Chasing 113 points: Could a modern NFL matchup break the combined single-game scoring record -- a...

ByESPN staff ESPN logo
Wednesday, November 3, 2021

This month marks the 55th anniversary of the highest-scoring NFL game in history: a 113-point outburst from Washington and the New York Giants. On November 27, 1966, a Washington team led by Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen beat the Giants 72-41 in a game that featured 17 scoring plays.

In 2004, we saw a 106-point game. In 2018, a game hit 105. But only five games -- including the 113-pointer -- have ever broken the century mark, and none have come closer than within a touchdown and extra point of the record. But in a modern game that tilts toward offense, big plays are commonplace and back-and-forth scoring battles are weekly occurrences. The 2020 (49.6) and 2021 (47.0) seasons rank Nos. 1 and 2 all-time in scoring per game. So we were left wondering: Could a game in today's NFL eclipse the 113 mark, or is that an unbreakable record in this era?

First, we looked to Washington reporter John Keim for a look back at the historic record-setter, and then Rams reporter Lindsey Thiry and Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher dug in on the most recent point fest, a Kansas City-Los Angeles showdown three seasons ago. Mike Clay punched the numbers and laid out what would have to happen for a modern game to go over 113 points, and Seth Walder picked out the most likely matchups remaining this season to give that number a challenge. Let's get started by going back in time to 1966.

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113 points| 105 points| 114 points

2021 games to watch

The record-setter: 113 points

Seven seconds remained, and linebacker Sam Huff's Washington team had already posted 69 points on a bewildered Giants defense. Washington had a 28-point lead and was closing out its sixth win of the season. But then Huff made a surprising gesture from the sideline: He called a timeout.

All of a sudden, the field goal team trotted out. The sequence culminated in a 29-yard field goal from Charlie Gogolak, a 72-41 win and a great deal of satisfaction for the former Giants great.

In an interview nearly 40 years after that game, Huff struggled to contain his emotion behind the move. New York and its coach, Allie Sherman, had traded him two years earlier to Washington. The Hall of Fame linebacker said he looked across the field after the game and shouted, "Justice is done, you S.O.B.!" And years later, he'd say: "I hate to say it, but it was the greatest moment of my life because I got even."

But "even" was about the last word that could describe this contest. One month earlier, the Giants had defeated Washington 13-10 for their only win of the season. This was an awful Giants team -- perhaps the worst in franchise history -- with a 1-12-1 record. They allowed what is still a franchise-record 501 points in 14 games, including 72 on this November afternoon at RFK Stadium in Washington.

The teams combined for multiple NFL records, including most combined points (113), most points by one team in a regular-season game (72) and most touchdowns by one team (10). Washington's defense scored two touchdowns -- both via defensive back Brig Owens -- and its special teams accounted for another on a punt return. There was so much scoring that 16 footballs were lost in the stands as fans grabbed them after extra points.

Surprisingly, New York held a 25-16 edge in first downs. But Washington scored on offensive plays covering 63, 32, 74 and 45 yards. Jurgensen threw for 145 yards and three scores and receiver Charley Taylor -- another Hall of Famer -- was the only Washington wideout with more than 12 yards receiving (124). The teams combined for 456 passing yards, 320 rushing yards, 226 penalty yards and eight turnovers.

Three days after the game, Washington coach Otto Graham apologized for the final three points. But in the moment, he was spurred on by Huff, who played with the Giants from 1956 to 1963 and was one of New York's most popular players of that era. As the players stretched on the field before the game, Graham asked Huff what he thought of the matchup ahead.

Huff said he quickly replied: "Otto, let me tell you something. You show no mercy today. We're going to score a lot of points. ... We're going to beat the hell out of them. They have no defense. I'm telling you, lay it on them." -- Keim

The modern close call: 105 points

Fifty-two years after Washington and New York piled on points in record-setting fashion, the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs met in L.A. The two teams -- both 9-1 going into the matchup -- were scheduled to play in Mexico City, but because of abysmal field conditions at Estadio Azteca, the game was relocated to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum six days before the November 19, 2018 kickoff.

Coming off a devastating few weeks in the greater Los Angeles area that included a mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill, miles from the Rams practice facility, and wild fires that caused evacuations, more than 77,000 fans packed in to watch the Rams and Chiefs combine to score 11 offensive and three defensive touchdowns in what ultimately ended in an emotional and thrilling 54-51 Rams victory.

"That was a crazy game," said Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who passed for 478 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions. "Obviously it would have been a lot better had we won. But we battled. We went out there and battled against a good football team."

Nineteen players remain on the Chiefs' roster from that epic matchup, which was the highest-scoring game in Monday Night Football history. The Rams have 11 players remaining, including six who played a significant role on offense, defense and special teams.

"It was an exciting game," Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald said when he recently recalled the matchup. "A lot of back-and-forth. A big play here, you sit down and then they score a touchdown, and you are right back on the field."

Then-Rams quarterback Jared Goff passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns. The Rams scored two defensive touchdowns, both by outside linebacker Samson Ebukam, now with the 49ers.

"I was exhausted," Rams coach Sean McVay recalled before rattling off several standout plays, including former Rams tight end Gerald Everett's 40-yard touchdown reception that put L.A. ahead with 1:49 to play. "You can talk about that game for years. That was a fun one."

As for whether coaches and players who participated think there will ever be such a high-scoring contest in the NFL again?

"If I'm being realistic, I think the league loves that," Rams punter Johnny Hekker said. "That game was very, very good for the league entertainment-wise, so I think it's an offensive league, and they would love for that to be a kind of a week-in and week-out thing. But I doubt that will be a scoreline you see very often."

Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein added, "The NFL will definitely see [another] high-scoring game like that. It's just when and how many, but I'm sure it will happen again."

Three other games have broken the 100-point mark: The Cincinnati Bengals beat the Cleveland Browns 58-48 in November 2004 for 106 combined points, the New Orleans Saints edged the Giants 52-49 in November 2015 (101 combined points), and the Oakland Raiders defeated theHouston Oilers52-49 in December 1963(101 combined points).-- Thiry and Teicher

Could a modern game reach 114 points?

In August, I wrote that there was a realistic path to a quarterback throwing for 6,000 yards in a 17-game season. I'm less confident that we'll see 114 or more points in a single game anytime soon. But recent history has shown that it's possible.

Though the aforementioned Chiefs-Rams game fell just short of the record, it gives us a pretty good blueprint of what it would take to get to 114 points.

  • Both teams leaned heavily on the pass, combining for 109 dropbacks and just 35 designed runs.
  • The defenses offered little pushback, with the Chiefs hitting 478 pass yards and the Rams getting to 413.
  • Penalties (21 combined for 195 yards) and turnovers (seven combined) led to short fields and big plays, including three defensive touchdowns.

Perhaps most importantly, the game was close and the scoring back-and-forth. There were 35 points and four lead changes in the fourth quarter.

A look at all of the highest-scoring games over the past 3 1/2 seasons shows they had similar characteristics to that game. Every offense involved was at or above the league average of 11.0 drives per game, but the offenses were a bit below average in plays per drive. Translation: Quick-hitting scores are a key. The offenses weren't necessarily operating at rocket speed (39.9 seconds between plays) but were moving faster than an average team (40.4). Starting field position (own 30-yard line) was slightly better than average (28.3), which speaks to the value of forcing turnovers.

Those are all notable aspects of these high-scoring games, but nothing stands out more than offensive efficiency. The offenses that participated in the 15 games with 82-plus combined points since 2018 averaged 1.36 expected points added (EPA) per drive, a 39.6-yard drive distance and 3.3 points per drive. That's compared to league averages of 0.33 EPA per drive, 32.8-yard drive distance and 2.1 points per drive during the same span. These games also obviously featured few punts and field goals, as well as close margins of victory (10.8, compared to an 11.2 league average).

To get to 114 points, we'd ideally need a pair of fast-paced and super-efficient offenses facing off with struggling pass defenses (more on that below). But we'd also need chaos. The game would need to be overloaded with big plays on both sides of the ball.

Can it happen? Of course. Will it? Inevitably the stars will align, but it's enough of a long shot that we shouldn't hold our breath. -- Clay

2021 games to watch

Packers at Chiefs (Week 9)

Combined offense-defense FPI rating differential: 11.3

As Mike suggested, the best way to break the record is to pit two teams with high-powered offenses and sub-par defenses against each other, allowing each side to score at ease and forcing aggression as each team tries to keep pace with the other. No game better fits that mold in 2021 than this weekend's Packers-Chiefs matchup (Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET). According to FPI, this has two top-five offenses facing two below-average defenses. The Chiefs have a better offense than the Packers, but they also have a worse defense. It ought to be a scoring bonanza.-- Walder

Update: News broke on Wednesday that Packers quarterbackAaron Rodgerswould be out for Sunday's game after testing positive for COVID-19, which will of course impact the high-scoring potential of this matchup.

Cowboys at Chiefs (Week 11)

Combined offense-defense FPI rating differential: 10.3

Dallas has shown its offensive firepower this season. And while Trevon Diggs' weekly interceptions have been incredible, FPI remains somewhat skeptical of the Cowboys' defense going forward. If we take away plays with interceptions and fumbles, Dallas ranks just 26th in EPA per play on defense, so its game against Kansas City is also a good candidate for offensive fireworks.-- Walder

Both Chiefs-Raiders matchups (Weeks 10 and 14)

Combined offense-defense FPI rating differential: 10.0

Are you sensing a theme? The Chiefs are built perfectly for high-scoring games, so the five matchups with the highest total offense-defense FPI rating differential all feature Kansas City. (Browns-Packers is next in line.) The Raiders fit the bill, too, but to a lesser extent. Derek Carr's deep-passing ability gives Las Vegas' offense upside, and the defense is still severely lacking.-- Walder

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