Seventy-one years ago, Sid Luckman became the first quarterback to pass for 400 yards in an NFL game. Five years passed before Jim Hardy became the second to hit the mark, which has been accomplished exactly 300 times in history. Andrew Luck was one of quarterbacks to throw for 400 yards or more Sunday.
In 1978, when the NFL expanded the schedule to 16 games, Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton led the league with 3,468 yards passing while Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw an NFL-high 28 touchdown passes. Six years later, Dan Marino became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards in a season while throwing a league-record 48 TD passes.
Marino was the only quarterback to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season until Drew Brees hit the milestone in 2008. Over the past six years, it has happened six times. Brees has thrown for 5,000 yards three times while Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford accomplished the feat once each. Manning threw for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns last season, both NFL records.
NFL rules were altered in recent years to protect quarterbacks and open the passing game, but it's reaching a point in which offenses have too much of an advantage over defenses. It's getting out of hand. The game is becoming more off-balance every year with receivers being allowed to roam free and quarterbacks more comfortable than ever while standing in the pocket.
Too often these days, NFL games have turned into seven-on-seven drills.
The NFL wasn't as exciting in 1978 than it is now. However, I also would argue that the league isn't nearly as compelling now as it was 30 years ago, when the NFL struck the right balance between passing and running games. Running backs were far more valuable in the 1990s, for example, because they kept defenses honest and more linebackers on the field. They opened up the passing game.
You know how many times Hall of Famer Jim Kelly threw for 400 yards? Once.
It's no coincidence that today's elite NFL quarterbacks -- namely Manning, Brady and Brees -- have maintained their effectiveness well into their 30s. All three began playing in the league under different rules, when they had less time and their receivers had less space. It placed a premium on decision making and accuracy.
Brees and Luck are on pace for 5,000 yards this season. Manning could join them if he averages 319 yards per game over his final nine contests, well within reach considering he averaged 342 yards per game last season. Brady, after a slow start, has averaged 317 yards per game in his past four contests while throwing 14 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Ben Roethilisberger would need to average 328 yards passing over his final eight games to join the 5,000-yard club. Big Ben threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns in the first half Sunday in the Steelers' 51-34 victory over the Colts. He finished with 522 yards passing and six TDs while Luck threw for 400 yards and three TDs for Indianapolis.
Luck has had six straight 300-yard passing games, breaking Manning's team record. Roethlisberger, Luck, Aaron Rodgers and Nick Foles each for more than 400 yards Sunday. Of the 300 games in which quarterbacks passed for 400 yards or more, 100 have come in the past nine years.
It seems a matter of time before a quarterback throws for 6,000 yards in a season, and 500 yards in a game becomes the new 400.