By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — We’re human beings. We’re Americans. We’re sports fans. We like things to be presented as simply, as cleanly, and as tidily as possible.
So, even though most or all of us don’t understand the exact formula that goes into it, we sure do love referencing passer rating when we’re discussing and comparing quarterbacks. No, we don’t know the math, but we know the number, and that’s enough for us.
Well … we’re going to have to stop doing that. Drew Brees’ record-setting Monday night was the last straw.
In the event you weren’t watching, the 40-year-old Saints quarterback entered Monday’s game against the Colts with a chance to make history by passing Tom Brady and Peyton Manning on the all-time regular season touchdowns list. To say that Brees made the most of his opportunity would be an understatement.
Brees completed all but one of his passes, going 29-for-30 for 307 yards and four touchdowns. It probably should have been five touchdowns, but a sketchy offensive pass interference penalty before halftime postponed his inevitable record-breaking pass to the third quarter. Nevertheless, the man threw one single incompletion all night.
In doing so, Brees set a single-game record for highest completion percentage, at 96.67 percent. To reiterate: The man threw one incompletion!
It was a tremendous performance, one for the ages. Yet … according to the formula for passer rating, it didn’t qualify as a perfect night.
You could dig into the formula if you want to do so on your own time. But as stated earlier, we’re sports fans. Math? Division? Yuck! No thank you.
All I will share for the purpose of this story is how the formula ends, after the four components have been calculated: “The sum [of the four steps] is then divided by six and multiplied by 100.”
Oh. Oh, yeah. Now it makes sense. Just divide it by six and multiply it by 100.
Anyway. The perfect passer rating has been achieved in a game many times before.
It’s been achieved by Hall of Famers like Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees himself, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Terry Bradshaw, Otto Graham, Sonny Jurgensen, Dan Fouts, Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana. It’s also been accomplished by guys like Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Alex Smith, Chad Pennington, Doug Flutie, Donovan McNabb, Craig Morton, Jeff Blake, Marcus Mariota, Kerry Collins and Jared Goff. It’s happened five times this season alone.
It’s not exactly rare. Or prestigious.
So, for the sake of learning, let’s compare some of those “perfect” nights against Brees’ imperfect night. None of these QBs threw picks, so you can imagine a “0 INTs” at the end of each stat line if you’d like.
Pennington: 11-for-14, 219 yards, 3 TDs
Jurgensen: 12-for-14, 195 yards, 3 TDs
Roethlisberger: 13-for-16, 209 yards, 5 TDs
Griffin: 14-for-15, 200 yards, 4 TDs
Wilson: 14-for-17, 248 yards, 3 TDs
Graham: 14-for-18, 266 yards, 3 TDs
Morton: 14-for-18, 261 yards, 3 TDs
Manning: 16-for-20, 268 yards, 3 TDs
Warner: 17-for-21, 310 yards, 3 TDs
Tannehill: 18-for-19, 282 yards, 4 TDs
Brady: 21-for-27, 341 yards, 4 TDs
Collins: 23-for-29, 366, 4 TDs
Prescott: 25-for-32, 405 yards, 4 TDs
Geno Smith: 20-for-25, 358 yards, 3 TDs
Goff: 26-for-33, 465 yards, 5 TDs
Now throw in Brees’ night …
Brees: 29-for-30, 307 yards, 4 TDs
… and your guess is as good as any as to why that night was only worthy of a 148.9 rating, instead of a perfect 158.3 rating.
This issue with the stat isn’t necessarily new. Certainly, many folks have found it odd that the likes of Kirk Cousins and Tony Romo rank higher on the career passer rating list than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Or that Matt Ryan ranks higher than Joe Montana. Or that Jameis Winston is tied for 27th all time.
The stat? It’s not perfect. Brees almost was perfect, and he was certainly more perfect than many other QBs who were deemed to have been perfect. And so the statistic itself remains miles from being perfect.
We kind of knew that, but Monday night made it all the more clear.
So, from now on, even though we are big dumb sports fans, we should all agree that it would be best to use passer rating sparingly, and to always put it into context when doing so. It’s not that we need to eliminate it altogether, but never should we ever look at one player’s passer rating and use it as evidence of anything concrete, based on how it compares to another player’s passer rating.
We don’t need to erase the stat from the face of the earth, but we do need to acknowledge that the specifics can be a bit meaningless. If we can do that going forward, it would be a 158.3 plan.