Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

23 Dec 2013

Peyton Manning Breaks Touchdown Record…Again

With four more scoring tosses on Sunday, Peyton Manning reset the single-season record with 51 touchdown passes, and he still has four quarters against Oakland. It's the second time Manning has broken this record, one of the more prestigious in the NFL, after he threw 49 touchdowns in 2004 with the Colts. Manning sat out in Week 17 after playing just one series. He should have to play more next week with the No. 1 seed still not secure in the AFC.

Nine years passed since Manning broke the record and now he's done it with a whole different team, so that's very unusual as one would expect a peak of dominance to come in a very small window -- much like the way multiple championships are won by great teams.

The feat got me thinking about whether or not we have seen a NFL player in the Super Bowl era break a significant single-season record, lose that record and then regain it with another dominant performance.

The answer? No, not really. Some obscure records may fit the bill, but in terms of the big counting stats, nothing really measures up. The NFL expanding to 14-game seasons in 1961 and 16-game seasons in 1978 obviously play a huge factor with these records.

Passing Touchdowns:
32 - Johnny Unitas (1959)
36 - George Blanda (1961) and Y.A. Tittle (1963)
48 - Dan Marino (1984)
49 - Peyton Manning (2004)
50 - Tom Brady (2007)
51 - Peyton Manning (2013)

Passing Yards:
3,099 - Johnny Unitas (1960)
3,723 - Sonny Jurgensen (1961)
4,007 - Joe Namath (1967)
4,082 - Dan Fouts (1979)
4,715 - Dan Fouts (1980)
4,802 - Dan Fouts (1981)
5,084 - Dan Marino (1984)
5,476 - Drew Brees (2011)

Dan Fouts broke his own passing record twice, but never regained it over a young Dan Marino, who stunned everyone with an unforgettable 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns in 1984. Personally, I feel like the Drew Brees' number has not registered at all with history buffs, and Manning needs just 266 yards in Week 17 to make a new one.

Rushing Yards:
1,527 - Jim Brown (1958)
1,863 - Jim Brown (1963)
2,003 - O.J. Simpson (1973)
2,105 - Eric Dickerson (1984)

Jim Brown was the first 1,500-yard back and broke his own record once. O.J. Simpson broke the 2,000-yard barrier first the year the NFL moved the hash marks. Like Marino, 1984 sophomore Eric Dickerson came out on fire, setting the rushing record that still stands today. Adrian Peterson finished nine yards shy last season.

Rushing Touchdowns:
17 - Jim Brown (1958)
19 - Jim Taylor (1962), Earl Campbell (1979) and Chuck Muncie (1981)
24 - John Riggins (1983)
25 - Emmitt Smith (1995)
27 - Priest Holmes (2003) and Shaun Alexander (2005)
28 - LaDainian Tomlinson (2006)

Brown was the first to have more than 15, but the top rival of his era, Jim Taylor, outdid him in 1962. John Riggins made it less glamorous with his short-yardage work -- 20 of his 24 scores were 1-2 yards -- for the prolific 1983 Redskins. Not long ago this became an annual record that basically went to the hottest running back on the most loaded offense, but LaDainian Tomlinson has put up a good number with 28. A lot of teams are looking to throw more short touchdowns now.

Total Touchdowns:
20 - Lenny Moore (1964)
22 - Gale Sayers (1965)
23 - O.J. Simpson (1975)
24 - John Riggins (1983)
25 - Emmitt Smith (1995)
26 - Marshall Faulk (2000)
27 - Priest Holmes (2003)
28 - Shaun Alexander (2005)
31 - LaDainian Tomlinson (2006)

Again, outside of Riggins, this has been a record dominated by dynamic backs.

100 - Lionel Taylor (1961)
101 - Charley Hennigan (1964)
106 - Art Monk (1984)
108 - Sterling Sharpe (1992)
112 - Sterling Sharpe (1993)
122 - Cris Carter (1994)
123 - Herman Moore (1995)
143 - Marvin Harrison (2002)

This one has changed a lot due to the short-passing game. Lionel Taylor's 100-catch season would barely rank in the top 70 today. Sterling Sharpe broke his own record in back-to-back years, reminding us of what an underrated Hall of Fame candidate he is. Eventually Marvin Harrison has created a 20-catch gap with everyone, and of course he had Peyton Manning throwing all of those passes in 2002 before Reggie Wayne emerged in that offense.

Receiving Yards:
1,746 - Charley Hennigan (1961)
1,848 - Jerry Rice (1995)
1,964 - Calvin Johnson (2012)

Hennigan set the bar rather high here with those 1961 Oilers. Jerry Rice did come through in 1995, but Calvin Johnson beat him last season. Watching the way Johnson plays and how someone like Josh Gordon has exploded this year, we're destined for a 2,000-yard receiving season soon.

Receiving Touchdowns:
17 - Don Hutson (1942), Elroy Hirsch (1951) and Bill Groman (1961)
18 - Mark Clayton (1984)
22 - Jerry Rice (1987)
23 - Randy Moss (2007)

Quite some time passed before Mark Clayton hit 18 with the help of Marino in 1984. The impressive one is really Rice, who did it in just 12 games as opposed to 16 for Randy Moss in 2007.

11.5 - Doug Martin (1982)
19 - Mark Gastineau (1983)
22 - Mark Gastineau (1984)
22.5 - Michael Strahan (2001)

This one stinks because the NFL refuses to officially count sacks prior to 1982, ignoring the dominance of a player like Deacon Jones. Also, we all know Brett Favre basically gave Strahan the record in 2001.

So there you have it. A few players have broken notable records multiple times, but only Manning has been able to regain his lost record. We'll see if he can actually retire before this latest one is replaced with the next "all-time greatest quarterback season." Funny how those things are coming up every other year now.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 23 Dec 2013

42 comments, Last at 21 Jan 2014, 10:00pm by cheap Montreal Expos Jerseys


by Travis :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 9:23am

Blanda, Taylor, Hennigan, and Groman set their passing/receiving records in the early AFL, and no one at the time would have recognized them as NFL records. Given the quality of competition, they probably shouldn't.

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 10:00am

I agree. I tend to ignore any AFL record before about 1965 or 1966. I don't think the NFL counts stats from the AAFC, the World Football League, the USFL, or the Canadian Football League.

by D :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 4:22pm

The NFL does count stats from the AAFC, but not the others.

by Scott Kacsmar :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 4:31pm

AAFC stats do not count for the NFL, yet somehow the AAFC has bolstered Otto Graham's legacy with the "10 championship games in 10 years!" thing.

by Travis :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 5:00pm

The only way the NFL recognizes those other professional football leagues in its stats is by making a distinction between NFL Rookies (those with no prior professional experience) and NFL First-Year Players (those who have never played in an NFL game, but have been on a professional football roster in prior years). NFL First-Year Players are not eligible for rookie records - Warren Moon and Jim Kelly both threw for over 3,000 yards in their first seasons, but Jim Zorn remained the rookie passing yardage record holder until Rick Mirer broke his mark.

by D :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 11:06pm

You're right. I was thinking of the Pro Football Hall of Fame which does count AAFC stats.

by nat :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 9:23am

Since this is FO, and FO is about nothing if it isn't about accounting for opponents and situation, do you know the opponents' defensive DVOAs (pass D for pass records, rush D for rush records) and yearly league averages (mean, median) for the record years?

by Edge (not verified) :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 11:21am

Why beat around the bush? Just say what you really mean.

by nat :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 3:34pm

What? That it's good to consider the opponents a player faced and the era he played in when thinking about his record-setting accomplishments?

Horrors! How controversial!

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 4:03pm

Well, DVOA does those things for the seasons in general. And while we don't have Marino's 1984 season yet, DVOA has Manning's 04 tops, DYAR has Brady's '07 tops. Brady threw more times, and if Manning held his value for 81 throws in '04, he probably has the DYAR mark beat (not to mention the TD record), but those are ifs. I think those season are really about equal.

This season isn't close to either by DVOA or Rodgers in '11, Brady in '10, Manning in '06, but will be somewhat close by DYAR because Manning threw so many times (he'll end up throwing about 170 times more than he did in 2004, which is insane).

Anyway, the number is fun, but passing records get broken every year. This year actually will have less awesome statistical seasons, but the average season this year is so much better than even the average passing season in 2004.

by pleonasm (not verified) :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 10:08am

The nine year gap between Peyton setting the TD record is remarkable. Its hard to imagine any player in any sport having two distinctive performance peaks so far apart.

That said, of the records listed, doesn't the Rushing Yards seem the least likely to be broken in the next 10 years? Its remarkable how close Adrian Peterson came, but in the pass first, RB by Committee, its hard to imagine someone passing Dickerson.

by Travis :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 10:53am

Its hard to imagine any player in any sport having two distinctive performance peaks so far apart.

Barry Bonds did, but he had help.

That said, of the records listed, doesn't the Rushing Yards seem the least likely to be broken in the next 10 years?

I'd go with total touchdowns, which takes a great offense committed to give every scoring opportunity to one player. Dickerson's record was threatened, but no one's scored more than 23 TDs since Tomlinson, and only three players have scored 20 (Jamaal Charles has 19 with a week to go).

by Edge (not verified) :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 12:26pm

There's plenty of backs still getting the 350+ carries needed to threaten the rushing record and I don't think rushing averages are going down. There hasn't been a quantum shift in rushing like there has been in passing since 2000, but we'll continue seeing backs threaten the 2k mark. I don't think the rushing title is particularly safer than the other marks. The fact that its so much older does speak to that there hasn't been a quantum shift in rushing the way there has been in passing.

by An Onymous (not verified) :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 1:29pm

I don't think it's two distinct peaks nine years apart so much as it's one massive peak that happened to span nine+ years, a team change, and a potentially career-ending surgery. Peyton's DVOA this year is 38.4%. That's not all that much different than his DVOA last year (32.8%), or in 2009 (34.0%), or in 2008 (30.0%), or in 2007 (37.1%), or in 2005 (41.7%), or 2003 (37.1%), and it's actually substantially behind his DVOA in 2004 (58.9%) and 2006 (51.3%). So, basically, Peyton Manning has been consistently dominant for an entire decade, and it just happened that in two of those seasons the stars lined up for a record-setting performance. He's not playing any better or any worse this year than in any of his other 4 MVP seasons (or any of his other non-MVP seasons in between), things just happened to break right this year.

In fact, to me, that's the most amazing part of Peyton Manning's record. He's spent the past decade pretty much not playing any better or any worse than this. The argument could easily be made that Manning should have won the MVP over Alexander in 2005 (ranked 1st in DVOA, 1st in DYAR, led his team to a 13-1 record and #1 seed before resting for playoffs), over Tomlinson in 2006 (1st in DVOA, 1st in DYAR, his 50+% DVOA the second-best season of his career, just barely behind 2004), and over Peterson in 2012 (no need to rehash the arguments when the race was so recent). That would give him the MVP in 8 of his last 10 seasons, with the only exceptions being Brady in 2007 and 2010 (massive years by Brady, who was the only real choice). And Brady could also make an argument for 2012, too. But still, you're looking at potentially a decade worth of near-unbroken MVP awards.

by Bobman :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 2:04pm

Call it a plateau. In the Himalayas, climbing 18,000+ ft Kala Patthar requires about 2-3 hours of hiking uphill off the trailhead (which is 16,000 ft). In the US, climbing 14,411 ft Mt Rainier, which stands alone, requires a minimum of 12 hours for a super stud and often 2-3 days for regular folks from the trailhead (5,400 ft.). What Manning has done is perform so that his base-level year is so huge and consistent that it would be MVP worthy from most other guys, but for him, it's just the trailhead, the jumping off point. (sorry, planning a trip to Nepal next fall....)

I'm wholly with you on 2005 and 2012, and somewhat with 2006 as well. I still say they should just name the damn thing after him (thereby giving him permanent recognition) and then not give him any more. Wait, didn't Rodgers win one? 2011?

by Jeff88 (not verified) :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 6:57pm

MVP Award- Most Valuable Peyton? or perhaps just Manning v Peyton award? I mean he could only beat himself?

by Bobman :: Tue, 12/24/2013 - 3:15am

I was thinking like all the college awards named after guys--John Mackey, Unitas, Lou Groza Golden Toe Award etc.

Though there's a prime opportunity for ribaldry when you say he could beat himself....

by pudds (not verified) :: Tue, 12/24/2013 - 11:04am

Like the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

The Peyton Manning Manning of the Year Award.

by D :: Wed, 12/25/2013 - 3:10am

Yeah, I don't think Manning had 2 separate peaks just one extended period of dominance broken up by one whole year spent on the IR.

A true 2 peak player would be somebody like Kurt Warner who dominated the game for 2.5 years, then spent 6 years rotating between being healthy and effective before suddenly reemerging as a Pro Bowler.

by hscer :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 12:07pm

Plus, when Rice had 22 in 12 games, it wasn't due to injury but the 1987 strike. Without that, who knows how many he ends up with; I imagine at least 25.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 1:25pm

Plus Reggie White had 20 sacks in 12 games.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 5:44pm

The strike shortened year had a number of records set, so I'd argue against prorating it to 16 games.

Games weren't just missing, the talent baseline of the entire league changed.

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 5:52pm

Don Hutson had 1211 yards and 17 TDs in 11 games in 1942. That's how long the season was back then.

by Tim R :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 12:10pm

In the total touchdowns you've got Faulk as breaking it in the 2006 season when it should be the 2000 season I believe.

by Scott Kacsmar :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 2:36pm

Whoops, typo. Thanks.

by Jeff88 (not verified) :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 12:34pm

I think the game has evolved immensely in the past 10yrs. A season like Manning is having is just near the norm for great quarterbacks to have now. Wasn't it in 2011 we had 3 quarterbacks with 41+ touchdowns and 3 with over 5000yds passing? (Brees, Rodgers, Brady, Stafford)

I wouldn't be surprised if his record is broken in under 10yrs, especially with the way that defenses are forced to play "flag-football" against offenses nowadays. I still believe that Marino's 1984 season was the greatest, considering how much the rules have changed to benefit the offense now.

Sadly, most of those running back records might stand for some time, as the NFL is extremely passing oriented now. Why take a 3-5yd rush, when you can get an easy 6 by just throwing it to your slot receiver?

by Lell87 :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 1:09pm

Your second paragraph thoughts are very similar to what Manning said after the game.

by Bobman :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 2:07pm

I saw it as more of a tip of the hat to his pal Brady than an indictment of the flag football aspect, though you may be right. I liked his comment about the HoF returning the ball after the next guy breaks it--I wonder if he got #49 back after Brady hit 50....

by Travis :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 2:36pm

Someone took the trouble to upload all of Marino's TD passes to YouTube - here's the link to the 1984 complilation, filled with downfield passes:


by nat :: Tue, 12/24/2013 - 10:28am

A season like Manning is having is just near the norm for great quarterbacks to have now.
I don't think that's so, as far as TD passes goes.

Peyton's 51 TDs is 215% of the league average TD passes for teams. That's within one TD throw of Marino and Unitas, and better than Blanda and Tittle. It's one of the best TD pass throwing seasons ever, even when compared to the league's year.

Brady (2007) tops the list at 222%, followed by...
Marino (1984) 218%
Manning (2013) 215%
Manning (2004) 214%
Unitas (1959) 195%
Tittle (1963) 167%
Blanda (1961) 158%

So that's how it stands if you account for era in a sensible way. If Manning throws three TDs next week, he'll maintain his rate. If he throws four, he'll match Marino. If he throws five, he'll match Brady.

Now we just need to account for opponents' pass defense strength...

by Dan in Philly (not verified) :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 1:05pm

Imagine if Dan Marino played today. He might throw for 6,000 a year.

by Bobman :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 2:07pm

I'm waiting for the second shoe to drop after this comment.... but I won't say it.

by D :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 11:23pm

FWIW, Marino averaged 317.8 YPG in 1984 when the league average was 205.9 passing yards per game or about 54.3% more YPG than league average (for comparison Brees was "only" 49% higher than league average in 2011).

Adjusted to 2013 passing levels (236 YPG) and prorated over 16 games that works out to 5828 YPG.

(Obviously, a better way to do this would be standard deviations, but I don't feel like doing that much work and this seems like a good enough approach for our current purposes)

by Dan in Philly (not verified) :: Tue, 12/24/2013 - 1:44pm

I imagine a real analysis would show the standard deviation has grown quite a bit since then. The great QBs are just so much better than the bad ones in the modern game, unlike the late 70s where you could hide a bad QB with a great running game. The defenses are so much more complex, DCs have more film study, substitution packages, making bad QBs much less likely to succeed.

All this being said, it could be Marino would have a harder time in the modern game in some ways. He came down from a different planet back in 84, while today other teams would be somewhat more familiar with him.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 4:13pm

1,964 - Calvin Johnson (2013) <- 2012.

by Boost as (not verified) :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 9:31pm

It's another great regular season record...... The real question is how will manning fail in the postseason?

by Treima :: Tue, 12/24/2013 - 1:12am

Yup. The last guy to break that record and follow it up with a league championship was Blanda 52 years ago.

by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 12/24/2013 - 2:49am

And he did it with a 10-3 win in which he completed 18-of-40 passes for 160 yards, 1 TD, 5 INT.

by Bobman :: Tue, 12/24/2013 - 3:22am

You are freakin' kidding me. Well, I guess that sets the bar pretty, uh, I suppose it's more of a line drawn in chalk on the pavement than an actual bar. So if the Broncos win the SB and Manning goes 19/40 for 161 yards, 1 TD and 4 INTs he's performed at an unprecedented high level, above and beyond all other TD record-setters in the year in which they set the mark? A performance to be worshipped and praised by the bards around roaring fires in years to come?

Sheesh. He barely gets credit for the 06 SB win in which he called a great game and took what the D gave him. If he won the Blanda way the Internet might just implode.

by MC2 :: Tue, 12/24/2013 - 7:07am

Its hard to imagine any player in any sport having two distinctive performance peaks so far apart.

What about Favre, with his MVP years in Green Bay, followed by arguably his best statistical season in Minnesota, over a decade later? That was even more surprising to me than what Manning has been able to do this year.

by Edge (not verified) :: Tue, 12/24/2013 - 8:28am

I took it to be talking about setting records, not just having a great year.

by cheap Montreal Expos Jerseys (not verified) :: Tue, 01/21/2014 - 10:00pm

Whip called the show in the beginning (sent any copy regarding his start certificate and also drivers license), they didn