodgers who have been re-writing the NFL's history books to start the season either. Carolina Panthers' rookie quarterback Cam Newton has put up some record-setting numbers of his own. Through the first four games of his NFL career, Newton has five touchdown passes and four rushing touchdowns. Before him, no other player in NFL history ever had even three of each in their first three games.
Newton's 1,386 passing yards through the first four games of this season not only rank him third in the league, behind just Brady and Brees, but it's the most passing yards by a quarterback in their first four NFL starts since the AFL/NFL merger. The previous record-holder was Billy Volek, who had 1,118 passing yards in his first four starts.
Newton accomplished this record by coming out of the gate firing, throwing for 422 yards in his debut against the Arizona Cardinals. He followed that up with a 432-yard game against the Packers, making him just the seventh player in NFL history with back-to-back 400-yard games and doing so in the first two games of his career. The others to accomplish this are two Hall of Famers, Dan Fouts and Dan Marino, Phil Simms, Volek, the Kansas City Chiefs' Matt Cassel and Brady, who like Newton did so in the first two games of this season.
Newton's two-game total of 854 passing yards also broke the record by any payer in his first two games by more than 200 yards. The old mark belonged to Todd Marinovich, who had 638 yards passing in his first two NFL games. Newton's two 400-yard games were also the first by any player in the first month of their rookie season. Peyton Manning had two 300-yard games in September 1998, his rookie season, and Greg Cook of the Cincinnati Bengals had one as a rookie in September 1969.
Oh and by the way, Newton started October by passing for 374 yards and accounting for three touchdowns (one passing, two rushing) in a 34-29 loss to the Bears. So it's safe to say, he's probably not done with the record books just yet.
With all of these quarterbacks accumulating these eye-popping numbers, it's no surprise that eight teams are currently averaging 400 or more yards of total offense, which is the highest such total through the first four games since 1970. Four of those teams — Packers, Panthers, Patriots and Saints — have already been mentioned and other four are the Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and San Diego Chargers. Of those, three have Pro Bowl quarterbacks leading them in Philip Rivers (Chargers), Tony Romo (Cowboys) and Michael Vick (Eagles), while the fourth leads the league in rushing and features the NFL's current leading rusher in Darren McFadden (117 yards per game).
However, it hasn't been all good history for quarterbacks to this point. This past Sunday night, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the New York Jets 34-17 in a game that featured seven turnovers, five return touchdowns (two fumbles, two interceptions and one kickoff) and one offensive touchdown. The five return touchdowns were the most in any game in NFL history and the 51 combined points were the most in a game in which there was only one offensive touchdown.
And speaking of the offense, or lack thereof, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco completed just 10 of 31 passes (32 percent), while his counterpart, the Jets' Mark Sanchez, fared even worse (11-for-35, 31 percent). It was the first game in NFL history in which opposing quarterbacks both threw at least 30 passes and neither completed more than one-third of them.
So just four games into this season and it's already been a record-setting one for quarterbacks. With 12 games still to be played, it's fair to say they're probably not done with the record books. Giving us yet another reason to sit back and enjoy America's game.