Chris Wesseling

The Morning After

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Breezing Past Marino

Monday, December 19, 2011


Dan Marino's 1984 record of 5,084 passing yards has stood twice as long as Sammy Baugh's 2,938 yards from 1947-1960. After Drew Brees' 2008 assault fell just 15 yards shy of the record, the Saints QB once again has Marino in the crosshairs thanks to the first performance ever with 400 yards, five TDs and an 80 percent completion rate in one game. Averaging an eye-popping 341.4 yards per game, Brees needs just 305 to break the record. The only question now is whether it will fall next week versus the Falcons or in the season finale against record-breaking rookie QB Cam Newton.

 
In the middle of the most prolific six-year passing run in NFL history, Brees' average season in New Orleans has gone for 4,616 yards, a 67.8 completion rate, and a 32:15 TD-to-INT ratio. Expertly guiding the most lethal offense of the Sean Peyton era, Brees has thrown for 322 yards or more in five consecutive games, tossing 16 touchdowns without an interception. With a deep, experienced wide receiver corps and matchup nightmares in Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, Brees has an unfair advantage over defenses every time he breaks the huddle. Among his Week 15 accomplishments:
 
  • Brees set the NFL record with 11 300-yard games in a season.
  • Brees tied the NFL record with six career games of at least five touchdowns passes.
  • Brees is now tied with Warren Moon and Joe Montana with seven career 400-yard games. Only Dan Marino (13) and Peyton Manning (8) have more.
  • Brees set the Saints franchise single-season record with 37 touchdown passes. 
  • Brees' 97.7 Total QBR against the Vikings' injury-riddled secondary is the best game with at least 40 "action plays" in the QBR era.              
 
Aaron Rodgers remains the MVP favorite after breaking Brett Favre's single-season Packers record with 40 passing TDs, but Brees could pull off the upset while breaking not only Marino's record but also his own for passing accuracy. 
 
Game Balls

Matthew Stafford / Calvin Johnson - Thanks to touchdown drives of 71 and 98 yards in the final eight minutes, the Lions became the first team in NFL history with four comebacks from 13 or more points down to win in a single season. Stafford joined Dan Marino (7) and Jeff Garcia (5) as the only quarterbacks with five four-touchdown games in the first three seasons of a career. Marino is the only passer in history to reach 4,000 yards and 30 TDs in a season at a younger age than Stafford’s 23 years and 10 months.

It was Johnson, though, who stole the show against a Raiders defense allowing free access off the line two weeks after the Saints resorted to “gunner” coverage. Stafford realized he couldn’t “dink and dunk” the ball down the field starting at his own 2-yard line with just two minutes left. After an acrobatic 21-yard sideline grab by Johnson, Stafford let loose with a 48-yard lob described as more of a punt than a throw. Johnson had the coverage beat for a score, but ended up landing at the 14-yard line after a nice adjustment. After drawing a 17-yard interference penalty on Stanford Routt, Megatron then beat the shadow corner for the game-winning 6-yard score with 39 seconds left. Responsible for 75 of the 98 yards on the drive, Johnson emerged with a career-high 214, trailing only Cloyce Box (302, 1950) and Richard Johnson (248, 1989) in Lions history. His 81 receptions, 1,335 yards, and 14 TDs are already career-highs across the board with two games to go. The playoffs are now on the horizon, as the Lions need only to win once against the Chargers in Week 16 or a Packers team likely to be resting starters in Week 17.

LeSean McCoy / Brent Celek / Michael Vick - Shady scored three times to break Hall of Fame Steve Van Buren’s (1945) longest-standing team record for touchdowns in one season. Only Tony Dorsett and Fred Taylor have more fourth-quarter touchdown runs of 30+ yards than McCoy’s five in just three seasons. With 239 yards over the final two games, McCoy will break Wilbert Montgomery's Eagles season record of 1,512 set in 1979.

Celek’s 156 yards are the most in a single game by a Philly tight end since Pete Retzlaff’s 204 versus the Redskins in 1965. It’s also the second-highest total by a tight end against the Jets defense, behind Ozzie Newsome’s 191 in 1984. Vick not only scored his first rushing TD of the season, but also had one of his most effective passing games of the year, going 10-of-14 for 251 yards on passes of 10+ yards. As crazy as it sounds, the Eagles can take the NFC East if they win out, the Jets win next week, and the Giants beat the Cowboys in the finale.

Tom Brady / Aaron Hernandez - Controlling the middle of the field as well as any quarterback in the game, Brady was 10-for-12 for 172 yards and a touchdown when blitz-happy Broncos DC Dennis Allen sent at least five rushers. The performance moved Brady into a tie with Brett Favre for the most seasons (3) with 35 or more passing TDs while continuing a pace for a second 40-TD season and first career 5,000-yard campaign. Brady has boasted a 114.2 passer rating on throws to Hernandez this year, and the two connected on 9-of-11 tosses for 129 yards and a score in Denver. Hernandez was 5-of-5 for 96 yards when the Broncos sent extra pass rushers, making good on Evan Silva’s prediction that the Patriots’ “other tight end” would break out with the defense keying on Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker.

Tony Romo / Felix Jones - Against a defense that has been going through the motions for more than a month, Romo produced the third-highest Total QBR (97.5) by any quarterback this season. His 20,283 passing yards through 75 games are also the third-most by any player in NFL history, behind Dan Marino (20,492) and Kurt Warner (20,305). Jones has posted back-to-back 100-yard games for the first time in his career, recording 45.4 percent of his yards after contact. For the season, Jones is in the top-five among all backs in yards per rush after contact.

Reggie Bush - Proving to be a complete back capable of running between the tackles, Bush rolled off his third consecutive 100-yard game. The 76-yard fourth-quarter touchdown was his sixth in the last seven games, moving Bush to within 27 yards of his first 1,000-yard season. “I don't think any of the questions bother me," said Bush, of concerns that he couldn’t handle the feature back role. "It was more of the opportunities that bothered me. I know what I can do when given the right opportunity."

Tim Tebow - Although it was another uneven performance, Tebow continues to make strides as a passer. Per ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, Tebow threw better in the first half than he has all season. NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi agrees, describing the Tebow as “more comfortable with each throw and clearly improved.” Tebow has cleared 8.8 yards per attempt in three of the past four weeks, and Advanced NFL Stats ranked him 12th among QBs in Win Probability Added for Week 15.  The Broncos fell to 18-1 all-time in games in which they had at least 250 rushing yards, though Tebow’s 93 yards and two rushing scores enabled him to rack up 26 fantasy points -- fifth among QBs.

Coach John Fox, who Tony Kornheiser has insisted all season “hates” Tebow, even threw his quarterback a back-handed compliment after the game. “He's gotten better every week,'' Fox said. "Six or seven weeks ago people said that he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, but I think he does that.” Fox’s team would have had a better shot at winning had he allowed Tebow to work out of the shotgun spread before the fourth quarter.


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Chris Wesseling is a senior football editor and Dynasty league analyst for Rotoworld.com. The 2011 NFL season marks his fifth year with Rotoworld and his third year contributing to NBCSports.com. He can be found on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
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