Thursday, October 2, 2014

A "bad" game is a relative term in the NFL

While the Thursday Night Football radio broadcast team of Kevin Harlan and Boomer Esiason moaned and groaned through yet another uncompetitive Thursday game (average point differential through five games: 29), I observed that the Green Bay Packers scored 42 points through the third quarter after gaining just 280 yards of total offense against the Minnesota Vikings. Because the game was only notable because the Packers finally showed something of a running game (Eddie Lacy gained 105 yards on just 13 carries), Jordy Nelson’s only pass reception was a 66-yard touchdown grab, and Aaron Rodgers threw his 200th career touchdown pass, my attentions drifted off on another tangent (time to “relax,” as Rodgers would say) and I decided it would be “interesting” to find out what the fewest yards gained in a game by a team that scored at least 42 points. 

I didn’t have the time or the patience to conduct an exhaustive search, but fortunately Pro-Football Reference has what it calls a “frivolous” statistics sections, one in which it can conjure up scores of all games of a certain score, all the way from 0-0 to 73-0. Since the Packers were leading Minnesota 42-0 at the time, I punched in the score of 42-0, and the reference came up with 16 games that ended at 42-0. The last of these games occurred on December 5, 2005 on a Monday night. The eventual NFC champions, the Seattle Seahawks, defeated the Philadelphia Eagles by that score. If one had just read the final offensive statistics of the game, however, someone might have assumed a score of much more modest proportions. 

In this game, the Seahawks had two touchdown drives of a combined 118 yards. Of their remaining 11 drives, nine ended in punts and a combined 76 yards of total offense. Amazingly enough, the Eagles had the ball on offense four more times than Seattle and punted two fewer times, yet gained only 190 yards of total offense. Both teams combined for 157 rushing yards on 67 carries—an average of just 2.3 yards per rush. The Seahawks managed just 98 net yards passing, while the Eagles managed just 129 net yards on 39 passes—barely more than 3 yards per pass; Koy Detmer, in relief of Mike McMahon, managed just 84 yards passing on 29 attempts.

Obviously something was very amiss about this game. That, of course, would be the six turnovers the Eagles committed, which allowed Seattle to sleepwalk through this game. Andre Dyson, who intercepted only one pass and recovered one fumble in his only season with the Seahawks, performed both in this game—and returned both for touchdowns. Lofa Tatupa returned another interception for a touchdown. Michael Boulware (who were these guys?) nearly returned a third interception for a fourth defensive touchdown, tackled just short at the two-yard line. 

Now that was a really “bad” game. But back to the game at hand. Matt Flynn relieved Rodgers to get his arm out of mothballs, and promptly threw an interception. Nevertheless, the Packers managed to get past the 300 yards in total offense, but allowed the Vikings to provide some semblance of competitiveness by permitting them to score 10 points—but not enough to keep Kevin and Boomer from commiserating of the difficulty of calling such a dull affair, especially in regard to ratings.

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