The numbers 2,105 and 1,848 in the NFL aren’t as hallowed as the easier-to-remember “61” was in baseball, but they are still long-lasting single-season records, one of which has fallen, the other in jeopardy.
For both the single-season rushing and receiving records to possibly be eclipsed in the same season is as remarkable as the players going after them.
Lions WR Calvin Johnson took some of the drama out of Week 17 after his 225-yard performance on Saturday night, breaking Jerry Rice’s record for most receiving yards in a season.
Adrian Peterson, one year after ACL and MCL injuries, needs a huge performance in Week 17. He rushed for only 86 yards on Sunday, and trails Eric Dickerson’s record by 207 yards.
Here is a look at the players who previously had the best chance to break the two records, and what each RB and WR did in Week 17 with the record within their reach.
Ravens RB Jamal Lewis / 2003 — Lewis had the best chance, up to this point, to be the new single-season rushing leader. A 295-yard rushing day in Week Two set Lewis on track to break the record, and he eclipsed 200 yards again in Week 16, running for 205 yards on 22 carries in a 35-0 win over the Browns. In Week 17, Lewis needed 154 rushing yards to break Dickerson’s record. The Steelers held him to 114 yards on 27 carries and Lewis fell short of the record by 39 yards.
Lions RB Barry Sanders / 1997 — When one looks back at Sanders’ ’97 campaign, it’s hard to ignore how it began — 33 yards on 15 carries vs. the Falcons in Week One, and 20 yards on 10 carries vs. the Bucs in Week Two. Sanders then ripped off 14 consecutive 100-yard rushing days. In Week 15, Sanders had 19 carries for 138 yards in a win over the Vikings, but he needed 237 rushing yards in the finale to pass Dickerson — a number that would match his career-high, which Sanders accomplished in 1994. Sanders had his third-best game of the season, but fell short, rushing for 184 yards on 23 carries in a win over the Jets.
Broncos RB Terrell Davis / 1998 — Heading into Week 15, Davis had 1,801 rushing yards. If he averaged 150 rushing yards over the final two games, he could set the record. However, he had his worst game of the year, rushing for only 29 yards on 16 carries against the Dolphins. That left Davis needing a Herculean effort to pass Dickerson, as he entered Week 16 trailing the record by 305 yards. Give Davis credit, he had a great game, rushing for 178 yards on 29 carries in a win over the Seahawks, but the record stood.
Rams WR Isaac Bruce / 1995 — In the NFL’s equivalent to a home run chase of 1998, Bruce and Rice both passed Charley Hennigan’s 1961 record of 1,746 receiving yards in a season, and Lions WR Herman Moore and Cowboys WR Michael Irvin weren’t too far behind. In Week 15, Rice ran away with it by hauling in 289 receiving yards. Bruce, who had only 68 receiving yards that Sunday, needed 124 more than Rice in the final week to get the record. Bruce put up a valiant effort, having the best game of his season with 15 catches for 210 yards, but Rice had 153 receiving yards to set the record, with Bruce finishing 67 yards behind.
Colts WR Marvin Harrison / 2002 — A strong second half helped put Harrison in position to start thinking about Rice’s record, though it remained a long shot in the final weeks of the season. Harrison’s 172-yard output in Week 15 was a good start, and he followed that up with 128 receiving yards in Week 16. Harrison would need 155 receiving yards in the season finale, a number he had reached seven times previously in his career. Instead, Harrison had his least-productive game of the entire season, catching six passes for only 28 yards, finishing 126 yards short of Rice.
Rams WR Torry Holt / 2003 — Holt had a few memorable games in 2003, with games of 161, 174 and 200 receiving yards. His 31-yard performance in Week 14 did him no favors with three games left. Holt had 124 receiving yards in a Week 16 win over the Bengals, which meant he needed a whopping 207 yards in the finale to pass Rice. He did have 200 yards receiving earlier in the season, but Holt managed only five catches for 54 yards in a Week 17 loss to the Lions.