Tuesday, June 21, 2016

400-Yard Passing Games with Zero Touchdowns Starring Joe Montana

By Chris Willis, NFL Films 
49ers quarterback Joe Montana (1986)
Today a 400-yard passing game is pretty common. In 2015 there were 11 such games. In NFL history 128 different quarterbacks have passed for over 400 yards in a single game- 297 times in the regular season and 19 times in the post-season. Sid Luckman was the first to throw for 400 yards (433) when he tossed for 433 yards against the New York Giants in 1943. That was also the game where he threw 7 touchdowns. But what’s not very common is a quarterback who throws for 400 yards and zero touchdowns. In the 316 games that featured a 400-yard passer only seven of those quarterbacks did NOT throw a touchdown pass. The list of seven includes some very notable names and two Hall of Famers.

1. After 84 400-yards or more passing games Bernie Kosar became the first quarterback to top that mark while throwing zero touchdowns. On November 10, 1986 the Cleveland Browns quarterback went 32 of 50 for 401 yards in a 26-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

2. A week later on Nov. 17th the great Joe Montana added his name to the list in grand fashion. Montana went 33 of 60 for 441 yards, zero TDs and three interceptions in a 14-6 loss to the Washington Redskins.

3. On November 22, 1987 Boomer Esiason of the Cincinnati Bengals went 30 of 53 for 409 yards, zero TDs and 3 interceptions in a 30-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

4. The Eagles’ Randall Cunningham was the only one who did it in the post-season. On December 31, 1988, in the famous “Fog Bowl” Cunningham went 27 of 54 for 407 yards, zero TDs and 3 interceptions in the 20-12 loss to the Chicago Bears.

5. On November 10, 1991 Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers went 41 of 56 for 432 yards, zero TDs and zero interceptions in a 26-23 overtime win over the Dallas Cowboys.

6. On October 20, 1996 Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell went 37 of 52 for 421 yards and a whopping five interceptions in a 17-14 loss to the St. Louis Rams

7.  The last to accomplish the feat was the Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford, who on December 22, 2012 went 37 of 56 for 442 yards and one interception in a 31-18 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Let’s take a closer look at one game. Joe Montana’s 441 passing yards on 60 attempts produced the lowest scoring output of any passer who has ever thrown for 400 yards- just 6 points.

Joe Montana’s Frustrating Night
San Francisco 49ers at Washington Redskins
November 17, 1986
RFK Stadium
Monday Night Football (ABC-TV)
Game Program, 49ers at Redskins, RFK Stadium, Nov. 17, 1986
Heading into the week eleven Monday Night match-up with the Redskins the 49ers had just been given a new lease on life. The week before star quarterback Joe Montana had returned from back surgery after missing the previous eight games. Against the St. Louis Cardinals Montana had thrown for 270 yards and three touchdowns (all to Jerry Rice) in a 43-17 victory to help improve the 49ers record to 6-3-1, just ahead of the Rams at 7-4 (they just loss 30-28 to the Patriots on Sunday). He showed no signs of rust heading into the Redskins game.

The Redskins were one of the best teams in the NFL with a 8-2 record, tied atop the NFC East with the New York Giants. Although they were in first place in the division their defense had sprung a leak, as two weeks earlier they surrender 490 passing yards to the Vikings’ Tommy Kramer in a 44-38 overtime victory.

Going into the week Bill Walsh was licking his chops putting together his offensive game plan. He had always had great success against Joe Gibbs’ defense. In four previous meetings his team had averaged 30.7 points per game (123 total points)- going 3-1 in those meetings. With Montana back the 49ers hoped to improve on their 25.4 points per game average. 
49ers Head Coach Bill Walsh with Joe Montana (1986) 
The long flight east landed the 49ers in the nation’s capital. On game day the two teams were greeted with a partly cloudy, fifty degree night, as the two NFC powerhouses prepared for the 9 o’clock kickoff (EST). The 54,774 fans, and Monday Night Football audience, was about to see one of the longest NFL games that did not go into overtime- or see a touchdown by the 49ers offense.

First Half
The first half saw a ton of plays, but not much scoring. The two teams combined to run 76 plays in the first half (49ers- 35 and Redskins- 41). Walsh’s team got off to a terrible start. After one first down Montana was trying to scramble away from trouble and was sandwiched by defensive end Dexter Manley and safety Todd Bowles, who forced a fumble recovered by linebacker Rich Milot at the their own 33-yard line. 
Joe Montana fumbles after being hit by Redskins DE Dexter Manley and DB Todd Bowles
Credit: AP
Following the turnover the Redskins only scoring drive of the first half was led by Jay Schroeder, who completed 4 of 5 passes for 48 yards, leading to a one-yard touchdown run by George Rogers giving the Redskins a 7-0 lead.

From that point on the 49ers would run 29 offensive plays for 205 yards, but only produced one field goal. The six offensive possessions since the fumble in the first half saw the 49ers end one drive with a 35-yard Ray Wersching missed field goal, while two other drives ended with Montana interceptions. 

The second occurred after Montana hit Jerry Rice with a 37-yard gainer to put the 49ers on the Redskins 23-yard line. Two plays later he tried to hit tight end John Frank coming across the middle, but with linebacker Neal Olkewicz blitzing untouched up the middle, he threw a little behind Frank and was picked off by Redskins back-up safety Ken Coffey at the ten-yard line.
As halftime came the Redskins led 7-3.

In the locker room Walsh saw some incredible stats. His offense ran 35 plays, had 227 total yards (23 passes, 10 runs, 2 sacks), and his quarterback had completed 15 of 23 passes for 194 yards. But the three turnovers had limited them to just 3 points.
The second half would see more of the same.
Second Half

The 49ers received the ball to start the second half. Walsh had made his adjustments. It didn’t help. Redskins assistant head coach/defense Richie Pettibon and defensive coordinator Larry Peccatiello had his number this night. It was a quick three-and-out. The Redskins then went to their bag of tricks. On the punt return Ken Jenkins faked a reverse and sprinted up field for a 39-yard return putting the ball on the 49ers 37-yard line. After a pass interference call on the 49ers Schroder fired a 27-yard touchdown pass to Gary Clark who beat rookie cornerback Don Griffin. The Redskins now had a 14-3 lead.

On the ensuing drive the 49ers started to move the ball, but it wasn’t easy. Montana covered sixty yards in 12 plays, going 5 for 9 for 85 yards, as several 49ers penalties gave him more opportunities to throw. The drive resulted in a Wersching 38-yard field goal. The lead was cut to 14-6, but it was the last time the 49ers would score.

Late in the 3rd quarter ABC announcers Al Michaels and Frank Gifford mention the fact that Montana was on pace to join Bernie Kosar as the only quarterbacks to throw for over 400 yards and no touchdowns. 
49ers Quarterback Joe Montana (1986)
The 49ers got the ball back five more times in the second half and Montana continued to pile up passing yards- but no points. Four of the five drives ended in Redskins territory. His favorite target was Jerry Rice, in just his second year, who finished the game with 12 catches- which tied a 49ers single-game record- for 204 yards.

The most heart breaking drive came with 7:41 left in the fourth quarter. Montana completed a 42-yard pass to little used wide receiver Derrick Crawford- who had just three catches for 23 yards coming into the game. The beautiful over-the-shoulder catch put the 49ers at the Redskins 31-yard line. Two plays later on his 51st pass attempt Montana threw his third interception of the game as linebacker Calvin Daniels undercut a quick slant pass to Rice for the pick.

With 4;06 remaining Montana and the Niners got the ball back one last time. On his second pass attempt on the drive Montana connected with Rice for 17 yards. He now had 415 yards passing. Joe Cool drove the 49ers from their own 20-yard line to the Redskins ten by completing 5 of 6 passes for 54 yards. But on third and fourth down from the ten he threw incomplete passes to Russ Francis, and on his 60th pass attempt, tried a slant to Rice which was deflected by linebacker Monte Coleman and sailed out of the end zone.

Three plays later the Redskins ran out the clock. The game lasted nearly four hours (3:54 to be exact) and ended around 1:00 a.m. East Coast time. The third quarter alone lasted 57 minutes.
On bench Montana, Dwight Clark and Jerry Rice, 1986 49ers at Redskins
Credit: Getty Images/Michael Zagaris
The Aftermath

The two teams combined to run 158 plays- 49ers 81, Redskins 77- and generated 767 total yards- 49ers with 501 and Redskins with 266. Another key part of the game was penalties, as the 49ers were called for 15 flags for 118 yards, while the Redskins were called for just 3 penalties for 22 yards.
It was a game that the great Joe Montana might want to forgot. He completed 33 of 60 attempts for 441 yards and 3 interceptions. He threw zero touchdown passes and helped his team score just 6 points- the 49ers second lowest regular season game output since Walsh took over in 1979. Only the three points scored against the Bears in 1983 was more futile.

“It’s discouraging to lose a game when we were in position to get into first place,” commented Montana after the game. “I didn’t feel rusty, but I did feel tired at the end.” Throwing sixty passes would tire any man out.

The 60 attempts and 441 passing yards were 49ers team records. He would break the yardage record in 1989 when he threw for 458 against the Los Angeles Rams on December 11th. But the 60 attempts is still a team record today and a career high for Montana.

Montana’s 441 passing yards was the most by any quarterback without throwing a touchdown. It wasn’t until Matthew Stafford threw for 442 yards in 2012 that it was broken- by one yard.

Montana had 7 career 400-yard games- all in the regular season. He was 6-1 in those games. The Monday night game against the Redskins was the only one he lost.

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