In a twist to the Maryland Lottery slogan, "You've Gotta Play To Win," the NFL version is only slightly different in that "You've Gotta Pass To Win" works almost as well. The 2011 NFL season is shaping up to be the most prolific passing year of any in league history. Through five weeks of the season, there have never been as many (10) 400+ yard passing games in NFL history and the most ever in a full season is only a few ahead of that (13).
Quarterbacks are putting the ball up in the air in record numbers, and even the rookies are getting in on the action. Carolina Panthers rookie QB Cam Newton broke the 400 yard barrier in his first two games, although neither produced a win. Two QB's did it this past week (Eli Manning, Matt Schaub) and once again, neither player's team won the game. In fact, of the 39 games where at least one QB threw for at least 300+ yards, the more prolific passer won less than half (17) of them.
Overall in the 2011 regular season, there have been thirty-seven 300-yard passing games, nine 400-yard passing games and even one 500-yard passing game (Tom Brady). That's 47 teams who have broken the 300 barrier in 76 games so far (prior to tonight's Monday Night Football game).
Does that mean, "You've Gotta Pass To Win?"
As noted above, the answer is, "not necessarily." If only 17 of the 39 300+ passing games were on the winning side, it could actually suggest the opposite. Perhaps the key to winning is more based on controlling the ball and the clock, which forces your opponent to go to the air to play catch-up, resulting in a win for the team that does not air it out as much.
Racking up stats in a losing cause won't make stars out of anyone compared to the QB with less yardage, attempts and most likely, turnovers. That's where the key to the numbers can be deceiving. Looking at pure yardage could mask the turnovers and most fans realize that if you win the turnover battle, you usually win the game. Hence, throwing for 315 yards and two TDs on a 26 for 40 performance might seem like a solid performance, but when you throw in the four interceptions, including one pick-six, you end up with Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick's full line in his team's 31-24 loss Sunday to the Buffalo Bills.
The same thing goes with New York Giants QB Eli Manning's 24 for 39 and 420 yards with three TD passes, but forget to mention the three interceptions and yes, another pick-six in the Giants 36-25 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Add that performance with Houston Texans QB Matt Schaub's 416 yards and two TD's on 51 pass attempts and with the two interceptions, including one on the game's final play, combined to seal the Texans doom in their 25-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders.
What does all this mean? Does it translate into passing yardage usually means the game is lost? Tom Brady screws up that theory, as his 4-1 Patriots throw the ball much more than they run it. So do the Green Bay Packers, with Aaron Rodgers having a QB Rating over 100 in every game this season, only the fifth person ever to open the season in this manner. In fact, despite his 396 yard performance in last night's 25-14 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Rodgers QB Rating of 117 was actually below his season average QB Rating of 122.
In summary, it appears that the numbers themselves do not tell the true and total story. It is the combination of stats, from yards to turnover to intricate specific details that is proof positive that NFL football is the ultimate team game, determining the winner more from the lack of mistakes than the measure of success.