NFL Sees Record Passing, Scoring

The first week of the NFL season produced some surprising results — and unlikely offensive fireworks. Was this an anomaly or a signal that this may no longer be your father's NFL? Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis talks to Michele Norris.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host: And I'm Michele Norris. If weeks two through 17 of the NFL season are anything like week one - whew, watch out. So far, there have been record amounts of passing and scoring. And for more, we toss it to our regular commentator, sports writer, Stefan Fatsis. Hello, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Michele.

NORRIS: NFL trading was shortened over the summer because of the labor dispute. We all remember that. The labor dispute between the owners and the players, but the league's quarterbacks seem none the worse for it. What is going on?

FATSIS: There were a lot of records. That's what was going on last weekend. Thirty-two teams in the NFL combined to pass for 7,842 yards. That is the most in any week in National Football League history. Fourteen quarterbacks threw for at least 300 yards. That was a record.

In Monday night's game, Tom Brady of New England threw for more than 500 yards. Chad Henne of Miami threw for more than 400. That was the first time two quarterbacks have ever done that.

And a couple of weeks ago, I had mentioned that the rookie quarterbacks might have a tough time. Well, number one draft pick Cam Newton of Carolina threw for 422 yards, the most ever for a debut. And, oh, by the way, eight kickoffs or punts were returned for touchdowns. That was a record. So it was a fun weekend of football.

NORRIS: So maybe they should pinch the training season going forward.

FATSIS: I don't think that's a terrible idea and it may explain why we had this big surge in offense. There was a lot of talk before the season started about who was going to benefit from the shorter training camps. In the past, when there had been labor stoppages, it was usually the defense because offenses are so reliant on timing between the quarterback and his teammates and that requires a lot of repetition, a lot of practice.

But now, there are a couple of theories that I read for this year's binge. Teams didn't prepare specifically for their first opponents because they were too busy installing, as they say in football, their basic defensive programs. And because you had this short practice schedule and a reduction in the amount of practice time that teams were allowed to put their players in full pads under the labor agreement, it was easier for teams to prepare their passing games instead of their running games, which require a lot of coordinative blocking.

We'll see as the season goes on whether this trend continues.

NORRIS: So, that does help explain some of this. Stefan, one more record was tied in pro football in your favorite part of the game, kicking. Can you tell us what happened there?

FATSIS: Yes. Sebastian Janikowski of the Oakland Raiders kicked a 63 yard field goal and that tied Tom Dempsey, who did it in 1970 and Jason Elam, who did it in 1998. And I wrote about the kick for the online magazine, Slate, this week. I actually - you know, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but I spent several hours actually breaking down the video. Well, maybe not hours. Breaking down the video of all...

NORRIS: You know it was hours. Go ahead, admit it.

FATSIS: ...three of the...

NORRIS: It was hours.

FATSIS: It was longer than most people would have done this. But I broke down the video of all three of these incredible kicks and my conclusion is that Janikowski's kick was the longest of the 63 yarders, about 63 yards and six inches, but you don't get credit for that in the NFL record book.

It wouldn't surprise me, though, if this guy breaks the record very soon or somebody does because five of the nine 60-plus yard field goals in NFL history have occurred in the last five years. Teams are recognizing the kickers have the strength to kick these long balls. If the situation is right, coaches are willing to take the chance now.

NORRIS: Finally, Stefan, you mentioned the labor fight between players and owners. One aspect of the agreement was in the news - new drug testing. What's happening there?

FATSIS: Well, the two sides had agreed on adding a blood test for human growth hormone, but the players' union had to agree to the testing method and now it's balking at the test that's been widely used in the Olympics and other sports for the last several years. Now, the union's chief, Demora Smith, last week said that he was concerned about the safety and the reliability of the test, partly because the size and weight of NFL players, he said, differs widely from those of athletes in other sports. And he's asked for more information about the science behind this test.

And if that's the real concern, then the union is justified in taking its time. The league, however, says that the union is just stalling. The bottom line: don't expect HGH testing in the NFL this year.

NORRIS: Thanks, Stefan. Hope the watching is as good this weekend.

FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: That's Stefan Fatsis. He's the author of "A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL." He joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.

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