High-Flying Football

So, apparently Sunday was the highest scoring day in NFL history. There were 763 points scored in 14 games, an average of 27 points per team. This was DESPITE the New York Giants, who could not have scored a point against Seattle if the field had been the length of a typical dining room table and they had six months.

So, let’s see here. There were 87 touchdowns scored -- not far off the record-setting 90 touchdowns scored one week earlier. Yeah, the record was set ONE WEEK AGO. This is insane scoring. If you are curious, there were 54 touchdown passes, 25 rushing touchdowns, five interceptions returned for a touchdown, two rumbles (fumbles returned for touchdowns) and one punt return for a touchdowns.

There were also 49 field goals made -- seven of them 50 yards or longer.

Pure insanity.

A few of the highlights:

-- In the Patriots-Dolphins game, Tom Brady threw a touchdown pass to give New England the lead with 4:14 left (too much time), Ryan Tannehill threw a touchdown pass to give Miami the lead with 1:21 left (too much time), and Brady threw an interception in the end zone as time expired.

-- In the Bears-Vikings game, Nick Foles threw for 428 yards and three touchdowns and Matt Cassel threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns ... these being two quarterbacks who when the season began shared one basic trait: Almost everybody believed they were not good enough to start in the NFL.

-- In the Chiefs-Raiders game, Jamaal Charles became the first player ever to have four receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in the game game.

-- In the Falcons-Hogs game, Washington’s Kirk Cousins -- in the second start of his career -- threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns and lost the game because they tried for two at the end and failed.

-- In the Titans-Cardinals game, Ryan Fitzpatrick -- the 31-year-old Harvard quarterback on his fourth team -- threw for 402 yards and four touchdowns.

You could argue that defense in the NFL -- at least East of Seattle -- is dead.

There are probably numerous reasons for all the crazy scoring -- randomness perhaps being as sound a reason as any -- but the question I find fascinating is this one: Are teams adjusting and playing a little bit differently in this new “safer” NFL? Is there a real shift happening in pro football?

There was a moment in the game yesterday, I forget which game, where a receiver caught a short pass over the middle for something like seven or eight yards and fell to the ground. The announcer (I think it was Phil Simms, but it might have been Dan Fouts) said something like: “Those are the new rules. If not for those new rules, that receiver would have been blasted into next week.” More I think of it, the more I think it was Simms in the Giants-Seahawks game.

That seemed to me a striking statement, probably because it was so patently true. The defender DID back off a little bit on the play. Not a lot. But he didn’t come flying in with his helmet like a madman. And I started to watch the game a little bit differently after that. Is this happening throughout the NFL without us really noticing? Are defenders backing off just a little bit? Are they -- because of penalties or coaching or some small shift in the zeitgeist -- using their helmets less, not flying into the tackles with quite as much force, not crunching each other at quite the same level of brutality?

Maybe. It’s hard to tell such things, of course. There are still plenty of vicious hits and nasty injuries. It’s not like the NFL has become two-hand touch. But, as I watched, I kind of thought: You know, the game might be evolving a little bit before our eyes. And because of that, maybe receivers can be a little bit more bold catching the ball over the middle. Maybe running backs can run with a little bit more freedom when trying to pick up a couple of extra yards. Maybe quarterbacks can throw with a little bit more confidence with the thought that they are not setting up a teammate to be broken in two by some flying safety.

Maybe this has something to do with the absurdly high scores we’ve seen the last two weeks -- all year, really.

Whether or not this is actually happening, I do wonder if this is how the game evolves over the next few years. As we learn more and more about concussions and the dangers and the lifelong health ramifications for players, there seems no doubt that there will be continuing efforts to make the game safer while not making the game less exciting. There will still be rule changes. There will still be continuing efforts soften the brutality of the game.

The ironic thing is that, at least at first, these efforts might make the game MORE exciting by sparking offense. That might be what we’re seeing now.

But over time, that should even out. Defenses will catch up. Maybe officials will be a little bit less whistle-happy on pass interference -- that would be nice. Maybe officials will start really putting a clamp on the pick plays that offenses run so freely now. Maybe teams will create defensive strategies that rely less on intimidation and more on strategic ingenuity.

In the meantime, the scoring is going crazy. Except against Seattle. That Pete Carroll knows something.