By In Football

Winning by 20

The other day, I totally misread a statistic tweeted out by Adam Schefter. I THOUGHT Adam had tweeted out that this years’ Seahawks were the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to win eight games by 20 or more points. This thoroughly boggled my mind, and I brought up it up to a few friends, and it boggled their minds too.

“That can’t be right,” we all thought.

As it turns out, it wasn’t close to right because I completely bungled what Adam had actually tweeted. Leave it to my feeble mind to not comprehend 140 characters. What Adam actually tweeted out was that the Seahawks are the first team since the 1972-73 Dolphins to win eight games by 20 or more points in a 14-game home winning streak. This statistic is considerably less mind-blowing, in large part because I still don’t entirely follow it.

As it turns out, Seattle has five victories this year by 20 or more points, That IS the most in the NFL, and impressive in its own right. But it does not approach the record. Of course, I had to go see which team HAD the record, and this led to … what it always leads to. An unnecessarily long blog post.

As you probably guessed, the team with the most 20-plus wins in a season: The 2007 Patriots. That team really was mind boggling. They won 10 games that year by 20 or more. Look at their first eight games that year:

Week 1. Beat Jets by 24
Week 2. Beat Chargers by 24
Week 3: Beat Bills by 31
Week 4: Beat Bengals by 21
Week 5: Beat Browns by 17
Week 6: Beat Cowboys by 21
Week 7: Beat Dolphins by 21
Week 8: Beat Hogs by 45.

That’s simply staggering. They were not as dominant in the second half — the Colts, Ravens and Giants all stayed finished a touchdown — and, of course, they were not nearly as dominant in the playoffs. But for those first eight games, wow, there has never been a team quite like that.

Well … maybe the 1999 Rams. It’s hard to believe that we are coming up on 15 years since that ’99 Rams team — if you are 20 or younger, you probably have no memory of them whatsoever. I don’t remember a team in any sport that was quite as shocking at the 1999 Rams. You begin with the basics: The Rams were HORRIBLE. They had been awful throughout the entire 1990s, and they seemed totally out of place in St. Louis, and their coach Dick Vermeil was thought to be this Mister Magoo character. When the Colts traded Marshall Faulk to St. Louis … you felt sorry for Faulk. When the local quarterback Trent Green (who the Rams had picked up in the offseason) had his knee blown out by Rodney Harrison in a preseason game, the Rams had to go with a thoroughly unknown third-string quarterback who (it was written 10 million times) had stocked groceries only four year earlier. That was Kurt Warner, of course.

And what followed made no sense at all. None. The 1998 Rams had one of the worst offenses in the NFL. Their quarterbacks had thrown just 12 touchdown passes all year and (you won’t even believe this) their leading rusher was a kid from Kansas named June Henley and he ran for … well, why don’t you guess? Guess how many yards June Henley ran for in 1998 to lead to the St. Louis Rams?

Answer: 313 yards. That has to be a record for fewest yards ever to lead a team.

So when the Rams beat the Ravens 27-10 in the first week — with Kurt Warner throwing for 309 yards and three touchdowns — it seemed like one of those odd things that just happens in the NFL from time to time. Hey, a dentist named Dave Mays once led the Cleveland Browns to an upset victory over the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Weird stuff happens occasionally.

Only in the second week, the Rams beat the Falcons 35-7 — that was one year after Atlanta played in the Super Bowl — and Warner threw for 275 yards and three more touchdowns.

In Week 4, they beat the 49ers 42-20 — five touchdown passes from Warner that day. Next week, they annihilated Atlanta again by 28 points — Faulk ran for 181 yards. Week after that, they beat Cleveland 34-3 with Warner toying with the Browns defense (23 of 29, three touchdowns, no interceptions). That made FIVE STRAIGHT GAMES where the Rams had won by 20 points or more, tying an NFL record (see more below).

In all, the Rams won nine games by 20-plus points, though like the 2007 Patriots, none of them came in the postseason. Instead, the Rams needed some breaks to beat Tampa Bay 11-6 in the NFC Championship Game and they needed The Tackle to hold off Tennessee 23-16 in the Super Bowl.

Here’s the list of teams with the most victories in an NFL season by 20-plus points:

10 times
New England, 2007

9 times
St. Louis, 1999

8 times
Green Bay, 1996

7 times
Chicago Bears, 1948
Philadelphia, 1948
Philadelphia, 1949
Dallas, 1968
Minnesota, 1988
Washington, 1991
San Francisco, 1994
Minnesota, 1998
New England, 2012

Of these, the ’99 Rams, the ’96 Patriots, the ’91 Hogs and the ’94 Niners won the Super Bowl. I immediately thought of some of the great teams I expected to see on that list but did not:

1985 Bears: Won five regular season games by 20-plus points but they will always be legendary not only because of their Shuffling Crew rap song but because they won all three of the postseason games by 20. They beat the Giants 21-0 and held them to 32-yards rushing the whole game. They beat the Rams 24-0 and held them to 66 yards passing the whole game. Then they destroyed the Patriots 46-10 in the Super Bowl. No other team has ever won three postseason games by 20 points.

1962 Packers: Won six regular season games by 20-plus. This was probably Vince Lombardi’s best team — those Packers went 13-1 and won their second straight championship. Jim Taylor ran for 1,474 yards and scored 19 touchdowns in just 14 games, and the defense gave up seven or fewer points seven times.

Steel Curtain Steelers: The 1975 Steelers had six such games, so did the 1979 team. They were very different teams. The 1975 team won by bludgeoning Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier into defensive lines again and again and again — they ran the ball about 65% of the time — with an awe-inspiring defense that allowed just 17 touchdowns all year (that team allowed nine touchdown passes against 27 interceptions). The 1979 team, meanwhile, had a good but not great defense and was defined more by a high-flying offense, with Terry Bradshaw throwing deep again and again to Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.

1984 49ers: When I used to play Strat-o-Matic football religiously, I always thought the 1984 49ers were the best team ever. You put those cards together: They were simply unbeatable. They had an amazing offense and an amazing defense. The defense could stuff the run, go get the quarterback and wow did they force turnovers. The offense could overpower you running the ball (Wendell Tyler and Roger Craig were both pretty much unstoppable) and, of course, Joe Montana led one of the great passing games ever (though this was actually BEFORE Jerry Rice). That 49ers team won five games by 20-plus.

This Seahawks team, by the way, have won the last three weeks by 20-plus. They beat Atlanta 33-10, Minnesota 41-20 and you saw what they did to New Orleans on Monday night (34-7 in a game that wasn’t even that close).

Best I can tell, the NFL record for consecutive 20-point wins is 5, and it has been done three times:

— The aforementioned 1999 Rams.

— The 1961 Packers won five in a row by 20-plus, starting with a 30-10 win over San Francisco and ending with a 33-7 destruction of Minnesota. That Packers team ended up beating the Giants 37-0 in the NFL Championship game.

— The 1949 Eagles, led by the great Steve Van Buren, beat Washington 49-14 on October 23 and did not lose again for the rest of the season. They beat the Pittsburgh 38-7, the Rams 38-14, Washington again 44-21 and the New York Bulldogs (what a great name) 42-0. They then beat the Steelers by 17, the Giants by 21, the Giants again by two touchdowns and the Rams in the championship game by 14.

One final note: The 1961 Houston Oilers won five straight games by 20 or more in the AFL. This was after starting the season 1-3-1.

Man if only I had read Adam’s tweet right the first time, I could have saved a lot of effort.

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26 Responses to Winning by 20

  1. Blake says:

    Joe, this post inspired me to look up dentist-turned-quarterback Dave Mays. Sad story. From a city’s hero, Cleveland’s first black quarterback, to 5 years in prison for welfare fraud. There’s probably a book in that one, but you’d have to hang out with him to do it.

  2. Grover Jones says:

    There’s no such team as the “’81 Hogs.” You can refer to them like that in the present and future, but why the need to whitewash history? We might as well pretend like slavery never happened, while we’re at it.

    • Good point. I often think to myself how similar slavery was to the using the word “Redskins” in a team name.

    • largebill says:

      Nothing is as cowardly as the liberal columnist who decides “oh, others are denouncing “X” I better play along or I won’t be one of the cool kids.”

      • Blake says:

        Cowardly? Are you doubting the bravery of Joe P. because he refuses to use a racist nickname? Is that really what you’re saying?

        • Paul Zummo (@PaulZummo) says:

          Coward may be a bit of a strong word in this context, but Joe has been a sports columnist for a couple of decades and has suddenly only now come to the conclusion that he cannot use the proper Redskin name.I guess it wasn’t racist until Bob Costas said it was.

      • stevemarines says:

        It takes a special sort of man to go to another man’s website and call him a coward under a pseudonym.

      • To Largebill and people of his ilk, anything that they disagree with is “liberal”. They merely substitute the word liberal for wrong or disliked. I had to listen to this grating nonsense over Thanksgiving from my Dad who was in town. It’s taken all week to detox my brain from that foolishness. I can only imagine what it must be like to be a member of this tool’s family…. And thank God that I live 2000 miles from my Dad and get only occasional visits.

  3. Carl says:

    Hi Joe,

    One thing that you didn’t note is how the length of the season has increased over the decades. Back in the 1940s, I believe only 8 games a season were played so winning 7 of 8 by more than 20 is more impressive than winning 9 or 10 by more than 20 in a 16 game season. The 1970’s Steelers only had 14 games to try to win by more than 20, and 60 Packers I believe only had 12.

    • NevadaMark says:

      From 1940 thru 1946 NFL teams played 11 games, save for the war years, where each team played 10. In 1947 they went to 12 games. With the addition of the Cowboys and the Vikings in 1961, the schedule changed to 14 games. The present schedule of 16 games started in 1978.

  4. Butch says:

    You meant the Packers, not the Patriots, in 1996.

    • Nate says:

      As a die hard Packer fan, who fell in love with the game of football at the age of 8 because of Brett Favre and that Super Bowl, this typo really irked me.

  5. “In Week 4, they beat the 49ers 42-20 — five touchdown passes from Warner that day. Next week, they annihilated Atlanta again by 28 points — Faulk ran for 181 yards. Week after that, they beat Cleveland 34-3 …”

    Actually, they won their firfth straight game in either Week 7 (if you count the open date they had in NFL Week Two) or Week 6. I mention it because I was confused by your description in which they won their first game by 17 points, then won their fifth game by 31, for five consecutive 20-plus-pt win. Just trying to help here.

    I was intrigued by the teams you mentioned as powerhouses that didn’t make the list of those with seven or more such wins. I think the big factor for Lombardi teams, for the 1985 Bears and for the Steel Curtain teams was the fact that they were defined by their defenses, which made them so historically formidable. None of them averaged 30 pts per game, whereas the 99 Rams averaged 32.8 and the 07 Patriots 36.8.

    I am a longtime reader and admirer of your work, Mr. Posnanski — especially the baseball writings.

  6. Sean says:

    Great article as always, but that Bears team is not the only one to win 3 playoff games by 20 points. The 1989 49ers won their 3 playoff games 41-13, 30-3 and 55-10.

  7. Herb Smith says:

    People may wonder why that Bears team only won one Super Bowl, but they happened to play in the most top-heavy era in memory. They Giants team they bludgeoned 21-0 in the playoffs was the same LT-Simms-Parcells/Belichick powerhouse that won the Super bowl the very next season.

    And most people consider that era’s 49ers to be the greatest NFL team of ALL TIME.
    So yeah, it’s like the Grove-Foxx-Simmons-Cochrane A’s peaking at the exact same time as the Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig Yankees…you can only have one champ.

  8. Wilbur says:

    To me, the biggest reason the Bears failed to win more than one Super Bowl was the inability to keep Jim McMahon in the lineup. McMahon was a very underrated player, fearless and athletically gifted, whose body simply could not stand up to the physical pounding handed out to QBs of that era.

    Ditka had an able replacement at one point (Doug Flutie) but refused to play him.

    • Jeff says:

      One reason that the Bears did not win the Super Bowl again was that the team-who-shall-not-be-named beat them in the playoffs twice in Chicago.
      1986 Playoffs: Washington 27, Chicago 13
      1987 Playoffs: Washington 21, Chicago 17
      Its unlikely that the Bears would have won the Super Bowl in 1986 had they defeated Washington because the Giants were so good that year. However, in 1987 with the underdog Vikings knocking out the Saints and 49ers, the Bears would have had a shot had they defeated Washington at home. In 1988 they were still a strong team, but not quite the same as in 1985.

  9. Wilbur says:

    I must correct my faulty memory – Ditka did start Flutie in one of those playoff losses, drawing subsequent criticism from some Bear players who thought the more experienced Mike Tomczak or Steve Fuller should have started.

    Tomczak and Fuller gave the Bears no chance to win, in my view.

  10. John says:

    No need to turn this into a political forum – I like these comments too much. Just a note, however, Joe previously worked at the KC Star, which has refused to use the Washington mascot name for many years – long before the recent uproar. So you may agree or not, but Joe is not just jumping on a bandwagon here.

  11. Donald A. Coffin says:

    Everyone (well, almost everyone) looks at the good teams. How about a list of the teams that *lost* the most games by 20+ points?

  12. Donald A. Coffin says:

    So I looked a little. And in the 10 years from 2003 through 2013, the Rams twice lost 7 games by 20 or more points, going 2-14 in 2008 (-223 point differential) and 1-15 in 2009 (-261) . In those 10 years, only the 2005 Lions and the 2003 Cardinals lost as many as 5 times by 20+. (This may or may not be a record for teams with 11-5 records, but the Colts, in 2012, lost 3 games by 20+: 41-21 to the Bears; 35-9 to the Jets; 59-24 to the Patriots.)

  13. Josh L says:

    I would just like to point out that the KC Star where Joe used to write used “Washington” in lieu of “Redskins” years ago. At least in their weekly picks.

  14. says:

    Joe, the Chicago Bears 1984 Strat-O-Matic team was just as good as the 49ers if you played a healthy Jim McMahon. I was more into baseball, but a friend who was a big 49ers fan had the 1984 football set and got mad when I beat his team with the Bears.

  15. Wilbur says:

    I enjoy a table top football game called Second Season, and in that game, too, the ’84 Bear team with McMahon in the lineup IS tremendous.

  16. Mike B says:

    Although not quite as bad as June Henley’s team leading total of 313, the Giants leading rusher the very next year was Joe Montgomery with a total of 348.

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