Four Saints Attack NFL Records Sunday
Saints' QB Drew Brees has been "running up the score" on NFL records season, either already setting or on the verge of breaking 20 NFL Passing records this season. He's not alone. Four of his teammates are within striking distance of breaking key NFL records of their own in Sunday's matchup with the Carolina Panthers: TE Jimmy Graham, RB Darren Sproles, P Thomas Morstead and SS Roman Harper.
With 1,213 receiving yards, Saints TE Jimmy Graham is 78 yards from breaking San Diego Charger's Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow's record of Most Receiving Yards by a Tight End in a Single Season of 1,290 yards set in 1980. Graham averages 80.9 YPG this season. Currently he trails New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski by six yards in the race to break Winslow's record. Graham's 91 receptions puts him within striking distance of breaking Atlanta Failcon Tony Gonzalez's record for Most Receptions by a Tight End in a Single Season of 102 receptions set in 1994. Like Gonzalez, Graham is a former college basketball player; he played one year of football before the Saints drafted him at the end of the 2009 season. In his first year as a starter, Graham is 8th in the League in Receptions.
Saints RB Darren Sproles leads the NFL with 2,528 All-Purpose Yards, the combined total of his rushing, receiving, kick return and punt return yardage. Currently, he is 163 yards shy from breaking the record for Most All-Purpose Yardage in a Single Season of 2,690 set by the Tennessee Titans' Derrick Mason in 2000. Often compared to NYG return specialist Dave Meggett, the Saints' 5'6" 190 lb. tailback has 563 rushing yards, 681 receiving yards, 1,035 kickoff return yards, 249 punt return yards and nine TDs. The Saints acquired Sproles as an unrestricted free agent 24 hours after trading RB Reggie Bush to Miami. In his first year as a Saint, Sproles is 120 yards from breaking the Saints' franchise record of 2,647 set by Michael Lewis in 2002. Currently Lewis ranks second behind Mason in the NFL Record Book.
Punter and Kickoff Specialist Thomas Morstead set a new NFL record for Most Touchbacks in a Single Season last week (62.) While analysts have debated whether Drew Brees' single-season yardage record deserves an asterisk, most would agree Morstead's does thanks to the NFL's decision to move kickoffs up to the 35 yard line this season. . Morstead also holds the record for most touchbacks in one game (9.) The Saints are second in the NFL with 99 Kickoffs thanks to their fast-scoring Offense. Morstead could break Raider Shane Lechler's '09 record for the Highest Net Avg. Punting Yards in a Single Season (43.85). The Net Avg. Punting Yard record is the "Holy Grail" of NFL Punting records because it takes into account the receiving team's return yardage, which makes it the statistic NFL Punters and Special Teams focus on the most. Both Morstead and 49ers' Punter Andy Lee have a legitimate shot at breaking Lechler's record. Morstead's net average is 43.1; Lee's is 43.5.
Strong Safety Roman Harper is one sack away from breaking the Record for Most Sacks by a Defensive Back in a Single Season. Arizona Cardinal Adrian Wilson set the record of eight in 2005. Harper has 7.5 sacks so far this season. If success is the best revenge, then Roman Harper has got his on haters who dissed him after Marshawn Lynch blew past him in last year's Playoff loss in Seattle. Harper received the most votes out of all NFL Defensive Backs in fan Pro Bowl ballots this year, although he made the Pro Bowl roster as just an Alternate.
Publicly the Saints downplay the importance of records and insist they're only focused on winning. However last week's game against the Failcons proved the Saints are willing to do whatever it takes to help a player meet a career benchmark when Coach Payton allowed Brees to keep passing late in the 4th Quarter with an overwhelming lead, a time he would've normally pulled Brees from the game.
Three of the four players in range of setting new NFL records spoke this week about what it means to them.
Graham met one of his biggest goals this season when he made his first Pro Bowl as a starter. As for records, he says " I don't even think about 'em...I honestly don't even know what my stats are." As for the significance of making the Pro Bowl, Graham added, "To me, that kind of summed up what kind of year it must have been, including maybe catches and yards and stuff like that. But for me it really hasn't been a focus. It's just been about being healthy for the next one."
Sproles said this week he wasn't even aware he was on pace to set a new All-Purpose yardage record; furthermore, he's not even focused on it. "That'd be cool, but it's not on my mind," Sproles said. "That's not my main focus. My main focus is just to help this team win. And that's all that's on my mind when I go out there and play."
By contrast, Morstead is pretty excited about surpassing Lechler, considered by many to be the greatest punter in NFL history. "That would be really cool," Morstead said. "We have a chance. We've had a couple real good games in a row." As a Rookie, Morstead had a major impact on the Saints' 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. In one of the most gutsy plays in Super Bowl history, "Ambush," Morstead nailed a risky onside kick to start the second half. After the ball bounced off the facemask of the Colts' Hank Baskett, Colts and Saints players dove on the loose ball. When the scrum cleared, Saints' Safety Chris Reis recovered the ball (although LB Jonathon Casillas is officially credited with the recovery.) The Saints converted the recovery into a TD that gave the Saints a 13-10 lead.
On Wednesday, Drew Brees reflected on his team's run at the Record Book. "There's a lot of records out there we could potentially set, break," he said. "I think our mindset above and beyond that is how do we put ourselves in the best position to play and win in the Playoffs."
Photo Credits: Jimmy Graham (Nick Wass/A.P.); Darren Sproles (Michael Tortorich); Thomas Morstead (Michael De Mocker/The Times-Picayune); Roman Harper (Otto Greule/Getty)