On The Numbers: Brees's record day, Smith's place in NFL history
Welcome to Week 8 of “On the Numbers,” a weekly column which mines for statistical oddities and numerical fun facts from around the NFL.
On a week that saw Matt Cassel held to double-digit passing yards but still outgain Aaron Rodgers, Jacob Tamme catch 10 balls and Chris Johnson run it 30 times, there was plenty to track across the league.
Feats of Strength
Drew Brees tied an NFL record Sunday, becoming the eighth player to throw for seven touchdowns in one game, but that was just one of the many unusual stats to come out of the Saints’ 52–49 win over the Giants.
Brees was 40-for-50 for 511 yards, the ninth highest yardage total in the Super Bowl era. And at 36 years and 290 days, he also became the oldest quarterback to throw for 500 yards over that time frame.
On the other side, Eli Manning threw six touchdown passes. Their 13 combined set a new standard for shootouts.
The game had to have a loser, and Manning became the fourth quarterback in the Super Bowl era to throw six touchdown passes in a loss, joining Carson Palmer (2007), Dan Marino (1986) and Charley Johnson (1969) in reminding us that wins are a team stat.
The two teams combined for 101 points, the fifth game ever to crack triple digits. Below are the other four, including a few that racked up even more points than this one.
At various points during the game, these teams came close to finishing on a final score that had never been achieved in NFL history. 49–42 would have done the trick, and that was the score as the game entered the final minute.
But the Saints scored 10 more points late to make this the second game in NFL history to finish with a score of exactly 52–49. So the Giants tied the Oilers for a record of their own—most points in a loss. Congrats?
Big Ben is Back
The Pittsburgh Steelers can’t seem to keep all their key offensive players on the field. With news that Le’Veon Bell has a torn MCL, it looks like they won’t play a single game all season where their big three of Bell, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown all suit up together and survive to the final buzzer still healthy.
It remains to be seen how the Steelers will cope without Bell, though DeAngelo Williams did fill in admirably while he was suspended for the first two games of the season. But it’s undeniable the impact Roethlisberger’s return has on Brown.
|STARTING QB||GAMES||CATCHES||YARDS||TDS||2-PT CONV.|
Heath Miller actually led the team in catches and yards, as Brown had a modest (for him) six catches for 47 yards. But Brown did find the end zone for the first time since Week 2. In fact, this was Brown’s 30th career receiving touchdown, and all 30 have come from Roethlisberger. This is despite the numerous occasions that Roethlisberger has missed games, forcing Brown to spend time running routes for the likes of not just Vick and Jones, but also Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich.
It’s actually pretty rare to have this many touchdown receptions exclusively from one quarterback. Most receivers good enough to hang on that long either outlast their quarterback, move onto another team or pick up TDs from unexpected sources along the way. For example, Rob Gronkowski has 60 touchdowns from Tom Brady and one from Jimmy Garoppolo. A.J. Green has 37 TD catches from Andy Dalton, plus one from Bruce Gradkowski and even another on a trick play from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu.
The player with the most all-time touchdown receptions exclusively from one quarterback is actually still adding to his total. Marques Colston caught his 69th career touchdown Sunday, every single one of them on passes from Drew Brees.
The Steelers lost to the Bengals and now appear resigned to the wild card chase, at 4-4 with a 3.5 game deficit in the AFC North. If they can go on a run, they’ll need the familiar connection of Roethlisberger-to-Brown to play a big part in leading the way.
Speaking of injuries—which seemed to be a theme for Week 8— Sunday was the last we’ll see of Steve Smith Sr. on the field for 2015. Of course that also means speculation has begun that we may have seen the end of the career for the 36-year-old wide receiver.
While it’s not quite time to write his career eulogy, it is fair to look at his current place in history.
Smith caught five passes for a team-high 82 yards in the Ravens’ win over the Chargers, pushing his career totals to 961 receptions for 13,932 yards. In what could be his final game, he also moved past Cris Carter and into 10th place on the all-time career receiving yards list.
Smith built a borderline Hall of Fame case for himself during his 13 years in Carolina, and his year and a half on the field in Baltimore has bolstered that case even more. In that time frame he passed four Hall of Famers in yards—Carter on Sunday plus Andre Reed, Steve Largent and Art Monk last season.
|10||Steve Smith Sr.||2001||2015||961||13,933||76|
*Hall of Famer
His first season in Baltimore was his eighth topping 1,000 yards receiving. While it can be hard to compare across eras, and it’s certainly true that today’s wide receivers are beneficiaries of increasingly pass-heavy offenses, Smith’s eighth season with over 1,000 yards put him in some impressive company.
|T-6||Steve Smith Sr.||'03||'14||CAR/BAL||8|
And for all the talk about today’s era skewing passing statistics, of the 14 players with that many 1,000-yard seasons, only Smith and Reggie Wayne notched one of those campaigns in the 2010s decade.
So this week’s Leaderboard Movers section shines a spotlight on Steve Smith Sr., who may have moved up the leaderboard for the last time. If Smith indeed walked off the field for the last time Sunday, he did so with an impressive place in the history of this game’s great pass-catchers.
Great Moments in Vegas
Week 8 featured several close games, with Vikings-Bears, Ravens-Chargers and Saints-Giants all decided on field goals at the final buzzer. All three of those games had spreads under a touchdown, leaving the covers in doubt had they gone to overtime. A fourth game in the early slate, Buccaneers-Falcons, was settled by a field goal in overtime. The difference in this game is that the spread was a bit higher, closing with the Falcons at -8 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook and elsewhere.
No overtime game in NFL history has ever finished with a scoring margin of more than six points, but one of the fun quirks of the new rules introduced in 2012 is that a two-score overtime win is actually possible.
Before 2012, all overtime games were sudden death. Since then, as you probably know, teams that allow a field goal on the opening drive must kick off and allow their opponents a chance to possess the ball.
The more likely impact of the new overtime rules from a gambling standpoint is on the over/under. In the previous form of overtime, the maximum points teams could combine to score was six—if a team scored a touchdown. Now that number is 12, if teams trade field goals and then one of them scores a touchdown.
The 12-point overtime has only happened once—the Texans’ 43–37 win over the Jaguars in 2013, in which the over was never in doubt. There have been two other instances where teams traded made field goals in overtime, but both ended in ties (Packers-Vikings in 2013 and Bengals-Panthers in '14).
Back to Sunday’s game: So how can a team win by more than six points in overtime? They’d have to start with the ball, make a field goal to extend the game and then score a defensive or special teams touchdown on the opponents’ first possession for a nine-point win. Sadly, this has never happened. But someday it’s going to, and the possibility exists that the winner will be favored by between 6.5 and 8.5 points.
The good news for anyone holding Tampa Bay +8.5? It’s such a specific outcome, and anyone who bet on Atlanta -8.5 needed a lot to go right.
So when did the Bucs clinch covering the spread? The moment they won the overtime coin toss and got to start with the ball.
We have to talk about Alex Smith’s rushing exploits. Well, we don’t have to, but we really should.
Smith ran for 78 yards Sunday against the Lions in London, highlighted by a 12-yard touchdown run and another scramble where he found some wide open space and ran free for 49 yards.
Smith’s previous career long had been the 28-yard naked bootleg he ran for a touchdown in that back-and-forth divisional playoff game against the Saints in January 2012, which may also rank as the highlight of his career.
This was Smith’s fourth career game with at least 50 rushing yards and all of them have come in his three years with the Chiefs, including a wild card game against the Colts in which he matched his previous career high of 57. (But most of us remember that game for the way the Chiefs defense blew the lead, not the way Smith’s offense built it.)
Smith’s 49-yard rush is the longest by a quarterback this season, and the 13th longest by any player.
One rush does not make a season, so let’s not try to draw too many conclusion. But here’s a partial list of players who have not broken out for a run as long as Alex Smith this year:
|RUNNING BACK||SEASON LONG|
And if you’re nearly doubling up Devonta Freeman in a rushing stat in 2015, you know you’re doing something right. Even if you’re Alex Smith and it’s just one rush.