Fresh off the heels of an NFL record 50 passing touchdowns last year, the fantasy world wants to believe that Tom Brady will be making monster seasons an annual event. He has the same offense. He has the same players around him. He even has an easier schedule this year. In fact, the only barrier between Super Tom and racking up another 50 scores in 2008 is a little thing called the entirety of NFL history. It just never happens that way. Never.
Setting all-time records requires a perfect storm where all factors have to coincide in just the right way and without any injuries to result in a new high mark of production. Last year? Tom Brady was finally given three new toys in Randy Moss and Wes Welker. It can and should be argued that Moss and Welker were both better than any other receiver that Brady ever had. Add in that the Patriots were coming off a failed 2006 season where the Colts beat the Pats in the AFC Championship game in part thanks to Brady’s mere 232 passing yards with one score and one interception while using nothing more than Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney. As if that chip on their shoulder wouldn’t already be big enough, the Spygate scandal cost head coach Bill Belichick $500,000 and cast a shadow on all previous successes.
Given all that, it was no shock that Tom Brady would turn into a scoring machine. He suddenly had the means, the motivation and the opportunity to turn every game into a Boston Massacre. When the dust settled on the season, every fantasy team owner with Brady was gleefully lying how he knew that would happen. And this summer those same owners will be in a race to see who can draft Brady first and thereby assure another trip to the league playoffs because this year Brady should be good for another 50 touchdowns. Or could it be a new record of 52? Maybe fall back a touch and just settle for 48?
How about “none of the above”?
Much more likely is that he‘ll follow in the footsteps of every other quarterback who has ever passed for more than 40 scores in a season:
1984 – Dan Marino passed for a new NFL record 48 touchdowns in just his second season. In 1985, he dropped back to 30 touchdowns. While still plenty good for the era, it was 18 fewer scores.
1986 – Marino back to his high scoring ways with 44 passing touchdowns but then only produced 26 scores the following year while missing four games due to injury. None of his next thirteen seasons would ever exceed 30 touchdowns.
1999 – Kurt Warner shocks the world when the undrafted quarterback inherits the starting job after Trent Green is lost for the season during training camp. Warner throws 41 touchdowns to become a fantasy star overnight. And in 2000, he declined to only 21 touchdowns while missing five games due to injury.
2004 – Peyton Manning finally knocks down Marino’s record by passing for 49 touchdowns in a single season. In 2005 with the same offense and players, Manning posts just 28 scores pretty much like every other year he has played.
No player who has passed for more than 40 touchdowns has ever returned the next season and scored more than 30 times. If you like to track what happens after breaking that record, consider that the only players who have held the single season passing touchdown record during the last 45 years were Brady, Manning, Marino and Y.A. Tittle who set the mark in 1963 with 36 touchdown passes before ending his career with only ten passing scores the following season. Seems it is hard enough to set a new NFL record but matching it the following year is impossible. Even if Brady can match Marino and return with 30 passing scores the next year, that would have only been fourth best in the NFL for 2007. It was a pass-crazy season and Brady was merely the lead dog in a pack with Tony Romo (36), Ben Roethlisberger (32) and Peyton Manning (31).
And it is more than merely the bad mojo of history. Tom Brady’s hot pace was already cooling before the season ended. Through the first ten games, he averaged 3.8 touchdowns per game (a pace worthy of 61 touchdowns in a season) but over the last six games of the regular season only averaged 2.0 scores. The Patriots also found their rushing game come to life late in the year when Laurence Maroney turned in over 100 rushing yards in four of the final six games and scored at least once in each after having only two touchdowns total over the first thirteen games. The passing game calmed down and the rushing game came to life. That merely meant that Brady was performing at the level of the other NFL stars but remember that before you make Brady your first pick in the draft. His 50 passing scores were the most in NFL history, the same history that says this year he’ll do well enough to pass for 30 touchdowns.
And what about Randy Moss? The new holder of most receiving touchdowns scored in a single season has his own match-up with history after his 23 scores surpassed Jerry Rice’s 22 back in 1987. The season following that record saw Rice only score nine times and the remaining 17 seasons held more than 15 scores only once (1989 - 17 TDs). Before Rice it was Mark Clayton in Miami setting the mark in 1984 with 18 touchdowns that only progressed to a mere four scores the following year. Sterling Sharpe managed to tie Clayton’s record in 1994 but was forced to retire the next season. The history of record breakers in the NFL is not pretty the following season. But it is very consistent in its tumble backwards.
Lastly, let’s not discount a return to the “Patriot Way” that says the team is more important than the individual and that wins and losses trump personal stats. Last year became all about individual records and the perfect season but the Patriots lost the Super Bowl. Fantasy team owners may want Moss and Brady to repeat their seasons but history is stacked against it. More importantly, Bill Belichick doesn’t care.