Peyton Manning and the Significance of Breaking Both Major Single-Season Passing Records

Posted on December 24, 2013 at 1:30 AM

I have discovered a statistic that is arguably more fascinating than any you've heard hyped up in the media recently. Unless you've been vacationing on Mars, you're proably already aware of Peyton Manning breaking the single-season touchdown pass record. He's averaged 347.4 passing yards per-game in 2013 and if he can pass for at least 266 more in Week 17, he will break the single-season passing yardage record as well.

With the significance of records being routinely dismissed these days, many have have lost sight in respects to which records we are still talking about. Dan Marino set the single-season marks for both touchdown passes (48) and passing yards (5,084) in 1984 and for some reason—those are the figures that many still talk about.


"How many times have we seen a quarterback surpass 48 touchdown passes?" —the answer is three.

"How many times have we seen a quarterback surpass 5,084 passing yards?"—the answer is four.

The problem is, the aforementioned numbers ceased to be the numbers the moment they were broken. The more important question is: How many times has the current record been broken? Since 1984, the touchdown pass record has been broken three times and the passing yardage record has only been broken once.

While it was impressive to see Marino's touchdown record stand for 20 years and his yardage record stand for 27 years, it can be argued that there was no quarterback of Manning, Brady or Brees' caliber (sans Marino) active between 1984 and 2004. Not only is the passing game more important in today's NFL, but there is also a greater collection of quality quarterbacks. If you pack a five-star restaurant with more and more quality chefs, you're probably going to start getting better food.

So what should we do—penalize some of the greatest passers active today because they just so happen to have had their careers cross paths in the same time-frame? It's true, Peyton Manning has twice broken the touchdown pass record, Brady did so once and Brees broke the single-season yardage record—once.

How about BOTH? For as much record-dismissing as we've seen recently, it's a bit ironic to note that zero quarterbacks since Marino have managed to break both major single-season passing records in the same year. It would be like seeing Adrian Peterson break both Eric Dickerson's rushing mark and LaDainian Tomlinson's touchdown total in the same season—something he wasn't anywhere close to doing in 2012.

I dug deep into the record books and went back all the way to 1932 —the first season the NFL began tracking passing attempts, completions and passing yards. You may be surprised to know that in the 81 years since the NFL first began tracking detailed passing statistics, only four quarterbacks have ever managed to break both the touchdown pass and passing yardage marks in the same season.


  • Cecil Isbell in 1942.
  • Sid Luckman in 1943.
  • Sonny Jurgensen in 1961.
  • Dan Marino in 1984.

Two of the four instances happened in 1942 and 1943, when the passing game was in its infancy. While many may think that the rule-changes of today have made a major impact, the NFL has never seen the passing game evolve as drastically as it did in the 1940's. It's no coincidence then, that two of the four instances happened during that two year period—and then only twice in the past 52 years.

All four of the quarterbacks listed above had one thing in common though—interceptions.

All four of them turned the ball over at a notable rate—ranking seventh in the NFL or worse.

As of this moment, Manning ranks 18th in the league in interceptions this season. If he managed to pass for at least 266 yards while taking good care of the football, he will become the only quarterback in NFL history, the only quarterback in 81 years of football and the only quarterback in 1,729 opportunities to make this kind of history.

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