Football fans witnessed a little history peppered with magic last night from America’s Favorite Quarterback, Peyton Manning.
Fresh from his summertime rap tour, pro football's renaissance man threw seven touchdowns as the Denver Broncos kicked off the 2013 NFL season with a 49-27 win over the defending champion Baltimore Ravens.
For a little perspective, the Kansas City Chiefs threw eight touchdown passes the entire 2012 season.
Manning connected on a pair of touchdown passes to three different receivers: big-play specialist Demaryius Thomas, little used Julius Thomas and new best bud/slot man Wes Welker, who became the first player to catch a TD pass from both Manning and Tom Brady. Andre Caldwell hauled in the other score.
Kansas City produced just one receiver who caught two touchdown passes all season, Dwayne Bowe (3).
Manning joins the very short list of just six quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for seven touchdowns in a single game. He’s the first to accomplish the feat since 1969.
Here’s the list and the stats. (Stats compiled from ProFootballReference.com and NFL Record & Fact Book)
QUARTERBACKS WITH SEVEN TOUCHDOWN PASSES IN ONE GAME
Perhaps the most interesting quirk of this list is that three of the six seven-touchdown passing games came in the 1960s. Folks today think modern offensive football was invented by John Elway at Stanford in the 1980s.
The reality is that there were two great periods of offensive explosions in the past: the 1940s and the 1960s.
The 1940s began with Stone Age football and ended with fireworks: the 1948 season remains the highest scoring single season in NFL history. Yes, even greater than 2012 or any recent season.
Football in the 1940s was MUCH more dynamic than anyone today gives it credit for.
The 1960s, meanwhile, produced almost every single great offensive breakout season in the history of football, whether rushing, passing, special teams. You name it. And not in the supposedly wide-open AFL. But in the NFL. By the way, the No. 2 scoring season in NFL history was 1965.
Fast forward to Manning on Thursday night and the state of the NFL today:
Throwing seven touchdowns is kind of like a perfect game in baseball. It rarely ever happens. And sometimes even ordinary quarterbacks pull off the feat, like Adrian Burk or Joe Kapp.
In Manning’s case, though, it’s a performance that merely secures his legacy and elevates his assault on the record books. He’s on pace to capture just about every major passing record in history sometime in the 2015 season.
More interestingly, from our perspective, his performance highlights the huge chasm that exists in the NFL today between the quarterback haves and have-nots.
Sure, it’s easier than ever to pass the football. Almost every major record in NFL history has been set in recent years, both those for both volume stats (attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns) and for the more important efficiency stats (passer rating, Real Quarterback Rating, TD-INT ratio).
But the rising statistical tide is not lifting all boats.
In fact, just because it's easier than ever to pass the football does NOT mean it's easier than ever to play quarterback. It seems only a select few do it well.
The reality is that there are two different forms of football being played out there right now, one mastered by the likes of Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and the other NFL elites.
These teams consistently win.
And then there is the distantly related, slope-headed, primitive, knuckle dragging form of quarterbacking practiced in the wastelands of professional football: Jacksonville, Buffalo, Arizona, Cleveland, Kansas City and in New Jersey when the Jets take the field.
These teams consistently lose.
CHFF contributor Justin Henry wrote specifically about the problems plaguing the Jets passing game earlier this week. Meanwhile, Captain Comeback Scott Kacsmar offered a "Great Man Theory" look at rising passing stats this summer, crediting great QBs more than just modern rule changes.
The NFL's current QB chasm certainly supports this Great Many Theory.
Here's how bad the chasm is: Just for kicks and giggles this morning, we took a look at the top five teams last year in Offensive Passer Rating and compared their average production to the bottom five teams.
The statistical differences are ugly.
Bottom 5 Teams
Top 5 Teams
The average NFL team in the late 1950s produced a passer rating of about 60. More than a half century later, the NFL's losers are struggling under the weight of quarterbacks who can barely pass the ball at a 1950s level.
Interestingly, poorly quarterbacked teams passed the ball just as often as the elite quarterbacks – a difference of just 11 pass attempts ove the course of 80 games.
The difference, of course, is that happens when the ball is in the air. And that difference is pretty dramatic, not to mention ugly and frustrating for frustrated fans of the losers.
The elite teams produce more than twice as many touchdowns and less than half as many interceptions. They complete nearly 2 of 3 passes; the primitive teams complete little more than half their passes, not much different than the average during the aggressive, high-risk, downfield passing days of the 1960s.
The elite teams average nearly 7.0 yards per attempt; the primitive teams average just 5.1 YPA. Three NFL teams last year averaged 5.1 YPA or more ON THE GROUND.
Today’s primitive passing teams barely generate that same average through the air.
It’s like two different sports. And it must be extraordinarily frustrating for the bottom dwellers and for the teams that have struggled for years and in some cases decades, like the Chicago Bears, to land an elite NFL passer.
So, sure, it may be easier than ever to pass the ball. But it takes a great quarterback like Manning to make it look easy, as he did with his seven TD passes Thursday night.
Buut most quarterbacks today, even here in the age of the passing game, actually do a very poor impression of a modern quarterback.
NFL fans in Kansas City and other pro football backwaters around the country can attest to this fact, as they jealously watched Manning and the Broncos do so effortlessly what is so difficult for their teams to execute.