Five hundred passing touchdowns are a lifetime's worth of touchdowns.
Peyton Manning threw the 500th touchdown of his career in the first quarter against the Cardinals on Sunday. He wasted no time throwing his 501st and 502nd before halftime, and then added the 503rd in the fourth quarter of a 41-20 win. Manning is now second to Brett Favre (508) on the all-time list, but he is playing like he will blow past Favre before your kid decides he wants to dress up as this guy for Halloween. (Welcome to my world.)
Favre threw his 500th touchdown midway through his terrible final season with the Vikings in 2010. It was hard to really enjoy the accomplishment, because Favre was fading fast and had long worn out his welcome among most fans. He had also broken Dan Marino’s touchdown record years earlier, and the NFL record book had long ago become a Favre memoir that he refused to stop writing. Manning’s 500th touchdown is less of a fourth encore of “Margaritaville” and more the work of a player who still has something relevant to say on the field.
So let’s take a moment to get a real sense of what Manning just achieved.
Let’s say you draft a quarterback into a fantasy football keeper league as a rookie. He throws three touchdowns in his first game, then continues throwing three touchdowns every single week. This guy would be a fantasy stud, of course. Now imagine he kept that performance up for 10 years and six weeks.
You would probably win your league a half-dozen times. If you held a newborn baby in that first game, you played catch and lost a game of Madden to the same kid in the last game. A seventh-grader in the first game graduated college by the last. Your new car in the first game might have 150,000 miles on it in the last. That’s 500 touchdowns: consistent amazingness for a significant portion of a human’s time on this earth. That’s what Peyton Manning just accomplished.
Here are some 500th-touchdown facts and figures:
• Manning threw his first NFL touchdown pass (a six-yarder to Marvin Harrison in garbage time of a 24-15 loss to the Dolphins) on September 6, 1998. Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, having just beaten “The Boy is Mine” by Brandy and Monica. Disaster movies Armageddon (hence the Aerosmith song) and Deep Impact were the top grossers of that summer, because we lived in a world where the only imaginable emergencies came from outer space.
• The Dow Jones Industrial Average sat at 7,640.25 when Manning threw his first touchdown. Russell Wilson was nine years old. So was Daniel Radcliffe, the Russell Wilson of British actors. Meghan Trainor, who currently holds the No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 with her ode to freshwater fishing, “All About That Bass,” was four years old.
• Five hundred touchdowns are as many as Johnny Unitas (290), Bart Starr (152) and Russell Wilson (58) have thrown combined. As of Monday morning, at least.
• Five hundred touchdowns are more than Jim Kelly and Steve Young combined (469), Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw combined (485), and Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach and Joe Namath combined (491).
• Tom Brady has averaged 32.4 touchdowns per year over the past five years. To reach 500 touchdowns, he will have to maintain that touchdown rate through the start of the 2018 season. Drew Brees, two years younger than Brady and averaging 39 touchdowns per year over the last five years, could reach 500 midway through 2017. These projections assume no drop in performance whatsoever from either quarterback, which means ignoring much of what we have seen over the last five weeks.
• Five hundred touchdowns are more than the combined total of the top five touchdown passers in Bears history: Sid Luckman (137), Jay Cutler (113 through Sunday), Billy Wade (68), Jim McMahon (67) and Erik Kramer (63). The Bears are known for quarterback woes in even the best of times, but c’mon: They are nearly a century old and have won nine NFL championships.
• The Panthers have thrown only 385 touchdown passes in franchise history, through Sunday. The Jaguars have thrown only 368, the Ravens 365. The Texans have thrown just 234. Granted, Manning has been in the NFL longer than the Texans and almost as long as the other franchises, but at the current rate, the Texans won’t celebrate their 500th touchdown pass until sometime in the 2027 season.
• To get to 500 Cardinals touchdowns, you have to start with Neil Lomax on November 8, 1987. To get to 500 Buccaneers passing touchdowns, you must start on November 15, 1987, when Steve DeBerg threw a 20-yard pass to Calvin Magee at the start of a 23-17 loss to the Vikings. For many franchises, watching 500 touchdown passes takes a fan from teenage years through early middle age.
• There were just 448 total passing touchdowns in the entire NFL from 1942 through 1945.
• The entire NFL did not throw for 500 touchdowns in a season until 1979, the second year of the 16-game schedule and modern pass interference rules.
• The Pro Football Reference database does not record passing touchdowns before 1932, which is when the NFL started getting serious about standardizing and publishing statistics. There were just 469 passing touchdowns in the entire league from 1932 through 1938. So the NFL was in business for 17 seasons before there were “officially” 500 passing touchdowns.
• If it takes six seconds to show the highlight of a touchdown pass—that’s a reasonable average, allowing extra time for long or unusual plays while trimming the one-yarders to Dallas Clark—a highlight montage of Peyton Manning’s touchdowns would last 50 minutes.
• And finally, Manning has not thrown 503 touchdown passes. He has thrown 540 of them—37 in the playoffs, which puts him in fourth place all-time, eight TDs behind Joe Montana. Manning’s playoff total, like his overall total, is almost certain to climb even higher before he retires.
Monday Morning Hangover is as much about looking ahead in the context of the entire season to this point as it is about reviewing just Sunday’s action. After all, you saw the games and highlight montages, too. So while celebrating Peyton Manning’s 500th touchdown, watching Tom Brady get fired up and marveling at messy overtime games is all well and good, there was more to Sunday than Tony Romo spinning away from J.J. Watt or the Jets reaching new levels of desperation.
Here are some important players, coaches and executives on winning teams who have already made a big impact, both on Sunday and through the first five weeks. They may not get the attention Manning, Romo or Watt earn, but all are making their presence felt in the standings.
Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen, Patriots
As convincing as Sunday night’s Patriots victory was, there was a sense that the Bengals were battling 13 years of Foxboro ghosts. While Tom Brady flicked short passes around the field and Stephen Gostkowski did his usual masterful effort of cleaning up stalled drives, the Bengals buried themselves in fumbles, dropped passes and missed field goals. The Bengals defense dropped back in anticipation of long bombs that are no longer thrown, while receivers braced for hits that don’t arrive nearly as often anymore.
Marvin Lewis must have fallen asleep watching film of Randy Moss and Rodney Harrison; he woke up and lost badly to Tim Wright and Kyle Arrington.
Sunday night’s game proved that the Patriots can beat good opponents in their current configuration, even if they need the occasional boost from a Foxboro composure crisis. What they absolutely need, however, is their short-passing and draw-rushing offense operating at peak capacity. Edelman and Vereen have to do their best Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk impersonations for the Patriots to return to something close to business as usual.
Vereen was a difference maker as a rusher on Sunday night. A 3rd-and-16 draw play for a first down set up a Rob Gronkowski touchdown that halted a Bengals rally. Vereen is even more important as the Patriots’ sneaky deep threat on wheel routes—the Patriots did a lot of things right on Sunday, but they still can’t complete a deep pass to a wide receiver.
Edelman remains the Patriots’ top receiver, as well as the punt returner and a regular recipient of end-arounds. He was silent early in the game, when Gronk, Wright and the running backs waltzed all over the jittery Bengals. When the competition stiffened, Edelman returned to his role as a chain mover, catching three short passes to set up a late field goal and drawing a penalty to sustain another drive.
Edelman and Vereen may not be the Patriots greats of old. But they are good enough to fool some opponents, which makes them good enough to lead the Patriots back into the playoff picture.
Philip Rivers, Chargers
I touted Rivers as an MVP candidate in an article last week, and he delivered with a 288-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 31-0 rout of the Jets. Rivers is playing with both of his starting running backs injured, and he is without longtime center Nick Hardwick. He should be stuck in permanent 3rd-and-long, but instead he is completing 70 percent of his passes for a 4-1 team.
Rivers is currently the best touch passer in the NFL. He can throw footballs at any trajectory, from weather balloon to missile. His passes appear to change speed in the air at times. No one throws into the flat like Rivers, who has turned the simple dump-off into an art form: The ball floats above the receiver and leads him to an open spot on the field, like a magical pixie leading an orphan to a sword in a stone. He is also one of the best quarterbacks in the league at standing in the pocket against pressure, and he is a clever improviser whose waddling scrambles often lead to shot-putted completions.
Rivers is excellent, and he’s fun to watch. Get on the bandwagon, people!
Greg Olsen, Panthers
Olsen caught two more touchdown passes on Sunday, helping Cam Newton erase a 21-7 deficit so the Panthers could defeat the mistake-plagued Bears 31-24. Olsen leads the Panthers with 27 catches and four touchdowns.
In a season where tight ends Larry Donnell and Travis Kelce get star-of-the-week treatment, Olsen has been the third-most important player on the Panthers, besides Cam and Luke Kuechly, week after week.
Newton had to throw passes to Ed Dickson, Brenton Bersin, Darrin Reaves and Brandon Williams this week. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers' No. 1 receiver, caught just three of the nine passes thrown to him, fumbling away one of the catches. Coordinator Mike Shula has used Olsen as the No. 2 receiver and top possession target on a team that does not have anything else.
Without Olsen, the Panthers would not be competitive.
Steve Johnson and Brandon Lloyd, 49ers
The 49ers' passing game lacked depth last year, so they traded for Johnson and grabbed Lloyd as a free-agent afterthought. Johnson and Lloyd earned reputations as talented-but-unreliable performers over the years—Lloyd slowly overcame his early-career rep as a one-dimensional jump-ball specialist with an attitude, but he is also 33 years old—so it was hard to imagine either doing more than playing the old Randy Moss decoy role on fly patterns.
Johnson caught a nine-yard touchdown pass before halftime to give the 49ers a 13-10 lead in what would become a 22-17 victory. Lloyd added three catches for 76 yards. All three of Lloyd’s receptions converted third downs. Johnson and Lloyd have now combined for 11 third- or fourth-down conversions, taking pressure off Anquan Boldin to move the sticks.
The 49ers offense still sputters at times, but it started to look like itself late in the Chiefs game: 13- and 14-play drives against a good defense to take the lead and gobble the clock. A 29-yard Lloyd reception on 3rd-and-10 sparked the first of those drives. A little playmaking talent—and veteran savvy—on the bench can make a big difference.
DeMarcus Ware, Broncos
It’s not all about Peyton Manning in Denver. Ware and Von Miller each have 3.5 sacks, but Ware has applied more quarterback hits (seven to Miller's six) and forced a fumble in fewer snaps, giving the Broncos pass rush a dimension it lost when Elvis Dumervil became the last person in America to use a fax machine to send important information quickly.
Ware made his presence felt when Logan Thomas relieved Drew Stanton for the Cardinals in the third quarter. Ware stopped Andre Ellington for a short gain, then sacked Thomas for an eight-yard loss. Miller cleaned things up with another sack on 3rd-and-long, effectively taking the Cardinals out of a game in which they were lingering.
Ware’s presence gives Manning and the Broncos margin for error, something they sorely missed last season, as well as a puncher’s chance of hanging with the NFC powerhouses.
DeAndre Levy and Teryl Austin, Lions
This middle linebacker and defensive coordinator combo was on the losing end of a 17-14 Bills-Lions game on Sunday, but don’t hold that against them. The Lions held the Bills offense to one good drive, but the deadly combination of no running game and Alex Henery’s awful kicking doomed the Lions.
Austin cannot do anything about Henery, but he has covered for injuries and other problems just about everywhere else. The Lions get effective snaps in the secondary out of practice-squad players like Danny Gorrer and Mohammed Seisay. Aging Rashean Mathis and journeyman James Ihedigbo are playing well in starting roles at cornerback and safety. Austin has mixed some 3-4 into the Lions' traditional 4-3 and is getting pass pressure from hybrid types like Ashlee Palmer, with a big boost from a quietly productive Ndamukong Suh and newly motivated Nick Fairley in the middle.
Levy, who recorded 13 tackles against the Bills, makes everything possible with his signal-calling and leadership. He now has six tackles for loss on the year (including a safety), thanks in part to Suh and Fairley gobbling up blockers, and he has added three passes defensed.
Levy can work his way into Defensive Player of the Year discussion if the Lions can keep winning. Never has a middle linebacker relied so much on a kicker.
Howie Roseman, Eagles
The Eagles won a wild 34-28 game against a Rams team that refused to quit on Sunday, and they might not have won at all if not for the contributions of role players like Darren Sproles, who rushed for 51 yards on a day when LeSean McCoy did too much tap-dancing; Chris Maragos, who returned a blocked punt for a touchdown; Cody Parkey, who kicked two field goals; and the many Eagles offensive linemen pressed into service during this season’s injury rush.
Sproles arrived via trade from the Saints. Maragos was a quiet free-agent signing. Parkey was a late-camp acquisition to replace Henery. The linemen have come from anywhere and everywhere. Chip Kelly may be the visionary, but GM Howie Roseman is the guy who keeps the roster stocked with playmakers, important reserves and kickers who do not represent one-man losing streaks.
General managers are usually evaluated based on their big moves. The best ones make dozens of quiet little moves that keep their teams competitive. Roseman’s bench has kept the Eagles in first place in the NFC East despite an injury rash and lots of sloppy play.
Not everybody earns one, but everybody gets one!
Kenny Rogers Trophy
(Awarded to the coach who does not know when to hold ‘em, or when to fold ‘em.)
Every statistician knows that going for it on 4th-and-short is almost always the correct percentage play...unless Mike Smith’s Falcons are facing the Giants, in which case an ancient Babylonian curse joins forces with Smith’s terrible taste in short-yardage play selection to give the Giants a 99.99995 percent chance of both stuffing the play and winning the game.
Smith and coordinator Dirk Koetter decided to throw on 4th-and-1 from the Falcons' 29-yard line while trailing by seven late in the fourth quarter, which admittedly shaved the probability models a little close. Johnathan Hankins sacked Matt Ryan on a slow-developing play that asked a little too much of an offensive line featuring a rookie and two backups. The Falcons did not look particularly comfortable running the play in the first place.
Take it from a guy with a math degree: Probability accounts for many forces, but self-doubt and Gabe Carimi are not among them.
Anemic Stat Line of the Week
(Awarded to the player who does less with more.)
Michael Vick went 8-of-19 for 47 yards in relief of Geno Smith, who was 4-of-12 for 27 yards. Enjoy the quarterback controversy, New York!
Logan Thomas was 1-of-8 for the Cardinals, but at least his completion was an 81-yard catch-and-run. Plus, Thomas woke up on Monday as a rookie with the potential to learn from Bruce Arians, Tom Moore and Carson Palmer. Vick and Geno woke up on Monday as Vick and Geno.
Meaningless Fantasy Touchdown Trophy
(For the most unnecessary, yet fantasy-relevant, touchdown of the week.)
Let’s go back to Eddie Lacy in the second half of the Thursday night game for this one: two touchdowns to increase the Packers lead from 28-0 to 42-0 against the Vikings (the final score was 42-10). My poor fantasy team really needed those touchdowns!
Fantasy Leech Trophy
(Awarded to the fullback, tight end, fourth receiver or moonlighting linebacker who scored so your first-round pick couldn’t.)
Rueben Randle and Andre Williams share this award for taking short touchdowns away from Larry Donnell, last week’s Fantasy Commodity of the Millennium. Donnell was targeted just once in the Giants’ 30-20 win over the Falcons. Meanwhile, Eli Manning stared Randle down in the red zone like he was Jennifer Lawrence in her blue Mystique costume.
There are two fantasy morals of this story: 1) Beware tight ends you have never heard of, and 2) nothing that happens on Thursday night really means anything.
Burn This Play Trophy
(Awarded to the most over-engineered play of the week.)
This week’s award goes to Sunday’s least engineered play. The unpredictable Charlie Whitehurst (he’s like old wrestler Johnny Rodz: You know he will lose, but you are never sure how) had to sub for Jake Locker again after Locker took a flying forearm to the face, among other indignities. Whitehurst threw some early touchdowns and then spent the second half leading three-and-outs as the Browns came back.
Suddenly, the Titans faced a 29-28 deficit late in the fourth quarter.
Whitehurst managed a couple of short completions to get the ball near midfield in the waning seconds, but a sack forced the Titans to burn their final timeout. With 10 seconds left, Whitehurst threw a 16-yard pass to Kendall Wright along the right sideline. We waited for the lateral, but there was none. Wright was in no position to get out of bounds. Desperate charge to the line? Why bother?
The Titans had just run a regular play to end the game. It was just one more reason to avoid watching Titans football unless you absolutely have to.
Bonus Burn this Play points go to the 49ers for their reverse-option pass that had Anquan Boldin throwing to Michael Crabtree. Crabtree was open in the back of the end zone, but it turns out that Boldin does not throw very well: He is 1-of-4 with a completion for a loss of six in his career. Boldin side-armed the ball to a random spot along the sideline—instead of scoring a touchdown, it looked like he was trying to win a Matthew Stafford in the Fourth Quarter in December Lookalike Contest.
Salvador Dali Melting Clock Trophy
(Worst clock mismanagement of the week.)
With 5:22 to play, the Texans ran a seven-yard play to set up 4th-and-2; they trailed the Cowboys by 10 points but were within field-goal range. The clock kept ticking. Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Arian Foster along the sideline for a first down; Foster made a move upfield instead of going out of bounds, but playmakers will often get caught up in the moment when they think they can make something happen.
The next Texans snap occurred with 4:04 on the clock. Then, another play at 3:19. An incomplete 3rd-and-4 pass began with 2:36 to play. Finally, a field goal. The Texans wasted nearly three minutes executing four plays to go 20 yards while trailing late in a game.
Oh, but those Cowboys hate to be topped! The Cowboys successfully burned just 17 seconds and left the Texans with one timeout on their next drive! So when the Texans got the ball back and tied the game, Tony Romo did not have enough time to execute an extended last-minute drive. A missed 53-yard Dan Bailey field goal led to overtime, where Bailey sealed a 20-17 Cowboys win with a 49-yarder.
If you watch the Texans offense, you will learn pretty quickly that wasting time is what they’re best at. They just stall until J.J. Watt catches his breath.
Drive to Nowhere Trophy
(Awarded for offensive wheel-spinning or backtracking.)
The Buccaneers started on their own 20-yard line leading by five points in the fourth quarter and accomplished the following: holding penalty (10-yard line); fumbled Mike Glennon snap (2-yard line); patented Buccaneers delay-of-game special (1-yard line); false start (half-yard line); Doug Martin no gain (some undetermined fractional yard line); and finally a safety when Junior Galette smothered Glennon in the end zone.
The safety led to overtime and a 37-31 Saints win. It also saved the referees the trouble of finding a millimeter ruler to determine where to spot the ball.
Not That Great Rankings
Sunday’s early games featured lots of intriguing matchups between ostensibly good teams: the Battle for Texas, Colts-Ravens, Giants-Falcons, Panthers-Bears and so on. Any of these teams could have made a “statement” by pulverizing the opponent, or at least looking convincingly sharp in victory. But the early kickoffs were full of games in which good-not-great teams noodled with each other, sometimes into overtime, in a way that screamed, “We might slip into the playoffs, but the Seahawks and Broncos are not trembling.”
So here is a quick rundown of the Not That Great teams from the early games, in descending order from Really Not That Great to Not Really That Great.
Philadelphia Eagles: They looked tired in the second half. When the things Cary Williams says start to make sense, it’s time to either refill your prescriptions or build a bunker.
Dallas Cowboys: A pregame graphic proudly trumpeted the vast improvement of the Cowboys defense: Dead last in the NFL in 2013, the Cowboys entered Sunday’s game ranked 24th! (They were 22nd in yards allowed per game entering the night game.) The Cowboys: going as far this season as regression to the mean can take them.
New York Giants: This is actually the kind of mushy, uninspiring-but-cohesive Giants team that mysteriously wins a Super Bowl, like a gopher that starts tunneling in an empty prairie but pokes its head up in the produce aisle of Whole Foods. That said, the Giants' Super Bowl sneak attack only works every five years, and this ain’t 2016.
Indianapolis Colts: Engineered a 20-play, 75-yard, 9:30 drive that resulted in a field goal before halftime. The goal is to win the Super Bowl, guys, not to make the 49ers jealous. The highlight of the game was the punter celebrating, for heaven’s sake.
Carolina Panthers: You don’t really force turnovers in the second half against the Bears. You automatically get them, like those turkeys the supermarket gives you if you spend $200 before Thanksgiving.
Baltimore Ravens: Their time of possession on Sunday was 21:17; give them credit for at least not wasting our time.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Barely covered the spread against Central Florida.
Houston Texans: Committed a false start on their first play of the game and then began to really look disorganized.
Detroit Lions: “Will the following people please report to Lions headquarters: Matt Prater, Jay Feely, David Akers, any blood relative of Jason Hanson...”
Buffalo Bills: They have a winning record? Seriously?
Bonus Not That Great Team, Cincinnati Bengals: Remember when the Twins would always face the Yankees in the baseball playoffs? Remember how the Twins always entered the postseason looking fresh and impressive, while the Yankees seemed old and vulnerable? Remember how the Twins would get a Category 5 case of the mega-yips the moment they saw the pinstripes and get swept? Bengals: You are the Twins.
Final thoughts and enduring images from Week 5...
Tom Brady sure looked happy stomping and celebrating on the sidelines after early touchdowns in the Patriots victory. It was a far cry from the thousand-mile stare of Monday night. And no, we did not forget that Brady reached the 50,000-yard plateau in the first quarter of the Bengals game. Drew Brees was there to greet him; Manning left a lovely postcard dated 2009 (author ducks as thousands of trophy cases are hurled at him).
The Cowboys' Prevent Defense
Tony Romo twirling away from J.J. Watt to throw a touchdown may be the most memorable image from the forgettable Battle for Texas, but the Cowboys’ anti-Ryan Fitzpatrick formation may have been more revealing. When the Texans faced 3rd-and-12, Rod Marinelli lined up six defenders like a picket fence 12 yards downfield, with a safety behind them. When the Texans committed a penalty to make it 3rd-and-17, the picket fence and safety stayed put while the Texans moved back.
Opponents have figured out that Fitzpatrick cannot throw into tight spots and wants to scramble the defense out of position. The best way to beat him is by standing still.
Philly Brown’s Heads-Up Return
Brown’s alert pick-up-and-run play after getting clobbered on a punt return kept the Panthers in the game when neither their offense nor their defense was playing well. The Bears blooper reel is getting a little crowded.
Sean Payton and Rob Ryan, the Battling Bickersons
The Saints beat the Buccaneers in overtime, but the situation looked dire when the Bucs held a 24-13 lead in the third quarter. Sideline cameras showed Payton and Ryan side by side but with their backs slightly turned to each other, each looking down at playbooks and barking different orders into their headsets. They looked like a married couple that has not spoken to each other in months.
One more Buccaneers touchdown, and an impromptu performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was about to break out among the Saints coaching staff. That cornerback you hoped to sign, Rob? We just received word that he tore an ACL swerving to avoid a porcupine in the middle of the field. YOU CAN’T DO THAT, SEAN!!!!!
The only sideline spectacle more fascinating than Payton and Ryan at war with one another remains Jim Harbaugh at war with himself.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.