Arnie Herber, 1932 (64)
In 1932, the first year of NFL passing statistics, Arnie Herber of the Green Bay Packers completed 37 of his 101 passes, both leading the league. The resulting 64 incomplete passes also led the league, beginning the journey of this dubious record.
Harry Newman, 1933 (83)
The next season, Harry Newman of the New York Giants also led the league in completions and attempts by wide enough margins that the incomplete pass lead was his as well.
Arnie Herber, 1936 (96)
Herber came the first of three quarterbacks to set this record twice.
Parker Hall, 1939 (102)
Parker Hall of the Cleveland Rams actually completed 51% of his 208 throws in 1939, pretty good for back then. Yet the 102 passes on which he didn’t connect set a new record.
Davey O’Brien, 1940 (153)
Davey O’Brien of the Philadelphia Eagles shattered the record the next season by throwing 25 times per game and completing 45% of his throws. Once again, the same player led the NFL in completions, incompletions, and attempts.
Bud Schwenk, 1942 (169)
Playing for the Chicago Cardinals, Bud Schwenk became the first player to set the incomplete pass record while not leading the league in completions. He was 126 of 295, but Cecil Isbell of the Packers was 146 of 268 and Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins 132 of 225.
Glenn Dobbs, 1948 (184)
AAFC marks are official. Dobbs was 185 of 369 playing for the Los Angeles Dons.
George Blanda, 1953 (193)
Perhaps not surprisingly, we will meet George Blanda again. Playing for the Chicago Bears in 1953, he led the NFL in both attempts and completions with 362 and 169 respectively, and the resulting 193 incomplete passes were a new record.
Tobin Rote, 1954 (202)
The new mark did not stand long as Tobin Rote of the Detroit Lions became the first player in NFL history to not complete 200 passes in a season, going 180 of 382 (both led league).
Frank Tripucka, 1960 (230)
In a total non-shocker, the AFL produced and reproduced this record multiple times. They wasted no time to do so. In the league’s first year of play, Frank Tripucka of the Denver Broncos led the AFL by completing 248 of his 478 throws..and, of course, by not completing 230 passes.
Al Dorow, 1961 (241)
Al Dorow of the Dallas Texans kicked it up a notch. Tripucka’s 51.9% completion rate was actually pretty good. Dorow, by comparison, was 197 of 438 (45.0%). Both marks led the league, as well as, of course, the incompletion mark.
Babe Parilli, 1964 (245)
Parilli, playing for the Boston Patriots, became the first player to set this “record” without leading the league in either completed or incomplete passes. Those both belonged to Blanda, now of the Houston Oilers, with 262 and 505. By comparison, Parilli was 228 of 473. The 245 incomplete passes from Parilli edged out the 243 from Blanda.
George Blanda, 1965 (256)
Of course, Blanda couldn’t leave well enough alone. For the third straight year, he led the league(s) in completions and attempts. But after the decent 262-505 the year before, this time he was 186 of 442, just 42.1%. And we finally had a record that would last.
Doug Williams, 1980 (267)
Playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Doug Williams completed only 48.8% of his 521 passes, resulting in 267 incomplete throws, breaking Blanda’s now 15-year old mark.
Tommy Kramer, 1981 (271)
However, having emerged from the passing doldrums of the 1970s, but not having reached the prime of the West Coast revolution, this was a good time for those who enjoy passes clanking to the ground. Kramer threw 593 times for the Minnesota Vikings, completing 322. By now, pro football was beyond the point where this record could be obtained just by throwing a lot more than anybody else. Neither Kramer nor Williams led the NFL in either completions or attempts, but they nonetheless set these incomplete pass marks.
John Elway, 1985 (278)
The third-year Denver Broncos quarterback threw 605 times, more often than even Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins with 551 attempts, but Marino completed 348 passes and Elway just 327. Thus Elway set the incomplete pass mark anew. He would keep it for a while, but not as long as Blanda maintained the mark after 1965.
Drew Bledsoe, 1994 (291)
Bledsoe threw an unheard of 691 times as second-year quarterback for the New England Patriots. In a call back to the old days, he set the incomplete pass mark by throwing more than anyone else, and his 400 completions were…almost unheard of. (Warren Moon had completed more than 400 a couple times.) But the 400 did lead the league in 1994. However, it wasn’t enough to keep Bledsoe from the new record. Not that he minded, because…
Drew Bledsoe, 1995 (313)
Bledsoe’s 1995 season remains the only time an NFL quarterback has thrown 300 incomplete passes. He was 323 of 636 in his third season. Despite missing a game, he led the league in attempts, throwing 30 more than anyone else, and was seventh in completions, behind: Warren Moon, Brett Favre, Scott Mitchell, Jim Everett, Jeff George, and Jeff Blake.
Given the explosion in passing since even 1995 (which was a crazy year itself), perhaps it’s surprising nobody has come remotely close to this mark. Yet even while pass attempts rise, pass accuracy has shot up perhaps even more quickly. The current second-highest mark for incomplete passes in a season is Matt Stafford’s 292 in 2012. That is just one more than Bledsoe’s 1994 season. Andrew Luck threw 288 incomplete passes in 2012. The two next highest marks are those of Kramer and Elway.
Stafford in 2012 completed 59.8% of his passes. Luck in 2012 completed 54.1% of his. Even in 1994, Bledsoe completed 57.9% of his throws. To throw 636 times and complete barely half is a feat that will be hard to duplicate. It will probably take a situation like Bledsoe’s or Luck’s: a young QB who is asked to throw the ball a ton but can’t yet complete them at a steady rate. But even then that will be difficult.
Perhaps one day a second- or third-year QB will throw the ball 700 times and complete only 53% of them. But Bledsoe’s mark has now stood for 19 years, itself a record. It certainly won’t fall this year: through Week 8 of the 2014 season, Nick Foles leads the league with 122 incomplete passes. Geno Smith, who is clearly struggling and just got benched, has the NFL’s worst completion percentage this year at 56.2%.
Records, even dubious ones, are made to be broken, but we might wait a while for this one.