We are living in the golden age of passing the football in the NFL. Aided by rule changes over the past 15 years and the adaption of spread and other schematic concepts, offenses around the league are moving the football through the air at an unprecedented pace: no matter if it is completions, yards, completion percentages, touchdown passes, or passer rating, the NFL is seeing new heights when it comes to passing.
Almost a quarter century ago — in 1994 —, the league looked quite different. Just three quarterbacks passed for more than 4,000 yards during the regular season that year, with three passers throwing 30+ touchdown passes. In 2018, for comparison, 15 quarterbacks are on pace to break the 4,000-yard barrier (five of them are currently aiming for more than 5,000 yards) and there are already three who have more than 30 touchdowns on their résumé.
One of the men to go over 4,000 yards in 1994 was the New England Patriots’ Drew Bledsoe. The quarterback, who was drafted first overall one year earlier, actually led the NFL in passing yardage that year with 4,555. He also was the league-leader in another category: Bledsoe attempted 691 regular season passes — and 70 of them came in a single week 11 game versus the Minnesota Vikings; a record that still stands today.
Coming off four straight losses, the 3-6 Patriots were in the middle of what appeared to be another disappointing campaign. Minnesota, meanwhile, sat at 7-2 heading into the two teams’ meeting at Foxboro Stadium. Led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, the Vikings came to town having won four games in a row. Safe to say that the visitors were the clear favorites — and early on they lived up to it.
While Bledsoe and the Patriots offense struggled, Minnesota scored a touchdown on its first possession and a field goal on its second to take a 10-0 lead after the first quarter. The second was more of the same: the Vikings were able to move the ball at ease against New England’s defense and added 10 more points to their total before the home team would finally get on the board with a last-second field goal in the second quarter.
At that point, Bledsoe had thrown the football 17 times — nothing overly spectacular considering that Moon already had 23 first half attempts standing next to his name. As opposed to the Vikings’ passer, however, Bledsoe saw only eight of his throws turn into actual completions for a combined 72 yards. After the intermission, the 22-year old turned up the heat from the Patriots’ first series on.
The first drive coming out of the locker rooms saw New England’s #11 attempt five passes — the last of which a 31-yard touchdown to wide receiver Ray Crittenden that brought the Patriots within 10 of their opponent. The team’s defense also came to life in the third quarter: it forced five punts and a turnover, helping set up a performance for the ages by Bledsoe and the passing offense.
In the third quarter, Bledsoe attempted 21 more passes. In the fourth, he added 26 while he led the Patriots to a touchdown — a 5-yard strike to running back Leroy Thompson — and a field goal that tied the contest at 20 with only 14 seconds left. As a result of New England’s ferocious comeback, a game that looked like a blowout through the first two quarters headed to overtime.
The Patriots won the coin toss for the extra quarter, received the opening kickoff, and Bledsoe went to work: 15 yards to Crittenden, 4 yards to Thompson, 4 yards to tight end Ben Coates, 7 yards to Coates, 12 yards to Thompson. After two rushing attempts by Marion Butts and another by Bledsoe himself, New England’s quarterback threw his 70th and final pass: a 14-yard touchdown to Kevin Turner that would secure the Patriots’ victory and Bledsoe’s spot in NFL annals.