In the first game of the 2013 season, Peyton Manning tied one of the most hallowed single-game records in professional football, throwing for seven touchdowns in a victory against the Baltimore Ravens.
So here's the big question: Which single-game performance was better? Below I'll make a case for Peyton Manning, a case for Nick Foles and then an overall conclusion.
The Case for Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning's seven-touchdown performance was the single-best regular season game of his NFL career. That's pretty remarkable, especially when you consider that he has won four NFL Most Valuable Player awards (and likely a fifth following this season).
Manning's masterpiece is even more impressive because it came against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. The pressure was on when Manning threw for seven scores against Baltimore. After all, the Ravens had upset the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round of the 2012 postseason on their way to capturing their second Super Bowl title.
You couldn't have scripted a better revenge performance.
Manning did all of his work in the final three quarters. The Broncos trailed 7-0 after the first quarter and 17-14 at halftime before Manning led Denver to 28 unanswered points.
Oh, and it was the first game for him with newly acquired Wes Welker. It was also his first time with tight end Julius Thomas as a featured weapon. Manning looked like he had been throwing to those guys his whole career.
His final stat line looks like this: 27-of-42 for 462 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. He evenly distributed his scoring passes, with Welker, Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas each recording a pair of touchdowns. (Andre Caldwell also scored one.)
Manning's epic season opener kicked off what could very well go down as the best season by a quarterback in league history. Through eight games, Manning has led the Broncos to 343 points, a pace that would shatter the 2007 Patriots' single-season record of 589. He's leading the league in completions (237), yards (2,919), touchdowns (29), yards per attempt (8.8) and QBR (84.31).
The Case for Nick Foles
Nick Foles' seven-touchdown game couldn't have been more unlikely. The second-year signal-caller for the Eagles is technically still the team's backup quarterback; he's currently playing because Mike Vick is sidelined by a hamstring injury.
Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers three weeks ago, Foles threw three touchdowns and earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. But he turned in an absolute clunker the very next week against Dallas before rewriting the record books against Oakland.
Foles had the pressure of knowing that if he failed against Oakland, Chip Kelly might be forced to turn to rookie Matt Barkley Week 10 against the Green Bay Packers. The Dallas start was probably the biggest of Foles' career, especially because it came with first place in the NFC East on the line, but this game against the Raiders was second.
Facing Oakland, Foles performed all of his magic in the first three quarters. He became the first of the six quarterbacks to throw seven touchdowns in a game to throw all seven before the fourth quarter. In fact, he attempted just one pass in the final quarter.
Foles threw three TD strikes to Riley Cooper, one to DeSean Jackson, one to Brent Celek and one to Zach Ertz. His final stat line of 22-of-28 for 406 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions resulted in a perfect passer rating of 156.8 and a QBR of over 99.
Eagles fan or no Eagles fan, I can't deny that Nick Foles turned in the more impressive performance in his seven-touchdown game.
It's actually not even as close as you may think.
Remember, what the player has done before or does after this game is irrelevant. We're not comparing careers. We're comparing a one-game performance. And in his seven-touchdown effort, Foles was better.
Let's compare. Foles threw seven touchdowns in just 28 passes. Manning needed 42 passes. Foles posted a perfect passer rating (158.3). Manning's was 141.4. Foles didn't take a single sack. Manning was sacked three times. Manning may have faced a better defense, but Foles played with a significantly worse supporting cast.
He also won against a solid defense on the road.
And most important of all, he finished his seven-touchdown game with four minutes remaining in the third quarter. That's the part that isn't being talked about enough. He didn't just tie the record. He tied it with one-third of the game remaining.
There's no telling what would have happened if Chip Kelly had kept his foot on the gas in the final quarter. Foles would have definitely thrown for a minimum of eight touchdowns. He may have reached nine. There's an outside chance he would have reached double-digits. That's unfathomable.
Foles looked like he was just playing catch with his teammates, notably Riley Cooper and DeSean Jackson. He completed five of six passes for 200 yards and four touchdowns on passes thrown more than 20 yards in the air, per Pro Football Focus. Defenders were just invisible to him. He was locked in and completely focused in what could have been his final start of the season had he played poorly.
Manning may be in the midst of the best season a quarterback has ever put forth. But it was Nick Foles who completed arguably the best game a quarterback has ever played.