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Single-season records of Dickerson, Peyton in peril if 17-game season approved

NFL Record Book doesn't segment records from 12-game and 14-game eras, so 16-game marks may be erased, too.
Credit: AP [L], USA Today [R]
Eric Dickerson [L] and Peyton Manning [R]

DENVER — There’s one former player who is probably hoping the NFL’s 17-game proposal is rejected.

Eric Dickerson.

The league’s single-season rushing record holder with 2,105 yards in 1984 has openly rooted against those who have approached his mark. When Jamal Lewis fell short in 2003 and Adrian Peterson in 2012, Dickerson felt the same satisfaction the 1972 Dolphins do each season when the league’s final undefeated team suffers its first loss.

Pride was no doubt a reason why 2,105 and 17-0 were compiled and pride apparently doesn’t disappear as aging athleticism does.

Adding a 17th game, though, would put Dickerson’s 35-year record in peril.  

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"I personally think all season records are going down, especially if they go to 18 games," Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning foreshadowed after he broke Tom Brady’s single-season touchdown record in game 15 of the 16-game 2013 season. "And there won't be an asterisk next to them. Brady will probably break it again next year if not the year after."

Manning had the right idea, even if some of his prediction has yet to come true. What he got right is the lack of annotation. The NFL Record Book does not distinguish single-season records from when the league played 12 regular-season games until 1961 (the American Football League debuted with a 14-game season in 1960) or 14 regular season games until 1978.

The Record Book only lists one single-season record holder in each statistical category. O.J. Simpson’s 2,003 rushing yards in the 14-game season of 1973 was considerably more impressive than Dickerson’s 2,105 in 16 games -- Simpson averaged 143.1 yards per game to Dickerson’s 131.6. But even if Simpson had a better season, Dickerson has the record season. (The Record Book’s lack of empathy in this example would be deemed appropriate.)

Where Manning has so far surprisingly erred, though, is his single-season passing records of 55 touchdowns and 5,477 passing yards are still standing seven years later. Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes II is capable of breaking all the records and he came close to the touchdown mark in 2018 when he threw 50 to match Brady’s best season in 2007 (the year that really made the ‘72 Dolphins nervous).

Because Manning’s touchdown record remains an impressive 10 percent better than the runner-up total, it might hold up a few more years, even if the players do approve the 17-game proposal this week during a meeting of player reps at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

More surprising, perhaps, is Manning’s single-season yardage record set in 2013 still stands. His 5,477 yards broke by one measly yard the record Drew Brees set two years earlier. Brees’ 5,476 passing yards in 2011 broke Dan Marino’s 27-year record of 5,084 yards set in 1984.

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There is one other individual season, though, that stands above all others. The most dominant season in NFL history was recorded (if no longer a record) by Green Bay’s Don Hutson in 1942.

In an 11-game season, Hutson had 74 receptions for 1,211 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Pop Ivy was second in catches that year with 27. Ray McLean was runner-up with 571 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Hutson’s 1942 season was to Babe Ruth’s 1920 when the Yankee star hit 54 home runs while second-place George Sisler had 19.

In the spirit of Don Hutson -- the “Babe Ruth of the NFL’’ -- here are some notable individual single-season records set not only in the 16-game seasons since 1978 but in the 14-game and 12-game eras:

SCORING

Most points season: 186, LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers, 2006, 31 touchdowns

12 and 14 games: Paul Hornung, 176, 1960, 12 games

11 games: Don Hutson, Packers, 138 points, 1942

Most extra points after touchdown: 75, Matt Prater, 2013

14 games: George Blanda, Oilers, 64, 1961

12 games: Joe Vetrano, 49ers, 62, 1949

11 games: Bob Waterfield, 37, 1946

RUSHING

Most rushing yards gained: 2,105, Eric Dickerson, Rams, 1984

14-games: 2,003, O.J. Simpson, Bills, 1973

12-games: 1,527, Jim Brown, Browns, 1958

11-games: 874, Cliff Battles, Washington, 1937

PASSING

Most passing yards: 5,477, Peyton Manning, Broncos, 2013

14-games: 4,007, Joe Namath, Jets, 1967

12-games: 3,099, Johnny Unitas, Colts, 1960

11-games: 2,021, Cecil Isbell, Packers, 1942

Most touchdown passes: 55, Peyton Manning, Broncos, 2013

14-games: 36, Y.A. Tittle, Giants, 1963

12-games: 32, Johnny Unitas, Colts, 1959

11-games: 24, Cecil Isbell, Packers, 1942

RECEIVING

Most catches: 149, Michael Thomas, Saints, 2019

14 games: 101, Charley Hennigan, Oilers, 1964

12 games: 84, Tom Fears, Rams, 1950

11 games: 74, Don Hutson, Packers, 1942

Most receiving yards: 1,964, Calvin Johnson, Lions, 2012

14-games: 1,746, Charley Hennigan, Oilers, 1961

12-games: 1,495, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, 1951

11-games: 1,211, Don Hutson, Packers, 1942

Most receiving touchdowns: 23, Randy Moss, Patriots, 2007

14-games: 17, Bill Groman, 1961, Oilers

11-12 games: 17, Don Hutson, 1942, Packers

DEFENSE

Most interceptions: 14, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Rams, 1952, rookie, 12-game/14-game/16-game seasons.

11 games: 10, Bill Dudley, Steelers, 1946

Most sacks: 22.5, Michael Strahan, Giants, 2001 (Sacks didn’t become an official statistic until the 16-game season of 1982).

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