Welcome to Week 14 of “On the Numbers,” a weekly column that mines for statistical oddities and numerical fun facts from around the NFL.
On a week that saw Doug Baldwin catch multiple touchdown passes for the third straight game, the Chargers score exactly three points for the third time in four weeks and Jimmy Clausen finally throw for more than 200 yards in his 21st career game, there was plenty to track across the league.
Return of the [rushing] king
One of the biggest storylines heading into Week 14 was LeSean McCoy’s return to Philadelphia. The 2013 NFL rushing champion, traded to Buffalo this past offseason, had a lot to say about Chip Kelly and his former team this past week before the matchup.
But once the game started, McCoy played the way he normally did with the Eagles, making big cutbacks and showing a willingness to run sideways or backward, always seeking the big play. He carried the ball 20 times for 74 yards and added four catches for 35 more yards, but the Eagles held him mostly in check, below his incoming season average of 4.6 yards per carry, and kept him out of the end zone.
McCoy became the 10th former rushing champion since 1970 to face the team he played for when he won the rushing crown. Despite his modest stats, he actually fared better than most—including, quite notably, his replacement in Philly. DeMarco Murray, the reigning rushing champ ran 13 times for just two yards when the Eagles played Dallas in Week 2.
Here’s how all 10 of those players fared in their first game against their old team:
All of this probably means very little to McCoy, who you can imagine wanted to get in the end zone and come away with a win. But at least he didn’t pull an Emmitt Smith. The league’s all-time rushing leader retired with 18,355 career rushing yards—minus-1 against the Cowboys and 18,356 against the rest of the league.
But many of the backs on this list were at later stage in their career when they switched teams, which partially explains some of these low totals. The fact that McCoy is 27 and still seemingly in his prime is part of what made his exit from Philadelphia so noteworthy. So it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get another crack at his old team again sometime.
The Jaguars dismantled the Colts 51–16 to stay alive in the AFC South. Any game with a score like that is guaranteed to have some quirks in the box score. And, in fact, it’s the first game with a score like that—literally, the first 51–16 game in Pro Football Reference’s boxscore index, which includes the AFL, NFL and leagues that no longer exist, dating back to the 1920s.
This was the Jaguars’ first 50-burger in 333 regular season games (though they did win a January 2000 playoff game 62–7 over Miami, which was famously Dan Marino’s last NFL appearance).
Trivia Question: The Panthers, Texans and Titans (since moving to Tennessee) have never scored 50 points in a game. Discounting those three franchises, which team has the longest drought since putting 50 on the scoreboard? Answer below—no peeking.
The engineer of that Jaguars offense was Blake Bortles, who seems to be developing chemistry with his talented wideouts and could be growing into the role of franchise quarterback.
Bortles threw three touchdown passes Sunday, giving the second-year signal caller an even 30 on the season. He’s now third in the NFL behind only Tom Brady (33) and Carson Palmer (31).
No rookie has ever reached the 30 passing touchdown mark. The all-time rookie record is 26, set by Peyton Manning in 1998 and tied by Russell Wilson in 2012. Bortles finished his rookie season with just 11 touchdowns in 14 games.
So you could be forgiven if you didn’t see this coming, but Bortles became just the sixth player ever to throw for 30 touchdowns in his second season. Here are the numbers put up by those six, keeping in mind that Bortles has three more games to add to his totals:
That’s an interesting mix of young quarterbacks, with three first-round draft picks (Marino, Culpepper and Palmer) and two undrafted free agents who had to prove themselves in other leagues before getting a shot in the NFL (Warner and Garcia).
Marino is out of reach, and catching Warner looks like a bit of a stretch, but Bortles seems likely to finish with the third-most touchdown passes ever by a second-year player.
Passing totals are trending up in the NFL, and more and more quarterbacks are handed the keys to the offense early in their career, but it’s been a full decade since last time a player put together a 30-touchdown season so early in their career. Even the QBs who had success at a young age (Luck, Wilson, RG3, Newton, Ryan, Flacco, Dalton, etc.) landed short of where Bortles is after 13 games. Touchdown passes obviously aren’t the only measure of a good season, but it’s one standard by which Bortles is shining.
Early bird special touchdowns
The Panthers steamrolled the Falcons Sunday, running their record to 13–0 with a 38–0 win. I’ve written plenty about Cam Newton this season, so let’s look at somebody else. Ted Ginn Jr. has been much-maligned this year for his case of the drops, for which there seems to be no cure. But he had a huge day on Sunday, with touchdown catches of 74 and 46 yards in the first quarter. Well, he had a huge first quarter at least. He didn’t make another catch, and finished with the unusual stat line of two catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
This was the eighth time a player caught at least two touchdowns of 46 yards or longer in the first quarter.
Here are the eight games:
There’s some arbitrary endpoint picking going on here, but there are some memorable performances on this list. Nobody had ever caught two touchdowns that long in the first quarter until Randy Moss’s famous Thanksgiving game as a rookie in 1998. Then it happened two of the next three weeks.
The rare occurrence popped up seven times in nine years (including by Lee Evans twice!) and then went on hiatus.
But on Sunday Ginn was instrumental in putting the Panthers up big early, and he did something you don’t see every week. At least not anymore you don’t.
Running the 40
Last week I wrote about Marcus Mariota’s 87-yard touchdown run in the Titans' 42–39 win over the Jaguars. In Week 14, he tacked on a 41-yard touchdown reception, though it came in a blowout loss to the Jets.
Mariota now has a touchdown in three different columns on the stat sheet: passing, rushing and receiving. That isn’t the rarest feat, as it’s happened 20 times since 2000. Andy Dalton and Arian Foster both did it last season. But Foster’s touchdown pass was only for five yards, and Dalton’s touchdown catch for 18. What makes it rare for Mariota is that he has a passing, rushing and receiving touchdown of more than 40 yards each in one season.
Plenty of players have come close (clicking around on this list of guys with at least one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown, one receiving touchdown and 40 passing yards in one season can make an hour disappear). But the last player before Mariota with a 40-yard touchdown of each variety in the same season is Walter Payton back in 1983. Payton threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Willie Gault, caught touchdown passes of 73 and 74 yards, and ran one in from 49 yards out, all in one spectacular season.
So congrats, Marcus Mariota, you’re once again in great company.
Payton’s 1983 season is as far back as I checked. If you can come up with others, feel free to let me know on Twitter.
Trivia Answer: Surprisingly— to me at least— the Cowboys have the longest drought of any franchise (since moving to their current location) of scoring 50 points. They haven’t done it since— of all games to do it— Super Bowl XXVII, when they beat the Bills 52-17 on January 31, 1993 for the first of three championships with Troy Aikman at QB.