When Dan Marino became the first NFL player to throw for over 5,000 yards in 1984, it was certainly a big deal and solidified the 23-year-old quarterback as a superstar who could change how the position was played. Of course, if there had been a 17-game season five years prior, Marino may not have been the first QB to throw for 5,000 yards as Dan Fouts could have easily gotten there.
Fouts threw for 4,715 yards over 16 games in 1980 and 4,802 yards over 16 games in 1981. Marino threw for 5,084 yards in 1984, which of course meant that he may have topped 5,400 yards if he had a 17-game season to work under.
No player topped 5,400 yards until Drew Brees in 2011, and it was only done one other time, by Peyton Manning in 2013 when he had a record 5,477. Given that Patrick Mahomes threw for 5,097 yards in 2018 and Jameis Winston had 5,109 yards last season, we will probably see the first 5,500-yard QB within the next three years, if not 6,000 yards.
Consider some of the single-season records of the Rams, both St. Louis and Los Angeles versions.
Eric Dickerson ran for an NFL-record 2,105 rushing yards in 1984, the same year as Marino’s 5,000 yards. That would not have stood in 2012 if Adrian Peterson had gotten one more opportunity after rushing for 2,097 yards with the Minnesota Vikings. And it may have already fallen if Jamal Lewis (2,066 in 2003), Barry Sanders (2,053 in 1997), Terrell Davis (2,008 in 1998), Chris Johnson (2,006 in 2009) had gotten one more chance.
It may have not even been a record if O.J. Simpson (2,003 yards in 1973) had gotten not one, not two, but three more games on his 14-game slate. Which of course points to the fact that this is not the first time the season has expanded after going from 14 to 16 in 1978. We have gotten through an expanded season once and let all the records stand as they might, but a large swath of NFL fans were not living through that, or not old enough to remember that.
There was also no internet, no social media, no fantasy football, no reference websites, and no mass spread of hysteria and/or excitement when a player does something notable over course of a season. I assume there were also no bonuses on contracts for reaching certain thresholds.
It’s a different time than 1978.
Isaac Bruce also caught 119 passes for the Rams in 1995, which would have been the NFL record if not for the fact that Herman Moore (123), Cris Carter (122), and Jerry Rice (122) all had more receptions than him that season. Michael Thomas set a new record in 2019 with 149 catches, but with a 17th game, he could have easily topped 160.
But were that to happen in 2021, should it get an asterisk?
And what about the long-hailed single season sack record and thresholds considered to be otherworldly, like the 20-sack season? Michael Strahan still holds the record at 22.5 in 2001, but he surely could have been passed by either Jared Allen, Justin Houston, J.J. Watt, DeMarcus Ware, or LA’s own Aaron Donald by now with an additional game. Even Shaq Barrett, who had 19.5 sacks last season, could have potentially racked up three more in a 17th contest. And 22.5 may not have been the record if Mark Gastineau (22 in 1984) or Chris Doleman (21 in 1989) or Reggie White (21 in 1987) or Lawrence Taylor (20.5 in 1986) had more opportunities.
Do we separate pre-2021 and post-2021 with every single-season statistic?
This may not be the most pressing issue when it comes to the new CBA and the 17-game season, but as a person who browses PFR throughout most days and got into writing largely because of statistics and box scores, it’s where my mind has gone first. There are many considerations to be made for not comparing past stats to today’s stats — teams are passing way more, so passing yards go up, and so do sacks and interceptions, byproducts for defense that we rarely talk about — but the additional game will be bigger than all of them.
Records are made to be broken and today that certainly appears to be the case.