NEW YORK (AP) – Passing production was down league-wide to levels not seen in several seasons, rookie running backs shined, and Tom Brady added another record to his brilliant career.
The NFL’s offensive surge hit a bit of a speed bump this season as production dipped after a run of big-scoring seasons fueled by rule changes that have benefited the passing game.
With star quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer and rookie Deshaun Watson sidelined for significant time with injuries, scoring reached its lowest level since 2009 with teams averaging a combined 43.4 points per game, down from 45.6 a year ago.
Much of the fall was due to the passing game, with yards passing (479.2, down from 511.2) and yards per attempt (7.0, down from 7.2) both the lowest since 2010 and the 741 touchdown passes the fewest in the league since 2009.
Not all offenses were hampered. Brady set yet another record by leading the league in yards passing with 4,577 at age 40. The previous record for oldest passing leader was Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton, who had 3,468 yards at age 38 in 1978.
While Brady excelled at an advanced age, the running game was dominated by young players, with rookie Kareem Hunt leading the league with 1,327 yards rushing and fellow rookie Leonard Fournette also topping 1,000 yards.
Hunt, a third-round pick by Kansas City, became just the second rookie not selected in the first round of the draft to lead his league in rushing yards in the common draft era that started in 1967. Cincinnati’s Paul Robinson led the AFL with 1,023 yards rushing in 1968.
In all, rookies gained a record 11,089 yards rushing this season, although league-wide the average yards per carry of 4.08 was the lowest in 10 years.
Here were a few other notable records set:
— Drew Brees took back the completion percentage record he first set in 2009 before losing it last season to Sam Bradford. Brees completed 72 percent of his passes for the Saints, breaking the mark of 71.6 percent Bradford set last year. Brees first set the record in 2009 at 70.6 percent before extending it two years later to 71.2 percent.
— Kansas City’s Alex Smith had his fifth straight season with at least 3,000 yards passing and fewer than 10 interceptions. Brady is the only player to do it four years in a row, reaching that mark this year.
— Eight teams reached the playoffs after missing the postseason the previous year with Jacksonville, Buffalo and Tennessee doing it in the AFC and Philadelphia, Minnesota, New Orleans, Carolina and the Rams doing it in the NFC. That ties the 2003 season for the most new playoff teams since 1990.
— New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara (1,554) and Mark Ingram (1,540) became the first running back teammates in NFL history to each record at least 1,500 scrimmage yards in the same season. Kamara, who returned a kickoff 106 yards for a TD on Sunday, finished the season with eight touchdown runs, five TD catches and the one return touchdown. Hall of Famer Gale Sayers (1965) is the only other rookie in NFL history to have at least five touchdown runs, five touchdown catches and a kickoff return touchdown.
— Saints WR Michael Thomas caught six passes to give him 196 in his first two seasons, breaking the record of 194 set by Miami’s Jarvis Landry.
— Atlanta’s Matt Ryan passed for 317 yards Sunday to give him 41,796 in his career, passing Manning (41,626) for the most yards passing by a player in his first 10 seasons in NFL history. Ryan’s teammate, Julio Jones, reached 9,054 yards receiving in his career Sunday in in his 95th game. He is the fastest player to reach the 9,000-yard mark, doing it four games faster than Hall of Famer Lance Alworth.
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