Most Passing Yards in a NFL Game: List of Top Players

By Casey
11 Min Read

The National Football League (NFL) has witnessed numerous remarkable performances by quarterbacks, but few achievements garner as much awe as the record for the most passing yards in a single game. This article explores these extraordinary feats, focusing on the historical context, the quarterbacks who have achieved this milestone, and the impact of these performances on the game of football.

Historical Context and Record Breakdown

Norm Van Brocklin’s Unsurpassed Record

On September 28, 1951, Norm Van Brocklin, quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, set an enduring NFL record by throwing for 554 yards in a single game against the New York Yanks. This remarkable performance broke the previous record of 468 yards, set by Johnny Lujack two years earlier. Van Brocklin’s achievement stands out not only for its sheer magnitude but also because it occurred in an era with a shorter 12-game season, contrasting with the modern 16-game schedule.

The “500 Club”

Since Van Brocklin’s historic game, the NFL has seen 21 different quarterbacks pass for at least 500 yards in a game 26 times, a feat referred to as the “500 Club”​​. This exclusive group highlights the rarity and significance of such performances. Let’s take a closer look at some of these remarkable games:

Most Passing Yards in a NFL Game

# Quarterback Date Team Opponent Passing Yards Result
1 Norm Van Brocklin Sep 28, 1951 Los Angeles Rams New York Yanks 554 Win
2 Y.A. Tittle Oct 28, 1962 New York Giants Washington Redskins 505 Win
3 Vince Ferragamo Dec 26, 1982 Los Angeles Rams Chicago Bears 509 Loss
4 Phil Simms Oct 13, 1985 New York Giants Cincinnati Bengals 513 Loss
5 Dan Marino Oct 23, 1988 Miami Dolphins New York Jets 521 Loss
6 Warren Moon Dec 16, 1990 Houston Oilers Kansas City Chiefs 527 Win
7 Boomer Esiason Nov 10, 1996 Arizona Cardinals Washington Redskins 522 Win (OT)
8 Elvis Grbac Nov 5, 2000 Kansas City Chiefs Oakland Raiders 504 Loss
9 Drew Brees Nov 19, 2006 New Orleans Saints Cincinnati Bengals 510 Loss
10 Ben Roethlisberger Dec 20, 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers Green Bay Packers 503 Win
11 Tom Brady Sep 12, 2011 New England Patriots Miami Dolphins 517 Win
12 Matthew Stafford Jan 1, 2012 Detroit Lions Green Bay Packers 520 Loss
13 Eli Manning Sep 16, 2012 New York Giants Tampa Bay Buccaneers 510 Win
14 Matt Schaub Nov 18, 2012 Houston Texans Jacksonville Jaguars 527 Win (OT)
15 Tony Romo Oct 6, 2013 Dallas Cowboys Denver Broncos 506 Loss
16 Ben Roethlisberger Oct 26, 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Indianapolis Colts 522 Win
17 Philip Rivers Oct 18, 2015 San Diego Chargers Green Bay Packers 503 Loss
18 Drew Brees Nov 1, 2015 New Orleans Saints New York Giants 505 Win
19 Matt Ryan Oct 2, 2016 Atlanta Falcons Carolina Panthers 503 Win
20 Derek Carr Oct 30, 2016 Oakland Raiders Tampa Bay Buccaneers 513 Win (OT)
21 Ben Roethlisberger Dec 10, 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers Baltimore Ravens 506 Win
22 Tom Brady Feb 4, 2018 New England Patriots Philadelphia Eagles 505 Loss
23 Jared Goff Sep 29, 2019 Los Angeles Rams Tampa Bay Buccaneers 517 Loss
24 Dak Prescott Oct 4, 2020 Dallas Cowboys Cleveland Browns 502 Loss
25 Ben Roethlisberger Jan 10, 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers Cleveland Browns 501 Loss
26 Joe Burrow Dec 26, 2021 Cincinnati Bengals Baltimore Ravens 525 Win

This table provides just a snapshot of the incredible 500-yard games that have taken place over the years. Each game in the “500 Club” is a testament to the skill and endurance of the quarterback at the helm.

Read: Top 10 Most Tackles in NFL History

Quarterbacks with Multiple 500-Yard Games

Elite Performers

Only three quarterbacks have thrown for over 500 yards more than once in their career. Drew Brees and Tom Brady achieved this twice, with Brees’ games both occurring in the regular season and Brady’s split between a regular season and a postseason game. Ben Roethlisberger leads this elite group with four such performances, including three in the regular season and one in the postseason.

Postseason Prowess

Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger also hold the unique distinction of being the only quarterbacks to have thrown for over 500 yards in a postseason game during the modern era. Brady accomplished this feat in Super Bowl LII, albeit in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, while Roethlisberger’s performance came in a Wild Card round loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Team Performance and Game Outcomes

Impact on Winning

The assumption might be that extraordinarily high passing yards correlate strongly with winning games. However, this isn’t always the case. In the 24 games where quarterbacks threw for 500+ yards, the teams have a nearly even split in outcomes, with quarterbacks amassing 14 wins and 12 losses in these games. This data suggests that while a 500-yard game is a remarkable individual achievement, it does not guarantee team success.

Statistical Analysis

On average, in these 500+ yard games, quarterbacks completed 35.4 passes out of 52.1 attempts, with a completion percentage of 68.0%. They averaged 9.9 yards per attempt and threw approximately 3.7 touchdowns against 1.5 interceptions. Their average passer rating in these games was an impressive 111.6.

Evolution Over Time

Increasing Frequency

One notable trend is the increasing frequency of 500-yard games. Of the 26 total occurrences, 16 have happened since 2010. This increase aligns with the evolving nature of the NFL, where passing plays have become more central to offensive strategies.

Changing Game Dynamics

The shift towards more passing-oriented offenses in recent years likely contributes to the increasing number of high-yardage games. This evolution reflects changes in rules, player skills, and offensive philosophies, making the passing game more prominent than ever.

Impact on Player Legacy

Hallmarks of Greatness

Quarterbacks who have repeatedly hit the 500-yard mark are often considered among the best in the game. Drew Brees, for instance, tops the list for the most 400+ yard games in an NFL career with 16, underlining his exceptional passing ability. Similarly, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, with 14 games each over 400 yards, have cemented their status as legends of the sport.

Record-Setting Performances

Notable performances like these are often pivotal in shaping a quarterback’s career narrative. Dan Marino, known for his powerful arm and quick release, racked up 13 games with over 400 yards, a feat that contributed significantly to his reputation as one of the best pure passers in NFL history. Ben Roethlisberger, with 12 such games, is also celebrated for his remarkable ability to accumulate passing yards, particularly in crucial moments.

Historical Context

The accomplishment of throwing for over 500 yards in a game places quarterbacks in a unique historical context within the NFL. As of now, 21 different quarterbacks have achieved this at least once, with only three doing so more than once. This rarity adds an extra layer of prestige to their careers.

Future of NFL Passing Records

Evolving Strategies

With the NFL’s evolving offensive strategies leaning more towards passing, the likelihood of quarterbacks breaking the 500-yard barrier seems to be increasing. This trend is evidenced by the fact that 16 of the 26 instances of quarterbacks throwing for 500 or more yards have occurred since 2010.

Technological and Training Advancements

Advancements in training, nutrition, and football technology may also play a role in future record-breaking performances. Quarterbacks today have access to better training facilities and more sophisticated play analysis tools than ever before, potentially leading to more efficient and effective passing games.

The Elusive 600-Yard Game

While no quarterback has thrown for 600 yards in a regular-season NFL game, the evolving nature of the game suggests that this milestone could be reached in the future. The closest any quarterback has come to this feat was Norm Van Brocklin’s 554 yards in 1951, a record that still stands today.

The Bottom Line

The record for the most passing yards in an NFL game is more than just a number. It’s a benchmark that has helped define the careers of some of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. As the game continues to evolve, we may see new names etching their place in this prestigious club. These performances not only highlight the individual brilliance of the players but also signify the ever-changing nature of the sport itself. The future may hold even more extraordinary feats of passing, potentially reshaping the record books and the legacy of the quarterbacks who achieve them.

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By Casey
Casey is a seasoned NFL aficionado with years of dedication to observing and analyzing the intricacies of American football. As the mastermind behind "NFL Schedule", Casey offers a treasure trove of insights ranging from detailed analyses of team schedules to the cultural nuances within the sport. His website is a testament to his passion, showcasing articles on diverse topics like team logistics, player experiences, and the financial aspects of the game. Casey's expertise is not just in the statistics and strategies of football, but also in its cultural and human elements, making him a comprehensive guide to the world of the NFL.
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