Passing game through the years


April 6, 1906: Player safety concerns in 1905 led President Teddy Roosevelt to pressure the rules committee governing college football to make changes. One of those changes came on this date when the forward pass was legalized. The pro game at the time took its rules from college football.


Sept. 5, 1906: St. Louis University’s Bradbury Robinson threw the first forward pass in a game, according to Wikipedia, citing multiple sources. The ball fell incomplete, which, per rules of the time, was a turnover.


Oct. 25, 1906: According to the Professional Football Researchers Association, via author Robert W. Peterson, George Parratt of the Massillon (Ohio) Tigers completed the first professional football pass to Dan Policowski for a short gain in a 61-0 Ohio League victory over a team from West Virginia.


Feb. 25, 1933: After 13 seasons following rules for the college game, the NFL made a number of significant rules changes to set itself apart. One of them legalized the forward pass from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage. Up to that point, passes had to be made at least 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage.


Dec. 8, 1940: The modern passing game really began to evolve on this date when the Bears used the T-formation to defeat the Redskins 73-0 in the NFL title game. The T-formation, which essentially identified a single player to line up behind center and be the primary passer, was popularized by the most lopsided game in NFL history.


Jan. 20, 1950: The NFL adopted unlimited free substitutions, which meant the quarterback no longer had to play defense. A month earlier, the league agreed to accept three All-America Football Conference teams, including the Cleveland Browns, coached by Paul Brown, one of the most influential figures and offensive minds in NFL history. The Browns won the NFL title in their first year.


March 17, 1978: Wholesale changes to the rules are made to bust down key defensive barriers and lay the foundation for the passing explosion we see today. Credit or blame Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain defense for being the final impetus for the changes. Among the rules, defenders were restricted from making contact with receivers beyond 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Offensive linemen also were permitted to extend their arms and use open hands to pass protect legally.


1984: Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino became the first NFL quarterback to surpass 5,000 passing yards in a season (5,084). That total has been passed five times since 2011.


2004: Determined to keep the passing game wide open, the league decided to make pass interference rules a point of emphasis. It wouldn’t be the last of the tweaks favoring passing.


2005: Colts QB Peyton Manning set NFL records with 49 touchdowns and a 121.1 passer rating, which broke the mark of 112.8 by Steve Young in 1994.


2007: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady pushed the touchdown mark to 50, while Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed a record 440 passes.


2010: Safety rules were expanded and implemented to protect defenseless receivers, which opened up the passing game even further.


2011: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers set the single-season record for passer rating (122.5), and Brees set the mark for yards passing (5,476).


2013: Manning, now with the Broncos, set the record for touchdown passes (55) and yards passing (5,477). Brees topped 5,000 yards for the fourth time in six years.


2014: For the second year in a row, NFL QBs combined to set records for completion percentage (.626), passer rating (88.9) and passing TDs (807).