Talkin' Postseason Stats

Something weird came up the other day in Denver. You probably know that Peyton Manning threw seven touchdown passes -- first time anyone has done that in the NFL in 44 years. You might also know that Manning set or tied three fairly substantial quarterback records along the way.When he threw his fourth TD pass of the game, he tied the NFL record for most 4-TD games. He and Brett Favre have 23.When he threw his fifth TD pass of the game, he tied the NFL record for most 5-TD games. He and Drew Brees have seven.When he threw his sixth TD pass of the game, he set the NFL record for most 6-TD games. Manning now has three of them.The overall takeaway from this is that Peyton Manning has thrown A LOT of touchdown passes in his brilliant career, but a few people made the point that Manning did not actually SET the NFL record for six-touchdown games. He only tied it. Tom Brady also has three of those games. And they are right. Brady threw six touchdown passes against Miami in 2007, he did it again against Tennessee in 2009, and he did it a third time against Denver in 2012. Really, no matter how you count ‘em, it comes up three games.Except it doesn’t.The Denver game was in the playoffs. So it doesn’t count in the career stats.Tom Tango and others have been harping on this lately, and I think they’re right: The way we treat postseason statistics in sports makes little sense. We are a postseason nation. We care way more about playoffs than just about any country in the world. We will call the Seattle Mariners’ extraordinary 116-victory season in 2001 a failure because they lost to the Yankees in a best-of-seven series in the playoffs. We put the New England Patriots remarkable 16-0 season in the discard pile because a guy caught a pass against his helmet and New England lost the Super Bowl. The Atlanta Braves won their division every single year (except the strike year) from 1991 to 2005, one of the most amazing achievements in baseball history, and yet we look at them as an underachiever because they won only one World Series.And individual achievement? Sure, we think WAY more about what people do in the postseason. Reggie Jackson’s legendary three-home game only mattered because it was in the World Series. People remember Timmy Smith not because he ran for 204 yards in a game (so did, among others, Greg Bell, Greg Pruitt, LeShon Johnson, Frency Fuqua, Tony Collins and Jonathan Stewart … TWICE!) but because he did it in the Super Bowl. Michael Jordan isn’t considered by most to be the greatest basketball player ever because of his 10 scoring titles or career high 30.1 points per game, but because of what he did in the playoffs time and again.This is who we are. I don’t think we’re ashamed of it. In England, they crown the Premier League champion based on regular season record. In America, we crown our NCAA basketball champion based a single elimination free-for-all every match. It’s in our character.And yet, we have come on no consensus about postseason statistics and how they should be treated. This is especially true in baseball, where statistics are supposedly sacrosanct. For more than 40 years -- until Henry Aaron came along -- Babe Ruth’s 714 was perhaps the most hallowed number in all of American sports. That was how many home runs the Sultan of Swat hit. Only … it wasn’t. Those 714 home runs do not even include THE MOST FAMOUS home runs Babe Ruth hit. They do not include his called shot. They do not include the three home runs he hit in Game 4 of the 1926 World Series. They do not include his legendary performance in 1928, when he hit .625 and homered three times in the decisive game.Babe Ruth his 729 home runs -- not 714.Then again, Henry Aaron hit 761 home runs -- not 755.And Barry Bonds actually hit 771 home runs -- not 762.There seems to be this theory that postseason statistics should be kept separate from the regular season because the postseason is quantifiably different (and not everybody gets a shot at the postseason) -- and I can see that argument. But we’re not consistent about it. While Tom Brady’s six-touchdown pass game against Denver is not counted in the stats*, we do tend to count Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game. It’s strange.

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