Throwing for 400 yards in an NFL game used to be next to impossible. Offenses were built on a running game, and teams rarely stretched the field. Rules also used to favor defenses far more than they do now, so big plays were few and far between. The game of football has completely changed now though, as the rules heavily favor offenses. Jams at the line of scrimmage are rarer, any tug is usually called defensive holding and coaches have drawn up more sophisticated offenses, allowing their quarterbacks to throw far more passes than they ever have. We also can't overlook just how freakishly athletic receivers are today compared to 30 years ago.
These all factor in to why a lot of quarterbacks are able to routinely throw for over 400 yards a game. It's not just the elite pivots of the league that do it either. Once in a while, you'll see a QB who's struggled most of his career come out and shock the world by making big play after big play.
Today, we're going to look at some quarterbacks who by all accounts were very mediocre to average quarterbacks but managed to find that anomaly of a day where they looked like stars at the position. A common theme of this list is that the player wasn't able to do it again, or they still lost the game despite throwing for 400 yards.
Here are the worst QBs in NFL history who managed pass the 400-yard mark in a single game.
15 Matt Flynn
Matt Flynn sure made his meaningless Week 17 start count. With the Packers having already clinched the NFC North and home field advantage for the playoffs. Flynn absolutely tore apart the Lions' defense and set Packers franchise records, throwing for 480 yards and six touchdowns. Thinking that Flynn was a franchise quarterback stuck behind another one in Aaron Rodgers, the Seahawks signed Flynn to a three year deal worth $20.5 million.
Flynn would fail to beat out rookie third round pick Russell Wilson in training camp for the starting job and was traded to the Oakland Raiders the following year. Flynn again lost the starting job in camp, this time to Terrell Pryor, and Flynn's career day with Green Bay proved to be A) a fluke or B) the product of a deep Green Bay offense and poor Lions defense.
14 Kellen Moore
The 2015 Cowboys season was a nightmare, as the season was essentially lost once Tony Romo went down with a broken collarbone, then re-injured his shoulder after a Week 12 return. As a result, the Cowboys had to start the likes of Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden and Kellen Moore.
After some uninspiring performances by Matt Cassel, Moore got to start a late-season home game against the Cowboys' archrival, the Washington Redskins, and with the Cowboys abandoning the running game, Moore threw 48 passes and managed to complete 33 of them, for 435 yards and three touchdowns. This was mostly due to the Cowboys playing from behind most of the game and so Moore got to throw in a lot of soft coverage and got plenty of garbage time. Needless to say, we probably won't see another 400-yard game in Moore's career.
13 Kyle Orton
Kyle Orton always seemed to play just well enough to keep a starting job but was never good enough to truly carry his team to a win. Whatever shortcomings he had, Orton was able to string together some very good performances in his career. Orton actually managed to throw 400 yards in game twice, both in the 2010 season. Part of the reason Orton was able to have success was that the Denver offense was often playing from behind in the 2010 season which meant Orton had to throw the ball more to give Denver a chance to win.
In what sums up Orton's career pretty well, Orton's Broncos lost both those games, with Orton throwing 56 and 57 passes in those games, a 27-13 loss to Indianapolis and a 44-24 loss to Kansas City.
12 Brian Griese
Brian Griese was another player on this list who managed to throw for 400 yards primarily due to the sheer amount of passes he threw in that particular game. In an early season victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bears had Griese throw 67 passes in a 27-24 overtime victory. Griese managed to complete 38 of them, good for 56.7%. Part of why the victory was only by three points is that Griese also threw three interceptions in that game.
In the Lovie Smith era, it was very rare for the Bears to rely so heavily on their passing game, as they often had a solid running back and a mediocre quarterback. Chalk this one up as an anomaly, as Griese would never come anywhere close to having a game like that again.
11 Charlie Batch
When people think of Charlie Batch, they mostly think of his time in Pittsburgh as Ben Roethlisberger's backup (and sometimes third stringer). There was a time though when Batch was a starting quarterback in the NFL, leading the hapless Detroit Lions. In a 45-38 shootout loss to the Arizona Cardinals back in 2001, Batch threw the ball 62 times. While 436 yards and three touchdowns in a game is usually a dominant performance, when you add in that Batch threw three intercpetions and only completed 50% of his passes, it's a little less impressive.
This would end up being Batch's last year as a starter, as the Steelers would sign him the following offseason to be their backup. Unsurprisingly, Batch never had a 400-yard game again.
10 Josh Freeman
Where in the world did it all go wrong for Josh Freeman? Many people forget that back in the 2010 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had an impressive season, finishing 10-6, but in a rare instance, missed the playoffs despite winning 10 games. It looked like Josh Freeman was going to be a star in the league, and in 2011 and 2012, his numbers kept climbing and he even passed the 4,000 yard mark in a season.
Midway through the 2012 season, Freeman had an amazing game against the New Orleans Saints, with the Bucs getting into a shootout with Drew Brees and co. Freeman held his own, throwing 420 yards, going 24-of-42 with three touchdowns in the 35-28 loss.
After 2012, everything fell apart for Freeman, who missed the Bucs' team photo in 2013 and wasn't voted team captain. Following a mid-season trade to Minnesota, his career unravelled and he finds himself without a team.
9 Glenn Foley
After years of futility, the Jets turned things around in 1998, as Bill Parcells had taken over the team and they signed division rival New England's star running back Curtis Martin in free agency. The Jets went 12-4 that season and advanced to the AFC Championship, which was pretty impressive considering Glenn Foley was their starting quarterback to start the season.
The Jets played a barnburner to open their season in San Francisco where they lost 36-30 in overtime on a 96-yard TD run by Garrison Hearst. In a shocking turn of events, Foley threw 58 passes in that game, which was unheard of for Bill Parcells coached teams. Foley totaled 415 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception.
The following week Foley would throw three interceptions and was eventually replaced by Vinny Testaverde.
8 Elvis Grbac
Not only did Elvis Grbac throw for 400 yards, but he even surpassed the 500-yard mark on this particular occasion, joining a short list of just 19 QBs who have accomplished that feat. When looking at those names, Elvis Grbac pops out the most, due to how little he accomplished the rest of his career. Grbac tore up KC's division rival Oakland Raiders in a 2000 game, throwing for 504 yards in a 49-31 win. Grbac completed 39-of-53 passes and managed to throw two touchdowns to two interceptions.
Grbac parlayed that to a 4,000 yard season, which earned him a hefty five-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens, who thought they were upgrading on Trent Dilfer. Grbac instead underperformed and threw 18 interceptions. With Baltimore's defense as good as it was, the last thing their QB needed to do was throw picks. Grbac was released after the season and rather than signing as a backup in Denver, he decided to retire.
7 Chad Henne
Chad Henne has managed to have a decent 10-year career in the NFL. He proved to be a big disappointment in Miami, who let Henne walk once they drafted Ryan Tannehill. Henne would sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars and took over as their starter once Blaine Gabbert provided some uninspiring play.
However, there was a time when Henne was toying with the idea of becoming Miami's answer at the quarterback position. In a Week 1 game against the New England Patriots in 2011, Henne threw for 416 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-24 defeat to Brady and company. Despite his high passing yardage, Henne was outdueled by Brady who threw for 517 yards and two more touchdown passes. This would be Henne's last year as a starter in Miami.
6 Jim Miller
The Bears have never really been able to find that franchise quarterback that could carry the team when they're having a bad day. The Bears' past success was predicated on defense and a running game. One of their many QBs that have passed through since their 1985 Super Bowl was Jim Miller, who held the starting job in the late 90s. In yet another losing performance on this list, Miller managed to throw for 422 yards and three touchdowns, along with once pick in a 27-24 overtime loss to Minnesota.
Miller completed 34 of his 48 passes and had a passer rating of 109.9 so it wasn't as inflated a total as some other entries on this list.
The 1999 season was yet another forgettable campaign for Chicago, as they went 6-10. Later that season, Miller was suspended for violation of the substance abuse policy. Miller claimed he failed to read the label for an over-the-counter dietary supplement that contained nandrolone, an illegal steroid.
5 Kelly Holcomb
You knew a Cleveland Browns quarterback would eventually have to make their way onto this list. Kelly Holcomb's role in Cleveland was originally that of a backup, as he had been a journeyman quarterback most of his career. In the 2002 season, with yet another injury to Browns quarterback Tim Couch, Holcomb got the opportunity to lead the Browns to the postseason.
In their only playoff game since the Browns' 1999 resurrection, Holcomb had the game of his life against a very strong Pittsburgh defense, throwing for 429 yards and three touchdowns. Holcomb completed 26 of 43 passes, but the Browns lost a heartbreaker 36-33 after blowing a 12-point fourth quarter lead. Holcomb would lost the starting job to Jeff Garcia the following year and his career fizzled out from there.
4 Tim Rattay
Speaking of teams having trouble finding a quarterback after their glory days, the 49ers once had Tim Rattay liniing up under center for them. Rattay was a seventh round pick for the 49ers back in 2000, but surprisingly beat out Giovanni Carmazzi for the 49ers' backup job behind Jeff Garcia. He was promoted to the starting job once Garcia was cut for cap reasons.
From 2004 to 2005, Rattay was a dismal 2-11 as the 49ers' starter. He did have one career highlight though, as he passed the 400-yard mark in a 2004 game against the Arizona Cardinals. Rattay was flinging the ball all day, throwing 57 times in a 31-28 overtime loss to the Cards. Rattay threw two touchdowns, no interceptions and completed 38 passes.
3 Matt Leinart
Matt Leinart will go down as one of the most disappointing first round quarterbacks ever taken in the first round. After a stellar career at USC, the Cardinals took Leinart 10th overall in the 2006 draft. In his rookie year, Leinart showed some tremendous promise, and in November of that year, he would have his most prolific day as an NFL passer. In a loss against the Minnesota Vikings, Leinart managed to complete 31 of 51 passes for 405 yards. At the time it was the most passing yards in a game for an NFL rookie. Unfortunately, Leinart only threw one touchdown, and threw two crucial picks in the 31-26 loss.
Leinart's career never quite took the next step and he eventually lost the starting job to veteran Kurt Warner.
2 Nick Foles
Remember that magical season where Nick Foles thrived under Chip Kelly and went on a run of 27 touchdowns to two interceptions? Man, that feels like a lifetime ago and you can't believe that same quarterback has since failed as a starter with the Rams and got a roster spot in Kansas City due to his previous ties with Andy Reid.
Once upon a time though, Foles threw for over 400 yards against the Oakland Raiders down in the black hole. After replacing an injured and ineffective Michael Vick in the 2013 season, Foles went on a tear and threw 406 yards, comlpeting 22 of 28 passes in a blowout victory over Oakland. Foles would hit the 400-yard mark again that season, this time in a 48-30 loss against Minnesota. Foles would hit the mark in 2014 under Kelly again, but when you consider he completed just half of his 62 passes in that game, it's less impressive.
In any event, Foles may never be a starter in the NFL again, which is stunning considering how recent these gems were.
1 Chris Weinke
Chris Weinke was one of many Florida State quarterbacks who came into the NFL and struggled. Weinke was taken in the fourth round by the Carolina Panthers but spent most of his time in Charlotte backing up Jake Delhomme.
In a late 2006 game, Weinke started his first game in five years against the New York Giants. In what was a stunning day, Weinke managed to throw 423 yards, completing 34 of his 61 passes. Despite the high yardage totals, this wasn't an impressive perfrormance, as Weinke threw three interceptions and the Panthers lost the game 27-13. The offense moved the ball all day, but constantly made costly mistakes.
The former Heisman winner lost his last 17 games as the Panthers starter and would only play one game for the 49ers in 2007 before calling it a career.