Elias Says: Oct. 2, 2017

For Texans, there’s a new sheriff in town

Deshaun Watson, making the third start of his rookie season, threw four touchdown passes as the Texans routed the Titans, 57–14. That was the highest point total in an NFL game since the Seahawks defeated the Cardinals, 58–0, in 2012, also with a rookie starting at quarterback: Russell Wilson. Houston fell two points short of the highest point total in NFL history with a rookie starting at QB, set when the St. Louis Rams topped the Falcons, 59–16, with Tony Banks at QB in 1996.

Gurley stars in Rams’ win at Dallas

Todd Gurley gained 121 yards on 23 carries and caught seven passes for 94 yards and a touchdown, leading the Rams to a 35–30 victory at Dallas. Gurley was the first player to gain 200 yards from scrimmage in a game against the Cowboys since 2013, when Calvin Johnson caught 14 passes for 329 yards, the second-highest receiving-yards total in NFL history.

Gurley was only the third Cowboys opponent with at least 90 rushing yards and 90 receiving yards in the same game. The others were Larry Brown of the Redskins in 1972 and Edgerrin James of the Colts in 1999. Gurley was the only one to do so at Dallas.

Powell & McGuire add their names to list dominated by Hall of Famers

Bilal Powell scored on a 75-yard run and Elijah McGuire scored from 69 yards out, but it was Chandler Catanzaro’s modest 41-yard field goal in the final minute of overtime that gave the Jets a 23–20 win over the Jaguars. Only four other pairs of teammates in NFL history scored rushing touchdowns at least as long as McGuire’s in the same game: Hugh McElhenny and Joe Perry of the 49ers (1952); Dick Bass and Ollie Matson of the Rams (1961); Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier of the Steelers (1979); and Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee of the Ravens (2008).

Payton gains first shutout as head coach, ironically at Cutler’s expense

The Saints defeated the Dolphins, 20–0, in London, marking the first time that New Orleans has recorded a shutout under head coach Sean Payton. It was Payton’s 164th regular-season game as coach of the Saints. Only two other head coaches advanced that far into their careers without a shutout: Norv Turner, whose first came in his 202nd game; and Andy Reid, who is still without a shutout in 292 regular-season games as a head coach.

Ironically, Sunday’s game was Jay Cutler’s 142nd as a starting quarterback and the first of those in which Cutler’s team failed to score. Only three QB’s started as many regular-season games as Cutler and never suffered a shutout: Peyton Manning (265), Drew Brees (236), and Joe Flacco (142). A week ago, Cutler threw a touchdown pass on Miami’s last play to avoid a shutout against the Jets.

A big game for Saints’ rookie RB

Alvin Kamara, the Saints’ third-round choice in the 2017 NFL Draft, caught 10 passes in New Orleans’ victory. Only four other rookie running backs in NFL history caught 10 passes in a game, including a touchdown: Billy Sims of the Lions (1980), Randy McMillan of the Baltimore Colts (1981), Pierre Thomas of the Saints (2007), and Javorius Allen of the Ravens (2015).

Blount hits century mark for his 4th team

LeGarrette Blount gained 136 yards on 16 carries in the Eagles’ 26–24 victory over the Chargers. It was Blount’s first 100-yard game for Philadelphia, after seven for Tampa Bay, one for Pittsburgh, and six for New England. The only other players with 100-yard rushing games for four different teams are Thomas Jones (5 teams), Terry Allen, and Lamar Smith.

Panthers gain a rare walkoff win at Foxborough

Graham Gano kicked a 48-yard field goal as time expired to give the Panthers a 36–33 win over the Patriots. It was the first time since 1989 that New England lost a home game on the final play of the fourth quarter. In the only other such home loss in Patriots history, Pat Leahy kicked a 23-yard game-winner to give the Jets a 27–26 victory at Foxboro Stadium. New England has now lost three of its last four home games against NFC opponents and six of its last twelve.

Cam Newton threw three touchdown passes in Carolina’s victory, ending a span of 71 passes without a TD that was his longest since 2014.

Folk’s overtime redemption

Nick Folk also kicked a game-ending 34-yard field goal on Sunday, giving the Buccaneers a 25–23 win over the Giants. And here’s a unique story of redemption: Folk wasn’t the first NFL player to turn a potential loss to a victory by kicking a field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter. But he was the first in NFL history to do so after missing at least two field goals and an extra point earlier in the game.

The Giants also lost on the final play of the game last week, when Eagles rookie Josh Elliott kicked a 61-yard game-winning field goal as time expired. Only two other teams in NFL history lost consecutive games on the final play of the fourth quarter: the Browns in 1984 and the Eagles in 2006.

A birthday celebration to remember

Wayne Gallman of the Giants celebrated his 23rd birthday on Sunday by making his NFL debut. Early in the second half, things got even better when Gallman caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning. Only one other player in NFL history scored a TD in his NFL debut on his birthday, and he did it nearly a century ago. Obe Wenig of the Rock Island Independents scored two touchdowns on his 21st birthday, playing in his only game of the NFL’s first season (1920).

Game’s first TD is an OT game-winner

After the 49ers had taken a 15–12 lead in overtime on a 5–4 edge in field goals, Carson Palmer threw a game-winning 19-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald for an 18–15 Cardinals victory. It was only the fourth overtime touchdown in NFL history after none was scored during the game’s first 60 minutes. The others:

Steelers 15, Browns 9 in 1978: Terry Bradshaw threw a 37-yard TD pass to Bennie Cunningham.

Packers 12, Bears 6 in 1980: Chester Marcol’s field-goal attempt was blocked. But Marcol himself recovered the ball and ran 25 yards for a touchdown.

Steelers 15, Falcons 9 in 2010: Rashard Mendenhall ran 50 yards for a touchdown.

Bell carries big workload in Steelers’ win

Le’Veon Bell took charge on Sunday, carrying the ball 35 times for 144 yards and two touchdowns in the Steelers’ 26–9 win at Baltimore. Over the last three seasons, no other player carried the ball 35 times in a game, although Bell himself had 38 carries in the Steelers’ win at Buffalo last December.

Bell didn’t gain more than 15 yards on any of his 52 carries in Pittsburgh’s first three games this season. He had runs for 16, 17, and 21 yards against the Ravens on Sunday.

Buffalo takes down the Falcons

The Bills improved to 3–1 and moved into sole possession of first place with a 23–17 victory over the previously undefeated Falcons. It was only the fourth time in team history that Buffalo won a road game against a team that was 3–0 or better coming into the contest. The others were against the Chiefs (3–0) in 1966, the Chargers (4–0) in 1980, and the Patriots (3–0) last season.

Atlanta’s loss left Kansas City as the NFL’s last unbeaten team this season. It is the third time in the last eight seasons that the Chiefs earned that distinction, having previously done so with a 3–0 start in 2010 and a 9–0 start in 2013.

On a related note, this is the first season since 1987 in which only two teams won each of their first three games. That year, Game 3 was delayed by a week and played with replacements during a strike by the NFL Players Association. The Bears and Raiders started 3–0.

Dalton’s turnaround

Andy Dalton threw four touchdown passes as the Bengals defeated the Browns, 31–7. It was the first time in Dalton’s seven seasons in the NFL that he threw as many as four TDs in a road game. After being picked off four times without a TD pass in his first two games of the season, Dalton has six TD passes without an INT in his last two games.

Jackson sinks to 1–19 as coach of the Browns

With Sunday’s loss to Cincinnati, Hue Jackson’s record with the Browns fell to 1–19. Only two other head coaches in NFL history suffered 19 losses in their first 20 games with one team. The first was Phil Handler with the Chicago Cardinals in the 1940s, and those losses don’t even include the team’s 0–10 record in 1944, when it merged for one season with the Steelers. Handler, who was a co-coach of “Card-Pitt,” subsequently had a long career as an assistant to George Halas with the Bears. The other was John McKay, the first head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who lost their first 26 games (1976–77).

Broncos’ rushing defense excels again

The Broncos limited the Raiders to 24 yards in 15 carries—Marshawn Lynch had 12 yards on 9 carries—in a 16–10 victory. Denver has held each of its first four opponents to an average of less than 3.0 yards per carry. Over the last 20 years, only four other teams did that: Baltimore in 2001, Philadelphia in 2003, Miami in 2012, and Green Bay in 2016. The Broncos did it only once previously: in 1977, when they went to Super Bowl XII, losing to the Cowboys, 27–10.

Abdullah comes within 6 yards of ending Lions’ 100-yard drought

Ameer Abdullah gained 94 yards on 20 carries, including Detroit’s only touchdown, in a 14–7 victory at Minnesota. That was the highest rushing-yards total in one game by a Lions player since Reggie Bush ran for 117 yards against the Packers in 2013. Detroit’s current streak of 56 games without any of its players gaining at least 100 rushing yards is the longest in team history.

Another batting title for the Rockies

Charlie Blackmon won the National League batting title with a .331 average. The Rockies have had the National League batting champion 11 times in 25 years since their debut in 1993, and nine different Colorado players have contributed to its total: Larry Walker won three titles, and Andres Galarraga, Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, DJ LeMahieu and Blackmon have each won one. The only other team that produced its league’s batting title winner as many as five times over the last 25 years is Detroit (four by Miguel Cabrera and one for Magglio Ordonez).

Martinez is the top slugger in the major leagues

J.D. Martinez’s combined slugging percentage for the Tigers and Diamondbacks this season was a robust .690 (.630 for Detroit and .741 for Arizona). Giancarlo Stanton (.631) produced the highest slugging percentage among National League qualifiers (minimum: 502 plate appearances) and Mike Trout (.629) took that honor among American Leaguers who achieved the minimum qualification.

However, Martinez officially finished the season as the major-league slugging-percentage leader, despite not qualifying in either league and coming up 13 plate appearances shy of the minimum of 502. When Martinez’s shortfall of 13 plate appearances are assigned to him as hitless at-bats, according to rule 9.22(a), his slugging percentage is still higher than any qualifier in the majors.

Stanton falls shy of the magic number

Giancarlo Stanton became the second player in major-league history to finish a season with exactly 59 home runs. When Babe Ruth did that in 1921, that total represented the single-season major-league record. (Ruth had broken his own major-league record of 54 homers set the previous year, his first with the Yankees). Six years after hitting 59, Ruth broke his own record again, hitting 60 in 1927, a record that stood until Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961.

Marlins’ “average” offense produces two of the top three RBI totals in the majors

Giancarlo Stanton finished the season as the major league’s RBI leader, with 132, while his teammate, Marcell Ozuna, ranked third with 124 runs batted in. (Nolan Arenado was sandwiched between them with 130 RBIs.) The Marlins are the first team in major-league history to place two players within MLB’s top three in RBIs in a season while not ranking within the top ten teams in runs scored. (Miami’s total of 778 runs was the 11th highest in the majors this season.)

Altuve is the American League Hit King

Jose Altuve went 0-for-2 in the Astros' win over the Red Sox on Sunday. Altuve finished with an American-League-high 204 hits this year, the fourth consecutive season in which he was the league's outright leader in that category. Altuve is the first player in major-league history to be his league's outright leader in hits in each of four consecutive seasons. Ichiro Suzuki led the A.L. in hits in every year from 2006–2010, but he was tied for the league lead with Dustin Pedroia in 2008. Altuve produced 845 hits over the last four seasons, the most for any player over a four-season span since Ichiro had 890 hits from 2007 through 2010.

No team has ever finished a season like the 2017 Indians

The Indians defeated the White Sox and finished the season with a 33–4 record since they embarked on their historic winning streak on August 24. That is the best record that any major-league team has ever fashioned over its last 37 decisions of a season, breaking the mark that was established by the 1906 Cubs (32–5).

Votto: one of three players to lead his team in the triple-crown categories

Joey Votto led the Reds in batting average (among qualifiers), home runs and runs batted in this season, as he also did in 2010. The only other players who produced two such seasons for Cincinnati during the expansion era (1961 to date) are Frank Robinson (1962 and 1964), Dave Parker (1984–1985) and Eric Davis (1987 and 1989).

The only other batting qualifiers who led their respective teams in each of the triple-crown categories this season were Paul Goldschmidt and Justin Smoak. That is the major leagues’ lowest total of “team Triple-Crown” winners in any season since 1999, when there were also only three such players: Manny Ramirez (Indians), Vladimir Guerrero (Expos) and Brian Giles (Pirates).

No pitcher won more than 18 games this season

Jason Vargas started and lost the Royals’ season finale against the Diamondbacks. Vargas ended the year with an 18–11 record, tied with Clayton Kershaw (18–4), Corey Kluber (18–4) and Carlos Carrasco (18–6) for the most wins in the majors. It was the third non-shortened season in major-league history in which no pitcher won as many as 20 games. It also happened in 2006 when Chien-Ming Wang and Johan Santana tied for the major-league lead with 19 wins, and in 2009 when four pitchers (Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander and Adam Wainwright) tied for the MLB lead, each with 19 wins.

Nothing new as the American League best the National League in interleague play

The Diamondbacks defeated the Royals in the final interleague game of the year. The American League took the season series from the National League, 160–140. This was the 14th consecutive year in which the A.L. had the upper hand in interleague play.

Panda walks off the season finale

Pablo Sandoval helped the Giants end their disappointing season on a high note when his solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning gave them a 5–4 win over the Padres. It was the third time in Giants history that they won the final game of a season with a walkoff home run. Bob Brenly ended the 1987 season for the Giants in that fashion, and Bobby Thomson did it famously to beat the Dodgers for the N.L. pennant in 1951.

A sign of the times in Texas

The Rangers had three players finish the season with at least 25 homers and a batting average below .210: Joey Gallo (.209 BA, .41 HR), Rougned Odor (30, .204) and Mike Napoli (29, .193). Before this season, there were only ten instances in major-league history in which a player hit at least 25 homers with a batting average below .210, and no team had more than one such player in any season.

Yankees lose another one-run decision

The Yankees fell to the Blue Jays, 2–1, in their season finale. The Bronx Bombers finished the season with an 18–26 (.409) record in games decided by a one-run margin, the worst such record among the ten teams that qualified for the 2017 playoffs.

Williams opened some eyes in the “second half” of the season

Nick Williams hit a three-run inside-the-park home run in the Phillies' 11–0 win over the Mets. Williams drove in 55 runs this season, 54 of them after the All-Star break. The 54 runs that Williams knocked in after the break are the most for any rookie in Phillies history. Ryan Howard had 52 RBIs after the break as a rookie in 2005. The last rookie to drive in 54 or more runs after the All-Star break was Pittsburgh's Neil Walker in 2010.

Breakout season for Pham

Tommy Pham, who had a career-high 22 consecutive hitless at-bats in September 2016, is one of the three major-league batting qualifiers who did not have a hitless streak of more than ten at-bats this season. The others are Nolan Arenado and Jonathan Schoop.

Bridwell and Shoemaker

Parker Bridwell threw seven scoreless innings in the Angels' win over the Mariners on Sunday. Bridwell finished the season with a 10–3 (.769) record in 21 starts. That is the second-highest winning percentage in a season for an Angels rookie who started at least 20 games. Matt Shoemaker went 16–4 (.800) in 2014. Bridwell and Shoemaker are the only major-league rookies with winning percentages that high and at least 20 starts in a season since 2012.

Only five American League teams finished at or above .500

The only American League teams that finished the regular season with winning percentages of .500 or higher are the five A.L. teams that qualified for the playoffs, all of which had winning records (the Indians, Astros, Red Sox, Yankees and Twins). It is the first time that either the American or National League had as few as five teams finish a season with as many or more wins than losses since the major leagues expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

Every major-league manager went “wire-to-wire” this season

Brad Ausmus will not be returning as the Tigers’ manager in 2018, nor will Pete Mackanin for the Phillies, and although their fates were sealed earlier last week, they both finished the season for their respective teams. Terry Collins announced his resignation as the Mets’ manager after Sunday’s season finale. Every major-league manager who began the 2017 season spent the entire season in that position. There have been only two other seasons over the last 75 years in which the manager of every major-league team went “wire-to-wire” in that position: 2000 and 2006.