Two short weeks ago, I took a look at the leaderboard for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game, and noticed that most of the highest entries to the list came within the past 20 years, including the all-time leader in that category. Turns out, that’s not the case for passing yards.
In fact, only two quarterbacks on the list of single-game passing leaders earned their spot within the past 20 years, with the most recent entry coming in 2014. So while season-long passing totals have definitely exploded in the past decade or so, it seems as though the balance of running and passing on a per-game basis has remained relatively steady during that time, allowing a nearly 70-year-old record to remain intact.
Norm Van Brocklin of the Los Angeles Rams owns the record for most passing yards in a single game, with 554 yards on 41 attempts against the New York Yanks on September 28th, 1951. Ten other quarterbacks in NFL history have managed to top 510 yards in a game, and we’ve run down the entire list below.
Here’s that leaderboard, in ascending order by total passing yards.
T-10th Place: Phil Simms, New York Giants (513 Yards)
October 13th, 1985 vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Though his MVP-winning Super Bowl XXI performance is widely regarded as his most impressive performance, Simms has plenty of other great games to brag about across his 15-year career with the Giants. But one of those great games was sabotaged by his team (and himself), to the point that he described New York as having “refused to win”. They put themselves in a 21-0 hole, and despite Simms’ superhuman passing performance, they couldn’t climb out of it, ultimately losing by a score of 35-30.
Simms other career accolades include over 33,000 total passing yards (including a career-high 4,044 yards in 1984, 95 quarterback wins against just 64 losses, and just one passing touchdown shy of 200. If it hadn’t been for a lost season due to a knee injury during the prime of his career, those stats might have just a bit more padding.
T-10th Place: Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders (513 Yards)
October 30th, 2016 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With his 513-yard performance against the Bucs, Carr didn’t just break a longstanding franchise record. He outright shattered it. The previous record holder for most passing yards in a game by a Raider was Cotton Davidson all the way back in 1964. His performance also included four touchdowns and no interceptions, joining Ben Roethlisberger as the only two quarterbacks to do so in a 500-yard passing game.
Carr’s been in the league for seven seasons now, and has compiled a resume that’s not too shabby. He’s already compiled more than 26,000 passing yards before his 30th birthday, and he seems to be getting better with every season. So far in 2020, Carr has heard a career-high QBR of 72.3 to go along with 24 passing touchdowns and close to 3,400 yards despite playing on an otherwise mediocre Las Vegas team.
T-8th Place: Tom Brady, New England Patriots (517 Yards)
September 12th, 2011 vs. Miami Dolphins
In a game that Brady began by throwing his first turnover in 11 months, it was he who had the last laugh against the Dolphins. The highlights of Brady’s career-best passing game included a 99-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker, as he helped lead New England to a 38-24 victory over Miami. The 906 total passing yards by both quarterbacks in the game set a new NFL record.
Those of you who read this site often enough know most of Tom Brady’s most significant career accolades: six Super Bowl rings, nearly 80,000 career passing yards, and an NFL record for career touchdown passes that’s growing larger each and every game. Though his former team, the New England Patriots, were eliminated from the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, Brady is likely headed to the playoffs with the Bucs.
T-8th Place: Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams (517 Yards)
September 29th, 2019 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Goff’s the most recent player to throw for over 510 yards in a single game, having done so just last season. However, despite his monster passing yards total, the former first overall pick’s performance was somewhat uneven. He threw interceptions on back-to-back drives in the second quarter, and near the end of the game he was strip sacked with just over a minute left on the clock. The Bucs put up 54 points on the Rams’ defense for a 14-point win.
Whether or not Goff’s been able to live up to his lofty pedigree is up for debate. He certainly had a rough rookie season, going 0-7-0 during 2016, but he took off the following two years and earned a pair of Pro Bowl selections to make up for it. He also threw for at least 4,600 yards in each of the last two seasons (an impressive feat that not every QB can replicate), and is on pace to fall just shy of that total in 2020.
7th Place: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (520 Yards)
January 1st, 2012 vs. Green Bay Packers
It takes a special kind of player (and a special set of circumstances) to put up a career-best game in midwestern January weather conditions against a franchise like the Packers. Staffords 520 passing yards came with a whopping five passing touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Lions’ defense was so bad that Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn was able to throw for 480 yards and six passing touchdowns to edge out Detroit.
Though Stafford’s legacy will always be tarnished by the fact that he’s never won a playoff game (yet, anyway), there’s no denying his talent as a passer. He’s well on his way to his ninth 4,000 passing yard season, and could well end his career with a total of over 50,000. Fun fact: Stafford led the league in fourth quarter comebacks during the 2016 by leading eight game-winning drives as the clock dwindled down.
6th Place: Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins (521 Yards)
October 23rd, 1988 vs. New York Jets
Despite Marino’s passing heroics on a warm October day in Miami, the Dolphins came up short against the Jets by a score of 44-30, prompting the local Sun-Sentinel newspaper to print the headline “Dolphins Pass — But Fail”. Back in those days, a matchup between those two teams was guaranteed to be a high-scoring affair, but in this case the first half was lopsided. The Jets zipped out to a 30-10 lead by halftime, and held on for the win.
Marino was easily the most impressive quarterback of his era, setting all sorts of new records. Not only did he put up the first 5,000-yard passing season, but he fought his way onto several other leaderboards as well. Though he’s been edged out several times by modern quarterbacks, Marino’s glory days won’t be forgotten any time soon — especially by the state of Florida.
T-4th Place: Boomer Esiason, Arizona Cardinals (522 Yards)
November 10th, 1996 vs. Washington Redskins
Though former MVP Boomer Esiason was best known for his incredible career with the Bengals, his best game came during his penultimate NFL season with the Cardinals. In the twilight of his playing days, Esiason responded to some harsh words from his coach on the sideline to rebound from two early-game interceptions and sling a torrent of precise bullets to his teammates. He ended the day with 35 completions for 522 yards.
A former second-rounder and prominent toe head, Esiason launched his career by playing nine excellent seasons in Cincinnati, including an MVP Award and First Team All-Pro selection in 1988. On the whole, he fell just shy of 38,000 passing yards across his 14-year playing career, and pitched a total of 247 touchdown passes.
T-4th Place: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (522 Yards)
October 26th, 2014 vs. Indianapolis Colts
On a day when he was wearing perhaps the ugliest Steelers uniform ever designed, Big Ben became the first quarterback in NFL history to put up a second 500-yard passing game. His six passing touchdowns fell one shy of the NFL record, and like his 503-yard performance against the Packers in 2009, this monster game came without an interception. Only two other QBs in history before him had a 500-yard game without a pick.
Remarkably, Big Ben managed to eclipse the 500-yard mark again in 2017 when he torched the Baltimore Ravens’ defense, cementing his place as the king of the 500-yard passing game. Only one other QB in history (the illustrious Drew Brees) has managed to accomplish the feat twice, putting Roethlisberger in a big day category all his own. And with the Steelers’ penchant for developing wide receivers, he could do it again.
T-2nd Place: Warren Moon, Houston Oilers (527 Yards)
December 16th, 1990 vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Unlike the players on this list before him, the great Warren Moon managed to put up his 500-yard passing game with under 30 completions (27, to be exact). He also had just three touchdowns on the day, so his stats in this particular performance show a consistent ability to drive the football down the field rather than a penchant for putting up a handful of monster plays.
Those who remember watching Moon play know him as one of the greatest quarterbacks of his day, and indeed one of the better players in the history of the game. He’s the proud owner of nearly 50,000 career passing yards, a large chunk of which came during his incredible run of eight consecutive Pro Bowl selections between 1988 and 1995.
T-2nd Place: Matt Schaub, Houston Texans (527 Yards)
November 18th, 2012 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Sure, he might seem slightly out of place on this list of legends, but Schaub had a small handful of elite seasons before descending rapidly into mediocrity and becoming a backup quarterback for the past six years. Rest assured, his 527-yard performance against the Jags was no fluke, even if the total was propped up a bit by the yards he accrued in overtime (including a 48-yard game-winning pass to Andre Johnson).
Though he was named to the Pro Bowl in 2012, that wasn’t even Schaub’s best season. His most impressive campaign was three years earlier in 2009, when he led the entire NFL with 4,770 passing yards — 270 more than second-place Peyton Manning compiled that year. Schaub is now 39 years old, and has served as the backup to Matt Ryan in Atlanta for the past four seasons.
1st Place: Norm Van Brocklin, Los Angeles Rams (554 Yards)
September 28th, 1951 vs. New York Yanks
There’s so much to unpack when it comes to Van Brocklin’s 69-year-old single-game passing record. First of all, it took a full 37 years for another quarterback to come within 40 yards of this record for the first time. And while the rest of this list consists of ten quarterbacks all clustered within 14 yards of each other, Van Brocklin’s record is 27 yards ahead of the second-place finishers. Furthermore, the difference between first and second place on this list is higher than the difference between second and 23rd.
I also can’t stress enough how ridiculous it is that this game accounted for over 25% of NVB’s passing yards for the entire season; a season in which he threw just 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions nonetheless. But regardless of how unlikely this performance was, it’s hard to imagine how this record will ever be broken unless an incredible QB shootout goes into overtime.
Featured image courtesy of nflravens, via Flickr.