By Jason Keidel
I found a fun piece on ProFootballTalk last night — a quick, statistical montage that really had more heft than intended.
It noted that Green Bay Packer Aaron Rodgers is very close to tossing the 300th touchdown pass of his NFL career. Not shocking, of course, as Rodgers has been very good for quite some time.
The shocking part was the fine print. And it speaks to why Rodgers is the QB nonpareil, why he’s not only the best quarterback in today’s NFL, but arguably the best ever to toss a pigskin.
Rodgers enters the 2017 season with 297 passing touchdowns. So barring being hit by lightning or a meteor, he will get to 300 quite quickly, perhaps as early as Week 1. Though that game is against the Seattle Seahawks, with perhaps the most ornery defense in the sport, it is at Green Bay, where Rodgers is nearly unstoppable. In fact, they open the season against a rugged gridiron trinity — Seahawks, Falcons and Bengals.
The almost 300 touchdowns isn’t even the shocking stat, it’s the 72 interceptions. Rodgers has thrown 297 touchdowns and just 72 interceptions. Even if he were surreally or uncharacteristically inept or inaccurate, he’d have 300 TD with 75 INT by the end of September. That still blows away his predecessors and contemporaries. Even by NFL standards those numbers are surreal. Even by the uber-friendly rules that all but throw three touchdowns for the quarterback these days, those numbers are mind-numbing.
And will all due respect to Packers personnel, Rodgers isn’t exactly flanked by Swann and Stallworth or Rice and Taylor. Aside from Jordy Nelson, who recently missed an entire season because of a knee injury, you wouldn’t recognize the Packers’ receivers — or running backs — if you bumped into them at the local market.
As ProFootballTalk noted, there are 10 NFL quarterbacks who have thrown at least 300 touchdowns. They averaged 171 picks when the landed on the TD milestone. Among the luminaries are Peyton Manning (152 INT), Drew Brees (154 INT) and Rodgers’ Packers predecessor, Brett Favre (175 INT). Oddly enough, the QB with the most interceptions by his 300th TD is John Elway, who had 226. No quarterback had fewer than 100 interceptions. Rodgers won’t have more than 75.
The only quarterback in Rodgers’ statistical orbit is Tom Brady, who had 115 INT when he hit 300 TDs. But that’s still 40 more, or about four seasons’ worth, in Aaron Rodgers’ world.
In 1984, Dan Marino had what was then the best season for a QB (by far). Just his second year in the league, Marino took a giant eraser to the record books, firing 48 touchdowns and amassing over 5,000 yards. This is back in the glacial, run-run-pass-kick days of the ’80s, the apex of the ground-and-pound, when the term smash-mouth football was coined. It wasn’t exactly the single-wing era, but close enough that Marino looked like an alien under center.
Fast-forward 23 years, and Tom Brady had a year for the archives. He tossed 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions, completing 68.9 percent of his passes, for 4,806 yards. It was a season for any era, for sure. And with his five Lombardi Trophies, any claim that Brady is the GOAT is hard to argue and impossible to dismiss. Oddly enough, both Brady and Marino had their record-breaking seasons during a year in which they went to the Super Bowl, and both lost.
But perhaps the most underrated season for a QB came in 2011, when Rodgers hurled 45 touchdowns and just six picks. Up and down the board, Rodgers’ 2011 is in a virtual tie with Brady’s 2007. Brady had an 88.5 QBR. Rodgers’ was 85.5. Brady gained 8.3 yards per pass attempt. Rodgers gained 9.2. Brady tossed a TD pass on 8.7 percent of his passes. Rodgers tossed one on 9 percent of his. Brady averaged 300.4 passing yards per game. Rodgers averaged 309.5. And on it goes…
The point is we marvel at Brady’s 2007, yet rarely speak of Rodgers’ 2011. Brady famously went 16-0 that year. Rodgers went an awful 14-1. Brady lost to his only gridiron nemesis, the New York Giants. Rodgers also lost to the Giants in the NFC playoffs.
Some of us are chided for calling Rodgers the greatest quarterback in history. If you can think of someone with a wider skill set, your argument is always welcome. Sure, you can shove those five Super Bowl rings in my face. But when they’re both done playing, you may find that Rodgers is closer to being the GOAT than you think.
Give him a nod when he chucks his 300th TD. And marvel at his 72 INT.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.