Defensive Streak Search: (Not) Surrendering 400 Yards Passing

After each week of the NFL season one column I always read is Don Banks’ “Snap Judgments” over at SI. He breaks things down into nice bullet points that cover full games or simply interesting stats. His recent column covering the AFC and NFC Championship games dropped this nugget:

“In his 14-season stay in New England, Bill Belichick’s Patriots have never given up more yards (507) yards in a game, and Manning’s 400 yards passing was the first time Belichick’s New England defense has surrendered that many.”

At first I thought that this was pretty phenomenal. How can a team go 14 seasons (249 games if you count the postseason) without ever surrendering 400 or more passing yards in a single game? I took a quick look at the list here and found that 141 games have been played with individual QBs passing for 400 or more yards since the start of the 2000 season (Belichick’s first as head coach in NE). This means that each team should have averaged around four games against a single 400-yard passer.

Noting that, it doesn’t seem as far-fetched that New England could just have pushed their 400-yard surrenders onto the 31 other teams in the league. However, a closer look at the list reveals that the Patriots actually gave up 400 yards to Ben Roethlisberger and 421 yards to Matt Ryan earlier in the 2013 season. They also gave up 400 yards to Vince Young and 416 yards to Chad Henne in 2011, as well as 401 yards to Kurt Warner in 2001. Along with Manning, that’s six games in 14 years, or “worse” than average.

Then I realized it was my “mistake” and not Banks’. In calculating TEAM passing yards allowed/gained, yardage lost from sacks counts against the total. That may be a no-brainer, but sometimes I have no brain.

Putting aside the argument about whether or not sacks should count as negative passing yards, and why they don’t count against the individual, but do against the team (something to do with O-line failure?), the “pure” passing stat still interested me.

It made me wonder which team has the longest current stretch without giving up 400 yards passing, not counting sacks. There are several games where multiple passers on the same team have totaled 400+ yards, which made figuring this out a little more difficult. That’s my way of saying feel free to check my facts. Anyway, here’s the best active streak as far as I can tell:

The longest active streak in the NFL in which a team has not given up 400 or more passing yards to any individual passer or combination of passers, not counting sacks, belongs to:

The Buffalo Bills

  • Streak: 194 games (all regular season, no postseason)
  • Last 400-yard surrender: 12/23/2001 (33-30 loss to Atlanta) – 431 yards to Chris Chandler.
  • The Bills went 3-13 in 2001, also surrendering 421 to Peyton Manning on 9/23/2001.
  • Perhaps it’s a bit of a surprise to see the Bills here, considering they’ve had just one winning season since 2001 and they play New England twice a year (seven 400-yard games during Buffalo’s streak). Then again, a bad team probably falls behind early and the opponent isn’t required to keep throwing to win.
  • Bills QB Drew Bledsoe (perhaps unsurprisingly) posted games of 463 yards (45-39 OT win over Minnesota) and 417 yards (49-31 loss to Oakland) in 2002 (the team went 8-8).

Two other teams have longer active streaks against single passers, but they’ve allowed 400+ yards in multi-passer games. Keep in mind, “multi-passer” means games where 400 yards could only be reached by totaling all passing yards from 2 or more passers:

2. The Carolina Panthers

  • Streak: 224 games (215 regular season, 9 postseason)
  • Last 400-yard surrender, single passer: 11/5/2000 (27-24 win over St. Louis) – 431 yards to Trent Green.
  • Last 400-yard surrender, multi-passer: 409 yards to Drew Brees and Chase Daniel in a loss on 1/1/2012. This gives them a streak of 190 total games between 400-yard surrenders.
  • In 315 total games played, these are the only 400-yard surrenders for the Panthers. That’s .32% to single passers and .63% to multiple passers.
  • Chris Wienke threw for 423 yards in a 2006 loss to the Giants. In 2011 Cam Newton threw for 422 and 432 in consecutive starts to open his career (both losses to Atlanta & Green Bay). Both were single-game rookie records until Andrew Luck passed for 433 in 2012.

1. The St. Louis Rams

  • Streak: 233 games (224 regular season, 9 postseason)
  • Last 400-yard surrender, single passer: 1/17/2000 (49-37 Divisional Playoff win over Minnesota) – 423 yards to Jeff George.
  • Last 400-yard surrender, multi-passer: 414 yards to Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb on 9/7/2008, giving them a streak of 137 games between 400-yard surrenders.
  • The Rams won the Super Bowl at the end of the 1999 season and Kurt Warner became the only QB to throw for 400+ yards in a Super Bowl (414).
  • From the Super Bowl win (1/30/2000) until 10/2/2005, the Rams would post ten 400-yard passing games from Warner (3), Green (1), Marc Bulger (4), Warner/Green (1) and Warner/Az Hakim (1). They haven’t had one since, and they haven’t had a winning season since 2003 (though they made the playoffs in 2004 at 8-8, and won their Wild Card game).
  • If you count just regular season, single-passer games, the last 400-yard surrender was 10/27/1996, an OT win over Baltimore – 429 yards to Vinny Testaverde. That’s a streak of 280 games.

Other notes on 400 yard games in general:

  • Rule changes, league expansion and the evolution of the game have made 400-yard games more common. In 1943, Bears QB Sid Luckman was the first to throw for more than 400 yards in a game (433 in a win over NY Giants). According to combined data from wikipedia and pro-football-reference, there have been 295 single-passer 400-yard games in NFL history (wikipedia’s data is suspect though, as it currently omits 3 games from 2013).
  • There were 147 400-yard games in the 56 seasons from Luckman through 1998, and 148 in the 15 seasons since. Obviously, things get a bit tricky when looking at records for the AFL plus the NFL pre-merger, and when considering the number of games played each year. Still, I think it’s clear that we’re seeing a lot more high-passing games now than we were then (as expected).
  • Post-merger (1970), there are 261 games where a single passer reached 400+ yards and 34 games where multiple passers on the same team totaled 400+ yards (295 games altogether).
  • The percentage of 400-yard single-passer games has been 4.49% or higher in each of the past 4 years (2010-2013). From 1970 until 2009, the percentage was higher than 4% only twice (2004 and 1986).
  • There were 26 single-passer 400-yard performances during the 2013 season (not counting the upcoming Super Bowl). This is more than any previous season; just shy of one game out of ten (9.77%). The next closest is 2011 (7.49%).
  • 1979 was the last season without a single 400-yard passer.

Other notes on individual teams. Be aware that I didn’t have the time or energy to go in-depth on the records of every game for every team since 1970.

The following includes single- and multi-passer games, unless otherwise noted:

  • Since the merger, the team with the most 400-yard surrenders is San Diego with 18 (16 single-, 2 multi-passer). The team with the fewest is Carolina with 2 (1 single-, 1 multi-passer).
  • The team with the worst percentage of 400-yard surrenders is the Houston Texans with 3.06% (6/196 games). This is to be expected as the team was essentially born into the era of big passing. The team with the best percentage is Tampa Bay, who joined the league in 1976, with .49% (3/611 games).
  • Of teams that have been around since the merger, San Diego has the worst percentage of 400-yard surrenders at 2.56% (18/703 games). Philadelphia and Indianapolis are tied for the best with .70% (5/715 games). Neither Philadelphia, nor Indianapolis has a 400-yard surrender in a multi-passer game.
  • In strictly single-passer games, Tennessee has the best percentage at .42% (3/708 games). Detroit is a close second with .43% (3/691 games).
  • The longest streak, since the merger, without giving up 400+ yards to a single passer belongs to the Detroit Lions who went 544 games before giving up 404 yards to Daunte Culpepper on 12/19/2004. That streak actually stretches back to 12/17/1961, extending it to 656 games between surrenders. However, Detroit surrendered 400+ yards in multi-passer games 3 times during that stretch.
  • The longest “true” streak between 400-yard surrenders since the merger belongs to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They gave up 418 to Lynn Dickey (Packers) on 10/12/1980, then went 512 games (499 regular, 13 postseason) before giving up 510 to Eli Manning on 9/16/2012. They did not surrender 400+ yards in any multi-passer games in between.
  • The 2013 Dallas Cowboys and the 1986 New York Jets are the only two teams to surrender 400+ yards four times in one season. One of the Jets games was a playoff game.
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