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Elias Says: Jan. 2, 2017

Hill, simply extraordinary

Tyreek Hill did it again. Hill’s 95-yard punt return for a touchdown in the Chiefs’ 37–27 win at San Diego marked the fourth consecutive game in which he scored a touchdown of 60 yards or longer. That ties the longest such streaks in NFL history. The only other players with TDs of at least 60 yards in four straight games were Billy Grimes of the Packers (1950), Elroy (“Crazy Legs”) Hirsch of the Rams (1951), and Dante Hall of the Chiefs (2003).

Hill became only the second player in NFL history to score at least three TDs each by rushing, by receiving, and on returns in one season. The first was Ollie Matson of the Chicago Cardinals in 1952, when he, like Hill, was a rookie.

Prescott caps historic season in Cowboys’ loss

Dak Prescott completed four passes for 37 yards before taking a well-earned rest in the Cowboys’ 27–13 loss to the Eagles. Prescott finished the season with 3667 passing yards, the second-highest single-season total in NFL history by a player who threw fewer than five interceptions. The record of 3900 yards was set by Tom Brady in 2010.

Prescott threw only four interceptions on 459 passes this season, setting a record for the lowest INT rate by a qualifying rookie (one per 115 passes). The previous mark was held by Robert Griffin III, with five interceptions on 393 passes in 2012 (one per 79 passes).

Ryan goes where none has gone before

Matt Ryan passed for 331 yards and four touchdowns in the Falcons’ 38–32 win over the Saints. Ryan finished the season with 4944 passing yards, which is the highest single-season total ever amassed by a player who threw as few interceptions as Ryan did (7).

Ryan finished the season with 38 touchdown passes. The only player with that high a TD total and seven or fewer INTs was Aaron Rodgers in both 2011 (45 TDs, 6 INTs) and 2014 (38 TDs, 5 INTs).

Rodgers finishes the season on a roll

Aaron Rodgers passed for 300 yards and four touchdowns without throwing an interception in the Packers’ 31–24 win at Detroit, clinching the NFC North. Rodgers not only owns the lowest interception rate in NFL history (one per 65 passes), but he also finished the 2016 season on the longest streak of passes without an INT in his career (245 passes).

Lions squander a big late lead in division race

The Lions held a two-game lead in the NFC North heading into Week 15. Only four other teams in NFL history led their division—or in the first instance, the league itself—by two games or more in December but failed to finish in first place: Green Bay in 1932, Dallas in 2006, Denver in 2008, and the Giants in 2012. Of those teams, only the Cowboys qualified for the playoffs.

Bradford sets NFL record for completion percentage

Sam Bradford completed 25 of 33 passes in the Vikings’ 38–10 rout of the Bears, raising his completion rate to 71.6 percent this season. That’s a new NFL single-season record, breaking the mark that Drew Brees set in 2011 (71.2%).

Since 1945, when Sammy Baugh became the first qualifier in NFL history to complete at least 70 percent of his passes in one season, Bradford is only the fourth player to hold that record. Baugh held the mark until it was broken by Ken Anderson in 1982 (70.55%), and Anderson’s record stood until it was surpassed by Brees in 2009 (70.62%).

Easy come, easy go: Bradford also lost a citation in the record book on Sunday when his total of 354 completions in 2010, which had been the most by an NFL rookie, was surpassed by Carson Wentz (379).

Howard finishes distinguished rookie season with big game

Jordan Howard gained 135 yards on 23 carries in the Bears’ loss to finish the season with 1313 rushing yards, the highest total by a rookie in team history. The previous high was set by Matt Forte in 2008 (1238). For the record, Walter Payton ran for 679 yards as a rookie in 1975, Gale Sayers for 867 (1965).

Howard’s total is the third highest in league history by a rookie not chosen in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft. The highest totals were by Alfred Morris in 2012 (1613 yards) and Mike Anderson in 2000 (1487 yards).

A breakthrough for Perkins in Giants’ finale

The Giants may have found an unexpected weapon in Paul Perkins, the fifth-round draft choice who ran for 102 yards in their 19–10 victory over the Redskins. Over the last 40 years, only three other rookies recorded their first 100-yard rushing game in the regular-season finale of a playoff-bound team: Willie Parker of the Steelers (2004 season), Brandon Jackson of the Packers (2007), and Joe McKnight of the Jets (2010). For the record, none of those players made an impact in the postseason.

Flacco breaks Vinny’s 20-year-old Ravens record

Joe Flacco passed for 267 yards in the Ravens’ 27–10 loss at Cincinnati, to finish the season with a team-record total of 4317 passing yards. Flacco broke a mark set by Vinny Testaverde in 1996, the Ravens’ first season in the NFL. Only six current team records for passing yards in a season have stood longer than the one broken by Flacco on Sunday: Joe Namath, Jets (1967); Brian Sipe, Browns (1980); Dan Fouts, Chargers (1981); Dan Marino, Dolphins (1984); Warren Moon, Oilers/Titans (1991); Erik Kramer, Bears (1995). More than half the team highs have been set in the last six seasons (17 of 32).

Luck sets NFL record for late, game-winning TD passes

Andrew Luck threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jack Doyle with 9 seconds left to give the Colts a 24–20 victory over the Jaguars. It was the seventh time that Luck threw a game-winning TD pass in the final 2 minutes of the fourth quarter. Luck is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw as many as six fourth-quarter game-winning TD passes inside the 2-minute warning in his first five seasons in the league. Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford threw five in their first five seasons.

Broncos take down high-flying Raiders

The Broncos opened a 24–0 lead over the Raiders in Sunday’s 24–6 win. It was only the third time in the last 30 seasons that a team scored the first 24 points of a game against an opponent whose record was nine games above the .500 mark. (Oakland was 12–3 coming into Sunday’s contest.) The last instance was New England opening a 28–0 lead over Houston, 11–1 at the time, in an eventual 42–14 victory in 2012. Prior to that, Kansas City led the 12–2 Vikings, 31–0, in a 2003 meeting.¬

Brady-to-Edelman sets down the Dolphins

Julian Edelman caught a 77-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to quell a Dolphins rally and the Patriots posted a 35–14 win at Miami. It was the second time in the last four weeks that Brady threw a TD pass that long, having connected with Chris Hogan on a 79-yard score against Baltimore last month. Prior to that, New England scored only one touchdown as long as 77 yards in the last three seasons (an 84-yard punt return by Edelman against Denver in 2014).

Brady has thrown 11 touchdown passes of at least 70 yards and they have been caught by 11 different players: David Patten (2001), Troy Brown (2003), Randy Moss (2009), Sam Aiken (2009), Deion Branch (2010), Wes Welker (2011), Shane Vereen (2012), Aaron Dobson (2013), Rob Gronkowski (2015), and Hogan and Edelman this season.

Boddy-Calhoun’s fumble sums it up for Browns

Landry Jones threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Cobi Hamilton with 2:57 remaining in overtime to give the Steelers a 27–24 victory over the Browns. That was the literal end to the Browns’ 1–15 season. But symbolically, the game turned in the third quarter when, with Cleveland leading 14–7, Briean Boddy-Calhoun intercepted Jones and returned it 67 yards before fumbling at the goal line. Jones himself fell on the ball for a touchback. It was the longest interception return resulting in a fumble and touchback in more than 30 years. The last was a 70-yard return by Louis Breeden of the Bengals in 1984, also against Pittsburgh.

Bucs pick off three against Newton

The Buccaneers intercepted Cam Newton three times in a 17–16 victory over the Panthers. Brent Grimes returned one of them 31 yards for a touchdown. It was the third pick-six against Newton in his last eight games, and all were in games that Carolina lost by three or fewer points.

Tampa Bay’s other interceptions were by Keith Tandy, who became the third player with two INTs of Newton in the same game. The other players to do so were Charles Woodson of the Packers in 2011 and Tim Jennings of the Bears in 2012.

Carolina, which lost its season opener, 21–20, to Denver, is the first team in NFL history to lose both its first and last game of a season by one point each.

Cardinals rout Rams to a historic degree

Arizona finished its disappointing season on a high note, blasting the Rams, 44–6. In the 76th meeting between these teams, it was the first game in which the Cardinals won by at least 30 points. Their largest previous win against the Rams was a 48–19 victory in the final game of the 2007 season.

Sunday’s result also matched the Rams’ largest margin of defeat in any of its 235 regular-season games at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Their only other 38-point loss there was against the Bears in 1963 by a score of 52–14, with Mike Ditka catching four touchdown passes. Chicago came into that game with a 4–0 record, the Rams with an 0–4 mark.

Titans break Texans’ stranglehold on division rivals

Tennessee defeated Houston, 24–17, to snap the Texans’ streak of 10 consecutive wins against AFC South opponents. The only other team to enter play on Sunday with an intradivision winning streak as long as Houston’s was Kansas City, which extended its streak of wins against AFC West opponents to 11 on Sunday.

Houston’s streak was the third longest within the AFC South. Indianapolis had a 16-game intradivision winning streak (2012–15) and a 12-game streak (2004–06).

New coach and new QB in Bills’ season finale

Anthony Lynn served as head coach of the Bills in a 30–10 loss to the Jets, following last week’s dismissal of Rex Ryan. In what Lynn termed a “business decision,” EJ Manuel started at quarterback for Buffalo. That combination of changes was nearly unprecedented in NFL history.

The only other team to change head coaches for its final game of a season while also starting a QB for the first time that season was Cleveland in 1977. The Browns replaced coach Forrest Gregg with Dick Modzelewski for the last game and switched to Terry Luck as their starting QB. Cleveland lost at Seattle, 20–19, in what turned out to be the only NFL game that Modzelewski ever head-coached and the only one that Luck ever started.

Jets score on rare, bizarre play

The oddest play on the final day of the NFL season was arguably the Jets’ final touchdown, scored by Doug Middleton who recovered a Jets kickoff in the end zone after Mike Gillislee allowed the ball to bounce. Middleton became only the second player in the last 60 years to recover his team’s own kickoff in the end zone for a TD. The other was Phil McConkey of the Giants in 1984.

Raptors’ guards make history at Staples Center

Paced by Kyle Lowry (41 points) and DeMar DeRozan (31), the Raptors defeated the Lakers, 123–114 at Staples Center. This is extraordinary: It was the first non-overtime home game in the history of the Lakers franchise in which two opposing guards scored at least 30 points each. That’s more than 2500 games and it includes their 13 seasons in Minneapolis.

Hardaway tops his Pop with 29 points off the bench

Tim Hardaway Jr. came off the bench and matched his career high with 29 points in 31 minutes as the Hawks defeated the Spurs, 114–112, in overtime. Hardaway’s father scored at least 29 points in 87 regular-season games. But in one regard, son gets bragging rights over dad: Hardaway Sr. never scored as many as 29 points in any of the 97 games in which he did not start.

Sundays with C.J.

Portland’s Sunday Superstar did it again, as C.J. McCollum scored a career-high 43 points in the Trail Blazers’ 95–89 win at Minnesota. McCollum had averaged 26.9 points in his last 14 Sunday games, including five games scoring in the 30s.

Pistons get scoring from high and low

Reggie Jackson (27), Andre Drummond (25 points), and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (23) all scored big in the Pistons’ 107–98 win at Miami. It was the first time in nearly two years that Detroit’s starting center and guards all scored more than 20 points in the same game. In fact, Detroit did that only one other time in the last 20 years in games that didn’t go to overtime (the same three players in a win over Toronto in March 2015).

From an NHL’er born in 1903 to the teenager

Auston Matthews’ second goal of the game was the overtime winner for the Maple Leafs in their 5–4 victory against the Red Wings in the NHL’s Centennial Classic at BMO Field in Toronto. Matthews is the third rookie in Maple Leafs history to produce a multiple-goal game, including a game-winning overtime goal, in regular-season play.

The first time that happened was almost 90 years ago, on Feb. 22, 1927, when future Hall of Famer Irvine “Ace” Bailey scored a pair of goals in a 3–2 win against the Rangers in New York. The most recent instance before New Year’s Day 2017 was Steve Thomas’ two-goal performance in a 3–2 victory versus the Sabres at Maple Leaf Gardens on Nov. 30, 1985.

Matthews is the third rookie to pull off this feat in an NHL game this season. Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine did it against Toronto on October 19 (his OT winner was his third goal of the game), and San Jose’s Kevin Labanc scored his second goal of the game to beat Edmonton in overtime on December 23.

Matthews is scoring on an Ovechkin-like pace

Auston Matthews, the first overall pick in the 2016 Entry Draft, has now scored 20 goals in 36 games in the NHL. Only two other players who made their NHL debut since 1993 reached the 20-goal mark no more than 36 games into their career: Alex Ovechkin in his 33rd game, and Petr Prucha in his 36th game.

Prucha scored 30 goals for the Rangers during his rookie season (2005–06, which was also Ovechkin’s first season) and 22 goals the following season, but he scored only 26 goals over the next four seasons (for the Rangers and Coyotes) and then went to play in Russia for three seasons before retiring due to injuries.

Red Wings gain a point with strong late rally

The NHL’s Centennial Classic was a ho-hum affair for the first 40 minutes but then things got crazy. The Red Wings held a 1–0 lead at the end of the second period but the Maple Leafs scored four unanswered goals and led 4–1 with less than 7 minutes remaining. Jonathan Ericsson’s goal at 13:54 cut the deficit to two goals, but the score was still 4–2 as the clock ticked past the 18-minute mark.

Tomas Tatar brought the Red Wings within one goal when he scored at 18:14, and Anthony Mantha tallied his second goal of the day with 1.1 seconds left to play to deadlock the score at 4–4. The momentum seemed to be in the Red Wings’ favor but it was the Maple Leafs who won the game on an overtime goal by Auston Matthews.

Despite that setback, this was the first time in 37 years that the Red Wings earned a point from a game in which they trailed by three goals in the final 10 minutes of the third period. The last time that happened was a 5–5 tie against the Islanders at Olympia Stadium in Detroit on Jan. 10, 1979, when two goals by Nick Libett and one by Paul Woods, all in the final 2:39, enabled the Red Wings to draw the game after trailing 5–2.

Kesler starts 2017 on the right skate

Ryan Kesler earned the fourth hat trick of his NHL career and his first for the Ducks by scoring all three of Anaheim’s goals in its shootout win against the Flyers. Kesler, whose three other hat tricks were for the Canucks, all during the 2010–11 season, is the second player in Ducks history to score three goals in a game played on New Year’s Day. Teemu Selanne did that when Anaheim won 7–2 at Buffalo in 1999. (Selanne also tallied two assists in that game.) Kesler is the first NHL player to produce a New Year’s Day hat trick since Sergei Kostitsyn scored three times for Nashville in its January 1 victory against Calgary in 2012.

Caps d-men finally light the lamp

The Capitals, who entered play on Sunday with only eight goals this season from defensemen (fourth-fewest in the NHL), beat the Senators, 2–1, in the NHL’s first indoor game of 2017 thanks to goals by rearguards Karl Alzner and Taylor Chorney. It was the first game this season in which two different Washington defensemen each scored a goal. Last season the Capitals played eight games in which they had multiple d-men score goals, including one game (a 7–3 win vs. Colorado on Nov. 21, 2015) in which four different Washington defensemen netted a goal (Alzner, John Carlson. Dmitry Orlov, and Nate Schmidt).