NFC South: Drew Bledsoe
Five nuggets of knowledge about the Week 14 games:
Magic number: The Falcons have won their past five games against the Panthers. But the amazing thing is Atlanta’s point total has been either 30 or 31 in each of those games, including a 30-28 victory against Carolina in Week 4.
Bouncing back? After a rough start, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has been pretty solid recently. In the first seven games of the season, Newton turned the ball over 11 times. In the past five games, he’s had only two turnovers. Newton also has been more effective on downfield passes recently. In his past two games, Newton has completed six of 10 throws of more than 20 yards.
A record they don’t want: The Buccaneers are on pace to become an unflattering part of history. Through 12 games, they’ve allowed an average of 309.4 passing yards. The NFL record is 299.8 yards per game by the 2011 Green Bay Packers.
Giants are Brees’ favorite team: New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has struggled recently, throwing seven interceptions in the past two games. But there might be some good news on the horizon. Brees has been stellar when facing the Giants in the past. He is 4-0 against New York and has thrown 11 touchdown passes with no interceptions. That ties him with Drew Bledsoe (against the Cardinals) for the most touchdown passes without an interception against one opponent in NFL history.
After eight games, Brees has 242 completions on 343 attempts for 2,746 yards. If you project those numbers over 16 games, Brees would have 484 completions, 686 attempts and 5,492 passing yards.
Let’s start with the yards, because that’s the most interesting. If Brees continues on his current pace, he’d easily break Dan Marino’s record (5,084 yards) from 1984. Brees already is the only quarterback besides Marino to throw for 5,000 yards in a season. He had 5,069 in 2008.
On his current pace, Brees also would set the record for completions. Peyton Manning set the record (450) in 2010.
When it comes to the record for attempts, Brees is just slightly off the record pace. Drew Bledsoe set that record with 691 attempts in 1994.
Also, if Brees throws for 240 yards against Tampa Bay, he’ll break his own record for passing yards through the first nine games of a season. Brees set that by throwing for 2,985 yards in 2008.
Now that we’re getting down to some real football, I’m happy that I can start interacting more with my friends at ESPN Stats & Information.
They supply some wonderful stuff, much of which you can’t get anywhere else, and we’ll lean heavily on them during the regular season. Heck, we’ll start it a little before the regular season.
Now that we know for certain Cam Newton will be the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers on opening day, it’s time to look at some history.
Here’s a look at quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall (since 1966) who started a season opener and how they fared in that game.
- 2010: Sam Bradford, Loss
- 2009: Matthew Stafford, Loss
- 2002: David Carr, Win
- 1998: Peyton Manning, Loss
- 1993: Drew Bledsoe, Loss
- 1990: Jeff George, Loss
- 1989: Troy Aikman, Loss
- 1983: John Elway, Win
- 1975: Steve Bartkowski, Loss
- 1971: Jim Plunkett, Win
- 1970: Terry Bradshaw, Loss
None of the above finished the season with a winning record as a starter. In other not-so-encouraging news in this department, all rookie quarterbacks starting an opener since 1970 are a combined 10-16. But, hey, there’s one bit of good news for Carolina fans. One of those 10 wins came by Carolina with Chris Weinke in 2001.
So they already should be carving Drew Brees from the shoulders up in Canton, Ohio, right? The quarterback of the New Orleans Saints could retire tomorrow and waltz straight to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in five years, correct?
Well, it’s not quite that easy. At least not yet.
Brees has 35,266 career passing yards. He should soar past Kelly in the first game of this season and should end the year somewhere pretty close to Johnny Unitas, who ranks No. 12 all-time with 40,238 passing yards.
If Brees throws 33 touchdown passes this season, the same number he threw last season, he’ll have 268 for his career. That number would put him in the top 10, just behind Joe Montana at 273.
If you’re putting up numbers like Unitas and Montana, shouldn’t you be an automatic Hall of Famer? Yes, if Brees had played in the same era as Unitas or Montana.
But times have changed, and if you don’t believe me, let me throw out three names: Vinny Testaverde, Drew Bledsoe and Kerry Collins. All three rank well ahead of Brees in career passing yards, and Collins might not be done yet. Bledsoe and Testaverde also rank ahead of Brees in career touchdown passes.
Bledsoe, Testaverde and Collins are pretty good quarterbacks, and their stats were helped by longevity. That’s not a bad attribute, but nobody is ever going to argue that Testaverde, Bledsoe or Collins belongs in the Hall of Fame.
What they represent is the middle ground of the last generation. Brees has to cross that -- and then some -- to assure himself a spot in Canton.
Testaverde had 46,233 career passing yards, which ranks seventh. Bledsoe is one spot behind him at 44,611 yards. Collins is No. 11 at 40,441 yards. Testaverde is No. 8 in career touchdowns with 275, and Bledsoe is No. 14 with 251.
As a member of this generation of quarterbacks, Brees has to go beyond the numbers of guys like that. The bar has been raised, and it’s still rising.
Assuming Brett Favre stays retired this time, he finished his career leading in passing yards (71,838) and touchdown passes (508). Then, you’ve got guys like Peyton Manning, who is 34, still going strong with 54,828 passing yards and 399 touchdowns and Tom Brady, who is 33, with 34,744 yards, 251 touchdowns and a handful of Super Bowl rings.
Manning and Brady are going to continue to increase their numbers, and Brees has to stay on a similar pace. I’ve had the honor to vote for the Hall of Fame twice, and I can assure you voters pay very close attention to a player's contemporaries. Brees isn’t going to get in simply by putting up numbers close to Testaverde, Collins and Bledsoe.
He’s got to stay somewhere close to Manning and Brady. It would help if Brees could avoid seasons like last year when he threw a career-high 22 interceptions and the Saints got bounced by Seattle in the first round of the playoffs.
I’m not trying to cast gloom on Brees’ Hall of Fame chances. I seriously think he’ll get there, but I’m just saying there’s some work left to be done.
Brees had some knee problems last season but still threw for 4,620 yards and 33 touchdowns. Those numbers are pretty comparable to an average of the two seasons before that.
Let’s assume the knee is healthy and say Brees goes out and plays four more seasons with numbers like that. It’s fairly realistic, as long as Sean Payton’s calling the plays, Marques Colston is catching the passes and Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks are blocking up front.
That would put Brees at 53,746 passing yards and 367 touchdown passes. That would put him fourth on the all-time passing yards list and fourth on the list of all-time touchdown passes, as they now stand.
That would be an automatic pass into Canton. Brees doesn’t even need to reach those numbers to get there. He just needs to move ahead of the middle-of-the-pack guys, and a few more playoff wins wouldn’t hurt. Brees is approaching the doors to Canton. He just needs to keep going straight up a few more steps.
For the record, I’ll be arriving at the Georgia Dome with several colleagues, but I think it’s important for Falcons fans to know that Trent Dilfer will not be with me.
Anyway, I’ll touch base as soon as I get settled into the Georgia Dome. Also, Matt Williamson from Scouts Inc. and I will be taking part in Countdown Daily, an in-game chat with readers and others from ESPN joining in. We’ll post an item on the blog that will take you into Countdown Daily an hour or two before kickoff.
In the meantime, let’s turn to ESPN Stats & Information for a few nuggets to hold you over as we wait for the showdown between the Saints and Falcons.
- Drew Brees, with 391 completions this season, needs nine to reach the 400-mark for the third time as a pro. All other players in NFL history combined have produced just five 400-completion seasons: Warren Moon, Drew Bledsoe, Rich Gannon, Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning have one each.
- The Saints allowed 202 rushing yards to the Falcons on Sept. 26 in an overtime contest in which Atlanta had 50 rushing plays. But last week, the Saints allowed 208 yards to the Ravens on only 39 carries -- an average of 5.3 yards per carry. It was the first time since the 2008 season that New Orleans had let an opponent amass 200 rushing yards and average five yards per carry.
- Garrett Hartley missed a 29-yard field goal in overtime when the Falcons and Saints met on Sept. 26 at New Orleans. Matt Bryant later won the game for Atlanta, 27-24, with a 46-yard field goal, and Hartley spent the next two weeks on the inactive list while 46-year-old John Carney took his spot. It was the NFL's shortest field-goal miss in overtime since an Atlanta-Tampa Bay game in Tampa on Christmas Eve of 2005. In that game, Atlanta's Todd Peterson had a 28-yard overtime attempt blocked and Bryant, then with Tampa Bay, missed from 27 yards on the next possession. Bryant eventually won it for the Buccaneers with a 41-yard field goal.
- Matt Ryan's passer rating in 2010 is 90.5; he could become the first Falcons quarterback to finish a season with a rating of 90 or higher (minimum: eight starts) since Chris Chandler earned a 100.9 rating for the 1998 team that wound up playing in the Super Bowl.
- Everything's working in the Falcons' favor this season: Opposing kickers have made only 13 of 21 field goal attempts against Atlanta; that rate of 62 percent is the lowest against any NFL team. (You have to go back to 2003 to find the last NFL team against which opposing kickers had such a low percentage; that year, the Redskins "held" their opponents to a 61-percent rate.)
- The Falcons have won eight straight, but over the last three games, their opponents have run for 454 yards and have averaged 5.8 yards per carry. The last NFL team to win three straight games despite allowing at least 450 rushing yards and at least 5.8 yards per carry was the Saints in 2006.
- John Abraham joined the 100-sacks club two weeks ago, and with a sack last week at Seattle, he now has 101.5 sacks. His single-game high of four sacks came while playing for the Jets against the Saints back on Nov. 4, 2001, his second season in the league, but he has had only two sacks (including one this year) in eight games against New Orleans since then.
|Who's not in the Hall of Fame who should be? ESPN.com's panel makes the case for Dermontti Dawson, Cris Carter, Doug Flutie and Rickey Jackson in future classes.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
But future classes should.
At least that's the argument our four-man panel (Jeremy Green, Matt Williamson -- each from Scouts Inc. -- Football Today producer Jay Soderberg and myself) makes in this edition of Double Coverage. In this series, we usually debate matters. But we're not going to debate this time. We each make our cases and we're going to make them passionately.
That's because each of us reacted strongly when we were asked to nominate a player who is not in the Hall of Fame but deserves to be. As the NFC South blogger, I instantly threw out Jackson's name because Saints fans have been hitting me with pleas for his case since I've taken this job. I know Green spent a large chunk of his life in Minnesota around Carter and he took all of about three seconds to nominate him.
Williamson was so eager to make his case for Dawson that he sent me his argument the day we were assigned this project two weeks ago. Soderberg owns up to the fact he's a Patriots fan, but claims that's not the only reason he thinks Flutie has been shorted.
Enough with the introduction. Listen to the discussion by clicking here , and read the presentations below.
RICKEY JACKSON (by Pat Yasinskas)
I started off this project knowing Jackson was a darn good player. I got hit with statistics and passion when I asked Saints' fans for input. But I didn't want to rely just on my own recollections of Jackson's playing career, the numbers or folks who might be biased.
|Rickey Jackson piled up some impressive numbers: six Pro Bowl selections and 136 sacks.|
I wanted to hear from someone up close why Jackson belongs in the Hall of Fame. That's why I turned to the trusted veteran eyes of Carolina Panthers assistant head coach Jim Skipper. He was a New Orleans assistant coach during Jackson's time with the Saints. He saw him in games, in practice and in the locker room.
"The City Champ belongs in the Hall of Fame, no doubt," Skipper said. "He was as good as anyone who's in there. ... He's the guy who made the Dome Patrol (which also featured linebackers Sam Mills,Pat Swilling and Vaughn Johnson) go and some people say they were the best group of linebackers ever. It all started with him. You want to talk about tough? Rickey was so tough, he once got into a car accident and broke his jaw. He still went out and played in that game."
How do you top that?
You don't. You just throw in the numbers -- six Pro Bowl selections and 136 sacks. You can point to the fact that New Orleans is a small market. But Jackson moved onto San Francisco near the end of his career and got a Super Bowl ring. The only thing he's missing is a spot in the Hall of Fame. It's long overdue.
DERMONTTI DAWSON (by Matt Williamson)
I fully understand that the position of center, and the offensive line in general, is not
a glamour position. Arguing for or against such players as potential Hall of Famers is a very difficult chore. But Dawson deserves enshrinement.
A 10-year starter, Dawson followed Mike Webster, one of only six centers in the Hall of Fame, to establish a legacy at the position like none other in the history of the game. During that stretch, Dawson started 171 straight games, went to seven Pro Bowls, was All Pro six times and was selected to the 1990s All-Decade Team. He started 13 playoff games, three AFC Championships and Super Bowl XXX. In comparison, Hall of Fame center Dwight Stephenson played in just 114 games with five Pro Bowls and four All-Pro selections.
Dawson's statistics are surely impressive, but his scouting report is even more extraordinary. In protection, bull rushing him was nearly an impossible chore, as he pass-blocked with tremendous leverage and technique. The ultra-quick upfield defensive tackles rarely beat Dawson. He routinely snapped the ball, pulled with his great athleticism and led an outside run with precision and grace. He also was able to quickly get into a defensive tackle who was lined up over the guard and neutralize that defender's charge while his teammate acted as a pulling guard. You just don't find centers who do that.
Dawson did it all as well as anyone who has ever played the position and he did it with consistency, longevity and class. It is a crime that he has yet to be inducted into the hallowed Hall of Fame.
CRIS CARTER (by Jeremy Green)
One of the biggest oversights in Hall of Fame voting history is former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver and current ESPN analyst Cris Carter.
|Cris Carter is third on the all-time receptions list with 1,101 catches.|
If there is ever a player who should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, it's Carter [who became eligible in 2008). He is arguably the second-best wide receiver to ever play the game behind only one man: Jerry Rice, who has yet to become eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot.
Despite not having blazing speed, Carter adapted into a big-time playmaker in Minnesota. He could play the X and Y positions. He was unbelievable in the slot in the Vikings' 3-deep wide receiver concept during the Dennis Green era [Editor's note: Dennis Green is Jeremy Green's father]. Carter is the second- best route-runner I've ever seen, ranking behind only Rice. I had the pleasure to watch both in numerous practice sessions and live games from both field and coaching box levels.
The numbers do not lie when it comes to Carter. He is third on the all-time receptions list with 1,101, trailing only Rice (1,549) and Marvin Harrison (1,102). Despite playing the majority of his career opposite another receiver who will be in the Hall of Fame in Randy Moss (13,201 career receiving yards), Carter currently ranks seventh on that all-time list with 13,899 yards. Carter is fourth on the all-time touchdown reception list, trailing only Rice (208), Terrell Owens (141) and Moss (136), with 131 receiving touchdowns.
The statistics were there for Carter to be a first-ballot HOF candidate. What I think is almost as important: Carter is a man who changed his life. After battling both alcohol and drug use in his early years with the Philadelphia Eagles and being released, the Vikings were one of the few teams willing to take a chance on him. They picked him up for a $100 waiver claim and Carter rewarded them by changing his life and blossoming. In my mind, he's second-best receiver to play the game.
DOUG FLUTIE (by Jay Soderberg)
We probably should start by saying that my bias for New England Patriots players is well documented, but that is not what has led me to the belief that Doug Flutie belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What has led me to this conclusion is the name of the shrine in Canton itself: PRO FOOTBALL Hall of Fame, and Doug Flutie was one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in the Canadian Football League.
Flutie, who retired from the NFL in 2006, does not become eligible for Hall Of Fame consideration until 2011. But he's got plenty of ammunition, in my opinion.
His career stats in Canada alone are worth noting: 61.4 completion percentage, 41,355 total passing yards, 270 passing touchdowns and only 155 picks in a pass-oriented league. He was the first quarterback to pass for more than 6,000 yards in a season; he did it twice and came close a third time. He won three Grey Cup championships, and was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player a record six times.
Flutie was never given a real chance to be a starter in the NFL, whether battling the issue of his height (he's listed as standing 5 feet, 10 inches), battling for a job as a backup (with Rob Johnson in Buffalo, Drew Brees in San Diego), or being labeled a "scab" for crossing the picket lines early in his NFL career with the Patriots. Combine the stats from all three professional leagues he played in (he played one year in the USFL for Donald Trump's New Jersey Generals) and his numbers -- 58,179 total passing yards, 369 passing touchdowns, 6,759 rushing yards and another 82 rushing touchdowns -- are definitely worthy of consideration. Don't forget his numerous, memorable fourth-quarter comebacks.
Just for kicks, let's add that he was the last player to drop-kick an extra point during an NFL game.
Listen to the podcast for more on our nominees and join the discussion below.