Passing for a pile of yards — and winning!

Whoever coined the phrase “statistics are for losers” might have had the 400-yard passing game in mind. At first glance, it seems like a significant achievement, one of those My Greatest Day in Football deals. That was certainly the case in the more defense-oriented ’70s, when there were only five 400-yard performances in the entire decade.

But on closer inspection you realize that, hey, a lot of these quarterbacks lost the game. (Exhibit A: the Cowboys’ Tony Romo, who went for 506 last October against the Broncos in a 51-48 defeat.) Indeed, from 1970 — the year the NFL and AFL merged — through 2012, most of these 400-yard passers lost the game. Their record was 115-118-2 (playoffs included). Here’s the breakdown:


Years W L T Pct
1970s 3 2 0 .600
1980s 37 32 1 .536
1990s 28 17 0 .622
2000s 33 34 1 .493
’10-12 14 33 0 .298
Totals 115 118 2 .494

The line for the 2010-to-’12 period, with its woeful winning percentage (.298), really stands out. It suggests there are more “empty” passing yards these days — that is, yards that don’t necessarily lead to victories — than ever before. And that makes sense, given all the rule changes favoring the quarterback, his receivers and even his blockers. Let’s face it, if it were this easy to throw the ball in the ’30s and ’40s, Sammy Baugh’s name would come up in conversation much more regularly.

But something interesting has happened the past two years: Quarterbacks who have passed for 400-plus yards have started winning more. When Peyton Manning racked up 479 yards Sunday in the Broncos’ 41-20 battering of the previously perfect Cardinals, it raised the record of 400-yard QBs since the start of 2013 to 18-11 (.621).

Suddenly, a 400-yard game isn’t, as often as not, just a nice consolation prize. Suddenly it isn’t merely the result of a quarterback having to take to the air because his team was desperately behind. Teams are getting ahead by passing, staying ahead by passing and closing out games by passing — as Manning did in Week 5.

Consider: Leading by 21 with 3:58 left — and with Arizona down to its No. 3 QB because of injuries — Peyton began a series from the Denver 32 with . . . a 13-yard completion to Demaryius Thomas. (Granted, he wanted Thomas to break Shannon Sharpe’s club record of 214 receiving yards in a game — and that catch put Demaryius over the top with 226 — but still . . . . Times sure have changed.)

Then, too, perhaps quarterbacks are winning more of these 400-yard passing games because they’re getting more practice at it. As you may have noticed in the above chart, the number of them has increased dramatically in this decade. There were 12 400-yard games in 2010, 20 in 2011, 15 in 2012 and 26 last season. Those are four of the six highest totals in league history. We’re not even halfway through the ’10s, and already there have been 76 400-yard passing games. That’s more than the ’70s and ’80s combined (75) — and six more than any other decade, for that matter (next most: the ’80s with 70).

Of course, there’s always the possibility the pendulum will swing back again — as it’s been known to do. In the first five years of the 2000s, for instance, 400-yard passers were 23-15-1; in the next eight seasons they were 24-52. This latest blip just happened to catch my attention. When 400-yard passers win 16 games in 2013 alone, twice as many as in any previous year, you might call it Statistically Noteworthy.

Finally, in case you’re curious:


Quarterback, Team(s) W-L Pct
Tom Brady, Patriots 5-1 .833
Peyton Manning, Colts/Broncos 13-3 .813
Aaron Rodgers, Packers 3-1 .750
Drew Brees, Saints 6-7 .462
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers 2-3 .400
Eli Manning, Giants 2-3 .400
Philip Rivers, Chargers 2-4 .333
Tony Romo, Cowboys 0-5 .000