Which Quarterback Has the Most Games with 400 Passing Yards?

Patrick Mahomes enjoyed a solid start to the 2020 season, but he’s found an entirely new gear in recent weeks. The third-year quarterback has played on a god level over the past four games, averaging 400 yards and 3.5 touchdowns per game during that stretch. He’s catapulted himself firmly to the front of a crowded MVP race, and shows no signs of relenting any time soon. 

Mahomes’ Week 12 performance against the Buccaneers was something truly special. The reigning Super Bowl MVP put up his second-best career game in terms of total yards (462), and over 200 of those came in the form of passes thrown to Tyreek Hill in the first quarter. It was Mahomes’ fifth career game with at least 400 passing yards, which has many NFL fans wondering if he might be on pace for the most all-time. So which quarterback has the most games with 400 passing yards?

Drew Brees has the most 400-yard passing games of all time, with 16. Only ten players have managed even half of Brees’ impressive total, though it’s worth mentioning that Mahomes has managed the feat five times in his first three years in pro football. That puts him on pace to obliterate Brees’ novelty record.

Here’s the complete list of all ten quarterbacks who’ve put up 400 passing yards in at least eight different games throughout their careers, starting with tenth place on the list and working upwards.

10th Place: Carson Palmer (8 Games)
Teams: Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals

Career High: 440 Yards vs. San Diego Chargers on November 12th, 2006

Palmer was never the best quarterback in the NFL in any given year, but he was certainly one of the best in almost every season of his career. His eight 400-yard passing games came against seven different NFL teams in six different seasons, the most impressive of which was probably his six-touchdown performance against the Browns in 2007.

Palmer is living proof that being great across a marathon is more valuable than being spectacular in a sprint. He never once led the league in passing yards or touchdowns, and had just four winning seasons during his fourteen-year career, but he topped 3,800 passing yards in eight of those campaigns and totaled 46,247 for his career, good for fourteenth on the all-time passing leaderboard.

T-9th Place: Three Players (9 Games)

Matthew Stafford

Team: Detroit Lions

Career High: 520 Yards vs. Green Bay Packers on January 1st, 2012

Stunningly, Stafford’s career high in passing yards came against a relatively tough Packers defense on a cold Midwestern day in the dead of winter. How any QB manages to put up their best performance in that kind of weather is beyond me, but he managed to do it by completing 36 of his 59 passes, five of which went for touchdowns. The game served as an exclamation point on the second-best passing season of his long career.

On the whole, Stafford is likely to be remembered for some fantastic individual performances as well as a lack of deep playoff runs. He’s led his Lions to the postseason just three times across his 12-year career, and he’s never won a playoff game. Like Palmer, he’s only posted four winning seasons. Of course, those stats may be more a product of the organization’s failure to build a great team around him than much fault of his own.

Aaron Rodgers

Team: Green Bay Packers

Career High: 480 Yards vs Washington Redskins on September 15th, 2013

Rodgers’ best passing game coincided with a ferocious rushing game from running back James Starks. It marked the first time in NFL history that a quarterback passed for over 450 yards and a running back teammate rushed for over 125 yards in the same game. All on a day when Rodgers woke up with a stiff neck.

Rodgers is a mainstay of the NFL who continuously sets records, which one might expect of a two-time NFL MVP. One could easily see why, considering he has always been a top quarterback across his career, to the point of being the highest rated passer in the NFL from 2010-2020. Rodgers shows skill and precision as a QB, which is how he mustered 400 yards on nine separate occasions. 

While Rodgers continues to lead the Green Bay Packers to victory, his days as the NFL’s undisputed best QB are probably behind him. However, a quarterback is only as good as his team, and Rodgers has always had a knack for bringing the best out of his teammates.

Eli Manning

Team: New York Giants

Career High: 510 Yards vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 16th, 2012

Say what you want about Eli, but from 2009 on he was nearly a sure bet to eclipse 4,000 passing yards every season, or at least come close. Remarkably, he was able to achieve a 510-yard passing performance despite throwing three interceptions that day, and he did it by averaging 16.5 yards on his 31 completions. It’s perhaps even more impressive that he posted at least one 400-yard receiving game in seven consecutive seasons from 2011-2017.

The longtime New York Giants QB ranks eighth place all time in terms of total passing yards with 57,023. But although he had one hell of an arm, his performance was held back just slightly by problems with accuracy. He threw 244 interceptions during his 16-year career. That number falls just seven short of his brother Peyton’s total despite the fact that he played in 30 fewer games.

6th Place: Tom Brady (10 Games)

Team: New England Patriots

Career High: 517 Yards vs. Miami Dolphins on September 12th, 2011

Most of you probably expected to see Brady on this list, but you might not have expected him to be this low. One theory I came up with is that he probably played from ahead so often that the Patriots ended up running a lot in the second half, but the more likely explanation is just that these games are rare no matter how good you are. For Brady, they seemed to come when he was most efficient; only once did he throw more than a single interception in a 400-yard passing game.

Not much else needs to be said about Brady, who is locked in a dead heat with Drew Brees for several prestige passing records. Like most players on this list, Brady is still active, so he still has a shot at climbing further up this list even if he’s on the decline. The six-time Super Bowl champion has excelled no matter who his receivers have been, so there’s a chance that a talent like Mike Evans could help him make some magic happen.

5th Place: Phillip Rivers (11 Games)

Team: San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers

Career High: 503 Yards vs. Green Bay Packers on October 18th, 2015

On the best passing day of Rivers’ career, he got the job done by sheer volume. The longtime Chargers quarterback torched the Packers on a crisp fall day in 2015 by completing a whopping 43 passes with zero interceptions between them. It was his second game of the 2015 season with at least 400 passing yards, and came during a campaign in which he chucked an absurd 661 passes — 79 more than his previous career high.

Rivers may actually be one of the more underrated quarterbacks of his generation. Because he’s generally been more consistent than flashy, he hasn’t grabbed as many headlines as guys like Brees, Brady, Peyton Manning, or Ben Roethlisberger. But Rivers has fallen shy of 4,000 passing yards in just one season since 2008, and he’s on pace to do it again this year as a member of the Colts. Don’t sleep on Rivers.

4th Place: Ben Roethlisberger (11 Games)

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

Career High: 522 Yards vs. Indianapolis Colts on October 26th, 2014

Speaking of Roethlisberger, he’s had a few big games himself. In fact, he’s the king of extraordinary passing performances, having put up a trio of 500-yard passing games over the course of his length career. No other quarterback besides Brees has even put up two games of that ilk. Big Ben’s 522-yard rampage is the fourth-highest total in a single game in NFL history.

Roethlisberger ranks among the all-time greats in several prestige categories, including career passing yards, career touchdowns, single-season passing yards, and many more. As I’ve mentioned before, he owes part of the credit for these stats to the Steelers organization for being so great at developing powerhouse wide receivers, but there’s no doubt Big Ben’s talent is a force to be reckoned with.

3rd Place: Dan Marino (13 Games)

Team: Miami Dolphins

Career High: 521 Yards vs. New York Jets on October 23rd, 1998

Prior to the turn of the millennium, Marino was light years beyond any other quarterback in NFL history on this list. At the time, his closest competitors were Warren Moon and Joe Montana with seven 400-yard games apiece. The new generation of quarterbacks have raised the bar quite a bit since Marino’s days, but he was way ahead of his time as a passer.

The hall of famer’s 61,361 career passing yards still rank sixth all-time, as only a handful of more recent greats have managed to break his once-towering record. He’s also the owner of the NFL’s first 5,000-yard passing season, and threw 420 touchdowns during his career. To this day, many people consider him to be the greatest quarterback never to win a Super Bowl.

2nd Place: Peyton Manning (14 Games)
Teams: Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos

Career High: 479 Yards vs. Arizona Cardinals on October 5th, 2014

No list of quarterback accomplishments would feel complete without an appearance from the great Payton Manning. He managed to humiliate over a third of the league with 400-yard tantrums throughout the course of his illustrious career, including three such games against the poor Houston Texans. His 2013 MVP season features no less than four performances of that kind.

Though Manning connected with over a hundred different receivers throughout the course of his career, perhaps none was more important to his success than Marvin Harrison. Together, this tandem owns a slew of quarterback-to-wide-receiver records, including most touchdowns, most yards, and most completions. To this day, no quarterback has ever completed more passes to a single receiver in one season than Manning’s 143 connections with Harrison in 2002.

1st Place: Drew Brees (16 Games)

Team: New Orleans Saints

Career High: 510 Yards vs. Cincinnati Bengals on November 19th, 2006

Even if I hadn’t spoiled it early on in this article, most avid football fans would have probably guessed that Brees would be atop this list. He’s roasted nearly half of the teams in the NFL with a 400-yard showing, including three quarters of all NFC teams. As I mentioned earlier, Brees has two games with at least 500 passing yards, with the second coming against the New York Giants in 2015.

Brees is the proud owner of the NFL’s all-time passing yards record, and still has time to add to his total. He also owns five of the 12 5,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history. Whether or not we’ll ever see another 400-yard game from him is anybody’s guess, considering his recent injury and his steady decline across the past few years, but it’ll be one more thing to keep an eye on if and when he returns to the field.

Featured image courtesy of Jack Kurzenknabe, via Flickr.

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