Top 25 passing seasons

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 04, 2008



Here's a quick look in the chart below at the top 25 passing seasons of all time, as ranked by passer rating.
 
A few things jump out:
 
2004 was truly the year of the passer
You already knew that 2004 was the single greatest season for passers in NFL history, with a record league-wide passer rating of 82.8. Further evidence is found in this list. Peyton Manning set the single-season passer rating record, of course, with a mark of 121.1 in 2004. But that single season included not one, not two, not three but four of the top 25 passing seasons in history, with Daunte Culpepper, Drew Brees and Donovan McNabb all joining Manning on the list. Clearly, the league's mandate before the 2004 season to "re-emphasize" pass interference penalties against defenders had a historic impact on the game.
 
Randy Moss is an epic offensive figure
Moss, in case you hadn't heard, just set an NFL record last year with 23 TD receptions. But he might be better than even his biggest rump swabs give him credit for. You already know he played for the two highest-scoring offenses of the Super Bowl Era (2007 Patriots, 1998 Vikings). And you'll know after looking at this list that he was on the receiving end of three of the 12 greatest passing seasons in history ... with three different quarterbacks!
 
New England's Tom Brady pieced together the second greatest passing season in history in 2007 (117.2), Minnesota's Culpepper chimes in at No. 5 with his 2004 campaign (110.9) and his predecessor in Minnesota, Randall Cunningham, finds himself at No. 12 on the list (106.0 in 1998). All three counted Moss as their greatest weapon. Now the only thing missing from Moss's resume is that pesky little Super Bowl ring thing.
 
That Bill Walsh offense was kinda O.K.
Joe Montana and Steve Young account for 20 percent of the greatest passing seasons of all time, with five appearances here in the top 25. This cluster of appearances by two players with the same team at the same point in history certainly lends credence to the argument that Montana and Young were beneficiaries of the system.
 
Milt Plum is history's greatest one-hit wonder
We discussed the Cleveland quarterback's amazing 1960 season in our recent look at the greatest Old School performances. Plum led the league in every major passing category that year, and set a single-season passer rating record that stood for 29 years. Yet he literally never came close to matching the magic of 1960, and bounced around with three other teams at the end of his career.
 
You have to wonder what went wrong with the entire 1960 Browns team, too. Plum produced what was the greatest passing season in history. His back-up was a future Hall of Famer named Len Dawson. When Plum didn't pass the ball he handed it to the game's greatest running back, Jim Brown, who ripped off 1,257 yards that season - the third most in history, behind only his own 1958 (1,527) and 1959 (1,329) performances. And if all those options failed, the Browns boasted legendary all-purpose man and future Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell, who caught 45 passes for 612 yards and ran the ball 111 times for 506 yards, while scoring 11 TDs. The 1960 Browns even had one of the top defenses in the league, surrendering 18.1 PPG (4th). Yet they went just 8-3-1, finished second in the East to Chuck Bednarik's Eagles, and didn't even get a taste of postseason play.
 
TOP 25 PASSING SEASON (by passer rating)
 
Player
Year
Comp.
Att.
Pct.
Yards
YPA
TD
INT
Rating
1
Peyton Manning, Indy
2004
336
497
67.6
4557
9.20
49
10
121.1
2
Tom Brady, NE
2007
398
578
68.9
4806
8.30
50
8
117.2
3
Steve Young, San Fran
1994
324
461
70.3
3969
8.61
35
10
112.8
4
Joe Montana, San Fran
1989
271
386
70.2
3521
9.12
26
8
112.4
5
Daunte Culpepper, Minn
2004
379
548
69.2
4717
8.60
39
11
110.9
6
Milt Plum, Cleveland
1960
151
250
60.4
2297
9.19
21
5
110.4
7
Sammy Baugh, Wash
1945
128
182
70.3
1669
9.17
11
4
109.9
8
Kurt Warner, St. Louis
1999
325
499
65.1
4353
8.72
41
13
109.2
9
Dan Marino, Miami
1984
362
564
64.2
5084
9.01
48
17
108.9
10
Sid Luckman, Chicago
1943
110
202
54.5
2194
10.86
28
12
107.5
11
Steve Young, San Fran
1992
268
402
66.7
3465
8.62
25
7
107.0
12
Randall Cunningham, Minn
1998
259
425
60.9
3704
8.72
34
10
106.0
13
Bart Starr, Green Bay
1966
156
251
62.2
2257
8.99
14
3
105.0
14
Drew Brees, San Diego
2004
262
400
65.5
3159
7.90
27
7
104.8
15
Roger Staubach, Dallas
1971
126
211
59.7
1882
8.92
15
4
104.8
16
Y.A. Tittle, Giants
1963
221
367
60.2
3145
8.57
36
14
104.8
17
Donovan McNabb, Philly
2004
300
469
64.0
3875
8.30
31
8
104.7
18
Steve Young, San Fran
1997
241
356
67.7
3029
8.51
19
6
104.7
19
Bart Starr, Green Bay
1968
109
171
63.7
1617
9.46
15
8
104.3
20
Chad Pennnington, Jets
2002
275
399
68.9
3120
7.82
22
6
104.2
21
Peyton Manning, Indy
2005
305
453
67.3
3747
8.27
28
10
104.1
22
Ben Roethlisberger, Pitt
2007
264
404
65.3
3154
7.80
32
11
104.1
23
Ken Stabler, Oakland
1976
194
291
66.7
2737
9.41
27
17
103.4
24
Brian Griese, Denver
2000
216
336
64.3
2688
8.00
19
4
102.9
25
Joe Montana, San Fran
1984
279
432
64.6
3630
8.40
28
10
102.9
 

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