It was 1932 when the NFL began keeping official records for passing statistics. Green Bay’s Arnie Herber was the league’s sharpshooter with a completion percentage of …
That’s 37 completions in 101 attempts for the Pro Football Hall of Famer.
It took until 1939 before Parker Hall of the Cleveland Rams became the first quarterback to complete more than half of his passes (51.0).
Over half a century of seasons passed with only two players climbing above 64.9 percent for an entire year. Sammy Baugh reached 70.3 percent on 182 attempts in 1945, and Ken Anderson topped it at 70.6 percent on 309 attempts in 1982.
Since then, only three more quarterbacks — Joe Montana (70.2 in 1989), Steve Young (70.3 in 1994) and Drew Brees (70.6 in 2009 and 71.2 in 2011) — have topped 70 percent.
So give Vikings second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater credit for aiming high when he said one of the goals this season is to be “over 70 percent.” It’s not quite Adrian Peterson stating his goal of 2,500 yards rushing, but it’s no easy feat either.
One man thinks Bridgewater has what it takes to do it.
“First of all, he’s really an accurate passer of the ball,” Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “And he’s a great decisionmaker. A lot of his incompletes are not so much that he threw the ball bad but the defense did a great job defending it.”
But 70 percent in a full season?
“Over the last five weeks of the season, he was 72.1 percent [101 of 140],” Turner said. “And he was making plays up the field. It would make me nervous if he was completing 72 percent and he wasn’t making the plays up the field that we’re capable of making.”
Turner stresses completion percentage, but not to the point where he wants his quarterback to be defensive and throw nothing but checkdowns.
“Sometimes, the best thing you can do is check the ball down, and sometimes you have a guy running down the field and you have to give him a chance to catch the ball,” Turner said. “This is what we’ve been working for. Teddy has a good balance for that.”
In four games last December, Bridgewater led the NFL in yards per attempt (9.18) and was second in completion percentage (72.3). When the season ended, Bridgewater’s 64.4 completion percentage was the third best among rookies in NFL history behind only Ben Roethlisberger (66.4 percent in 2004) and Robert Griffin III (65.6 in 2012).
“We take pride in completion percentage, we take pride in taking care of the football and commanding the offense,” Bridgewater said. “It’s going to be a fun year. I have a ton of weapons at my exposure and I can’t wait to get everyone going.”
Through limited play in three preseason games, Bridgewater is completing 78.6 percent of his passes (22 of 28). His backup, Shaun Hill, has completed 73.1 percent (19 of 26). Both of them are well ahead of the preseason franchise record of 71.7 percent set by Rich Gannon in 1992.
Turner is understandably unimpressed by preseason numbers.
“The quarterback is going to play only 20 plays, he’s going to know what the plays are and he’s getting limited looks from the defense,” Turner said. “He should have that high of a completion percentage.”
The game has evolved over the decades with better athletes, better playing conditions, more precise coaching and rules designed to liberate the passing game and, more recently, protect the safety of receivers downfield. All have resulted in a passing explosion that continues to push the limits.
In 2013, quarterbacks set records for combined completion percentage (61.2), passer rating (88.9) and touchdown passes (807). Each of those records stood for one year until last year’s numbers reached 62.6 for completion percentage, 88.9 for passer rating and 807 for passing touchdowns.
“Right now, I am in the position where I’m just the guy who distributes the football,” Bridgewater said. “I want to be perfect. That’s the mind-set.”