Why you should care
Because what seems like an epic feat of athleticism often ends in defeat.
There are some sports where a single player can will the entire team to victory. LeBron James carried the Cavs all the way to Game 6 of the NBA Finals last year. Madison Bumgarner did the same for the Giants in the World Series with his MVP pitching performance. But professional football isn’t one of those games.
Quarterbacks who throw for more than 500 yards (which is A LOT) only come out with a win slightly more than 50 percent of the time.
It’s basically a coin flip. And to be clear, even in today’s pass-happy league, picking up that many yards is just short of heroic. Only 16 quarterbacks in history have managed it (Ben Roethlisberger has done it twice). Yet, their record: a measly 9-8.
As the San Diego Chargers’ Philip Rivers learned last Sunday, it’s the yards you don’t get that matter the most. In this case, that was 3, after the final play for the game-tying touchdown was swatted down on the goal line. Making the loss even more painful: Rivers, who set the Bolts’ all-time passing record with 503 yards, became one of only two quarterbacks to reach that milestone and still lose without tossing a single pick. While the blame isn’t all on Rivers for the loss, he can’t take full credit for the achievement either. Since, as we know, behind every good quarterback is a great wide receiver. Rivers completed 14 out of 15 passes to his man Keenan Allen, but after Allen left the game with an injury, Rivers struggled to connect.
A common reason QBs lose these games, even after throwing the length of an aircraft carrier? When a team is behind, coaches tend to call more passing plays, says Richard Crepeau, a sports historian at the University of Central Florida. And while that can lead to more yards, it also means more turnovers. Like when Boomer Esiason had his 522-yard game in 1996, he also fumbled twice and threw four interceptions.
But there’s another reason we’re seeing more QBs surpass the half-century mark. It’s all part of the NFL’s transition from a ground game to an aerial one. Sure enough, seven of the 500-plus games on the books happened in the last five years, with one every season since 2011. Big Ben threw the last one almost exactly a year ago, with a 522-yard performance.
So while Rivers’ impressive feat was the first this season, there’s a good chance it won’t be the last.
An earlier version of this story stated that last Sunday’s game was won, not tied.