Mariota sets blistering pace in race to first four career TDs

It took Marcus Mariota far less time to notch his fourth-career touchdown pass than it did other notable NFL QBs.
Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

By Miles Wray

It took a pretty obscure set of tie-breakers to ensure that last year’s 2-14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers got the No. 1 overall draft pick over last year’s 2-14 Tennessee Titans. There were no tiebreakers necessary when the two teams faced off last Sunday; the Titans led 21-0 halfway through the first quarter and coasted to a 42-14 victory.

The unquestioned headline: No. 2 overall draft pick Marcus Mariota threw four touchdown passes for the apparently revitalized Titans.

Perhaps the only reason Mariota didn’t convert even more touchdowns is because the Titans, up by such a huge margin, only attempted three passes in the entire second half. Although Tennessee’s win came over, yes, a weak team, I think it’s worth noting that the last time the Titans scored at least 42 points in a non-overtime game came back in Week 14 of 2009—a game that Vince Young started.

Mariota threw his fourth career touchdown pass in his first career game—in his first career half—on just his 13th NFL pass attempt. So, I was curious: how many games and passes did it take today’s other elite quarterbacks to reach their fourth touchdown pass?

Spoiler: none of them did it nearly as fast as Mariota.

Ben Roethlisberger: Third Game, 50th Pass

Everything happened really quickly for Big Ben, who went 13-0 as a starter in 2004, his rookie year, filling in for an injured Tommy Maddox. His fourth touchdown throw came in just his second start, to running backVerron Haynes, who scored five career touchdowns. It happens at the 1:53 mark of this shred-tastic video retrospective of Big Ben’s rookie year:

Drew Brees: Third Game, Second Season, 50th Pass

This pass came in Brees’ third career game—but that game came in Brees’ second career season. It’s hard to imagine now, but the 2001 San Diego Chargers had 39-year-old Doug Flutie start all of their games over Brees. His fourth touchdown went to Curtis Conway as the Chargers beat up on the Houston Texans in Houston’s second-ever game as a franchise.

Russell Wilson: Third Game, 75th Pass

In his third career game—when we were all still getting over the shock that Matt Flynn was not the Seahawks’ starter—Wilson put together one of those stat lines that would quickly become his signature: 10-for-21, 130 passing yards, 2 TDs, no interceptions, and a one-possession Seattle victory. In many ways, Wilson’s fourth career touchdown pass is still his most famous. Let’s just say that very few of his other touchdown passes made it past the sports world and into the actual news:

Andrew Luck: Third Game, 81st Pass

Luck’s fourth career touchdown was also the first of many, many career touchdowns for T.Y. Hilton, as the Colts topped Blaine Gabbert’s Jacksonville Jaguars. And, of course, it was a 40-yard bomb. Of the twenty players to whom Luck has thrown a touchdown , nobody has caught as many as Hilton’s 19.’

Aaron Rodgers: Ninth Game, Fourth Season, 95th Pass

In just his second career start—after three years under the tutelage of Brett Favre—Rodgers sliced apart the listless 0-16 Detroit Lions for 328 yards and three touchdowns on his way to a 48-25 victory. This pass went to Donald Driver, who was in the middle of a six-season streak of accumulating at least 1,000 receiving yards. All that, and somehow the Packers ended up just 6-10.

Cam Newton: Third Game, 117th Pass

Even though Newton threw for over 400 yards in each of his first two career games, it still took him until his third game to reach the end zone for the fourth time. We’ll blame Newton’s thin wide receiver group for the relative lack of scoring.

Behind Steve Smith, the Panthers’ next receivers were Brandon LaFell (36/613/3) and Legedu Naanee (44/467/1). Maybe that’s why this pass went to tight end Greg Olsen, who has caught more Newton touchdowns than anybody else.

Matt Ryan: Fifth Game, 118th Pass

Somehow, Ryan completed only 16 touchdown passes in his rookie year, but the Falcons still went 11-5. I guess the game has changed a lot since 2008. That year, three other quarterbacks (Jake Delhomme, Joe Flacco, and Kerry Collins) won at least that many games while throwing 16 or fewer touchdowns, but nobody has done it since.

Ryan’s fourth touchdown went to—of course—Roddy White, who has nearly double the receiving yards of any other Falcons player during Ryan’s tenure.

Philip Rivers: Seventh Game, Third Season, 119th Pass

Yes, Rivers spent two entire years on the bench before he took control of the Chargers—leading them to a 14-2 season—with the two losses by just a field goal apiece. The reason Rivers stayed on the bench makes a bit more sense: he was behind Brees. Rivers’ two touchdown passes in this game went to Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates. Some things never change.

Tom Brady: Sixth Game, Second Season, 121st Pass

There are few pieces of football lore greater than Brady’s instant takeover for a suddenly injured Drew Bledsoe—but even Brady’s first Super Bowl-winning campaign got off to a slow start. He didn’t throw his first touchdown pass until his third career start (fifth career game). The next week, in his sixth career game, he exploded for three touchdowns (and then two the next week, and then three the next week…).

Incredibly, even though this was Brady’s fourth career start, it was already his second against Peyton Manning, the first movements of a seemingly infinite rivalry. The Patriots blew the Colts out, and Brady’s fourth-ever touchdown pass went to journeyman tight end Jermaine Wiggins.

Peyton Manning: Fifth Game, 150th Pass

It’s hard to imagine things ever going wrong for Peyton, but in his rookie year—that was 1998—his Colts went 3-13. Plus, it was a legitimate question as to whether he or Ryan Leaf was the better quarterback, after the pair went No. 1-No. 2 in the previous spring’s NFL draft. Manning’s fourth touchdown actually came in a match-up against Leaf, which the Colts won ugly, 17-12. The pass went to a 24-year-old Marshall Faulk, who was in his last season with Indianapolis before joining the St. Louis Rams and establishing the Super Bowl-winning Greatest Show on Turf.

The Colts also went for—and completed—a two-point conversion after that first-quarter touchdown. Your guess is as good as mine.

Eli Manning: Ninth Game, 180th Pass

It seems absolutely impossible to think that a rookie quarterback—and a rookie quarterback drafted first overall—could go nine games before throwing for his fourth touchdown. (Even Jameis Winston threw two in defeat on Sunday.)

But this is exactly what two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning did—and in Week 17 of a losing season at that. Manning’s fourth touchdown went to eventual Minnesota Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, and the Giants’ leading receiver in the game was Mr. Helmet Catch himself, David Tyree.

Matthew Stafford: Sixth Game, 181st Pass

Although Mariota is certainly facing an uphill battle by starting under center for a team that went 2-14 last season, Stafford faced the unenviable task of taking over for a team that went 0-16 the previous season.

In 2009, Stafford’s rookie year, the Lions weren’t much better, going 2-14. Aside from Calvin Johnson, the Lions’ best wide receivers in 2009 were Bryant Johnson (35/417/3) and Dennis Northcutt (35/357/1).

So, maybe it’s not a surprise that Stafford turned to fellow rookie tight end Brandon Pettigrew for the score. Since Stafford arrived in Detroit, Pettigrew is second to Megatron in receiving touchdowns.

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