Aaron Rodgers made a lot of headlines over the course of the 2021 season. The Green Bay Packers quarterback made most of his news off the field, but one of his biggest on-field headlines was passing Brett Favre to become the Packers’ all-time leader in touchdown passes.
It is a milestone that does not get broken very often, even with 32 teams in the NFL and some with rather meager histories when it comes to compiling major statistics. The team record for the Houston Texans, a team with only two decades of existence, is 124 touchdown passes by the immortal Matt Schaub.
But with so many teams having turned over the quarterback job to relative newcomers in the past few years, most teams’ touchdown pass records are currently not in jeopardy of being broken anytime soon. That provides us an opportunity to highlight the record-holders for each team. Some of the names are obvious. Others will surprise you. We’re looking at you, Chicago Bears.
Arizona Cardinals: Jim Hart, 209 (Set with St. Louis, 1966-83)
Say Don Coryell and you immediately think Dan Fouts and the San Diego Chargers. But before he brought Air Coryell to Jack Murphy Stadium, Coryell was turning Hart into a free-wheeling touchdown machine for a St. Louis team that could never quite crack the ceiling in the 1970s NFC set by the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, and Los Angeles Rams.
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan, 366 (2008-Present)
Matty Ice’s days with the Falcons seem to be numbered, but in the decade-plus, with the Falcons he teamed with the likes of Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez to be one of the most consistently potent NFL quarterbacks in the league. After throwing 16 touchdowns as a rookie in 2008, Ryan threw for at least 20 touchdowns in 13 consecutive seasons through 2021.
Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco, 212 (2008-18)
Flacco won a Super Bowl in Baltimore, and let’s face it, there are only three quarterbacks in the history of the league that can say that, and one is Trent Dilfer (Johnny Unitas and Earl Morrall combined for the other back in 1971). Flacco was a great “overcoming the odds” story in the NFL, as he attended the University of Delaware and was always discounted as a pro prospect because of his lack of collegiate pedigree. But he played 11 seasons in Baltimore and is their winningest quarterback. We’ll see how long it takes Lamar Jackson to overtake Flacco’s record.
Buffalo Bills: Jim Kelly, 237 (1986-96)
Josh Allen may someday take away Kelly’s franchise record. He might even bring the Bills that elusive Super Bowl title. But Allen will never live in the hearts of Bills fans the way Kelly does. The K-Gun and no-huddle offense were innovations by Kelly’s Bills that changed the way offense is played in today’s NFL. There were also the four Super Bowl losses in a row on Kelly’s ledger, but none of that diminishes his place in Buffalo history as their greatest quarterback.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, 186 (2011-19, 2021)
Newton may lead the Panthers franchise in touchdown passes, but his bigger claim to touchdown fame is as a runner. His 85 rushing touchdowns through the end of the 2021 season are the most in NFL history by a quarterback.
Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler, 154 (2009-16)
All that history, the Sneakers Game, Papa Bear Halas, Brian’s Song, the Super Bowl Shuffle, Sweetness, and this is the guy who leads the franchise in touchdown passes. Just doesn’t seem right, does it?
Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton, 204 (2011-19)
The Red Rifle never got that signature win with the Bengals, but he managed to do something that Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason, and Carson Palmer never did. But you have to figure if Joe Burrow can stay healthy and stay home, this mark is not going to last much longer.
Cleveland Browns: Otto Graham 174 (1946-55)
Graham was the Tom Brady of his era and almost any era in professional football. First in four seasons with the Browns in the All-American Football Conference, then in the NFL from 1950-55, Graham played in 10 straight league championship games and won seven of them. Graham was the bridge between Sammy Baugh and Johnny Unitas in the lineage of pre-merger NFL star quarterbacks.
Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo, 248 (2006-16)
You wonder if Roger Staubach would be the leader here if not for the five prime years he lost serving in the military. But then, think of the injuries that cut Tony Romo’s career short. A worthy holder of the title.
Denver Broncos: John Elway, 300 (1983-99)
One of the greats on this list who played his entire career with one team. What would have happened had that one team been the Baltimore Colts? They might even still be in Baltimore. But we digress, especially with a quarterback who ended his career with back-to-back Super Bowl titles after three previous losses. One of the most clutch quarterbacks in NFL history.
Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford, 282 (2009-20)
Another “what if” candidate, as Stafford would almost certainly have surpassed 300 touchdowns in Detroit had Calvin Johnson not retired at age 30. Stafford is still throwing touchdowns, but now for the Rams after a trade following the 2020 season.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers, 445 (2006-Present)
Rodgers took over the top spot in Green Bay late in the 2021 season, which could well be Rodgers’ last at Lambeau, as the team has said it will honor his request for an offseason trade. Or will they?
Houston Texans: Matt Schaub 124 (2007-13)
It seems increasingly unlikely that DeShaun Watson is going to stay in Houston long enough to have a shot at passing Schaub. Watson may have already played his final game for the Texans. That means Schaub is going to keep this title for at least another five years, and probably longer given the state of the roster on this team.
Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning, 399 (1998-11)
Manning is also second on the Denver Broncos’ all-time touchdown list, making him the only quarterback on the face of the earth to lead one franchise in touchdown passes, and be the runner-up for the other, all while having major neck surgery in the intermission between the two stints. Incredible.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Mark Brunell, 144 (1995-03)
Tom Brady is famous for being a sixth-round pick in the NFL Draft, but Brunell, who almost led the Jaguars to the Super Bowl in the franchise’s second season of existence in 1996, was a fifth-round pick out of Washington. His most famous game in Jacksonville was the Divisional Round upset of the Broncos in Denver, but Brunell was consistently good in his nine seasons with the Jaguars.
Kansas City Chiefs: Len Dawson, 237 (1962-75)
Dawson did much of his damage with the Chiefs as a touchdown producer during his American Football League days (and for one year, in 1962, as a Dallas Texan). But he won his only Super Bowl in the first season after the AFC-NFC merger in 1970. To entire generations of football fans, Dawson is simply known as the host of cable TV’s “Inside the NFL.” Trust us, Lenny Cool could sling it.
Las Vegas Raiders: Derek Carr, 190 (Set with Oakland, Las Vegas, 2014-Present)
Considering some of the names of quarterbacks who played for this storied franchise, from George Blanda to the “Mad Bomber” Daryl Lamonica to Ken Stabler, it’s an impressive feat to be the Raiders’ leader in touchdown passes. Carr will always have his detractors, but considering he’s reached this mark in less than a decade shows he must be doing something right, especially without some of the big receiving stars on the Oakland Raiders roster enjoyed by those by-gone era QBs.
Los Angeles Chargers: Philip Rivers, 397 (Set with San Diego, Los Angeles (2004-19)
When you have absolutely no fear about where you are throwing the football, you are going to throw for a lot of touchdowns. You’ll probably throw a good amount of ill-timed interceptions, but we come not to bury Rivers, but to praise him for somehow managing to take Dan Fouts’ name off this record.
Los Angeles Rams: Roman Gabriel, 154 (1962-72)
Gabriel was the top overall draft pick of the Oakland Raiders of the AFC in 1962 but chose instead to play for the Rams as the No. 2 overall pick. He threw 68 touchdown passes over three seasons from 1967-69, leading the Rams to 10-win seasons each year, but an NFL title eluded Gabriel.
Miami Dolphins: Dan Marino, 420 (1983-99)
One of the greatest pure passers in NFL history, Marino burst onto the NFL scene, leading the league in passing touchdowns for three straight seasons from 1984-86 and winning league MVP in 1984. With two terrific wide receivers, Mark Duper and Mark Clayton, Marino threw 48 touchdown passes in 1984 and another 44 in 1986. He threw at least 20 touchdown passes in 12 of his first 13 seasons, playing in just five games due to injury in the one season he failed to reach the milestone.
Minnesota Vikings: Fran Tarkenton, 239 (1961-66 and 1972-77)
Tarkenton is perhaps best known for being a scrambling quarterback, but he was one of the greatest passing quarterbacks of his generation. Playing the majority of his career in an era that favored the run, Tarkenton is still top 15 all-time in passing yards and touchdowns and is top 10 in rushing yards for a quarterback. He led the Vikings to three Super Bowls over his two stints with the club but lost each time.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady, 541 (2000-19)
The records this man holds may never be broken, but his team record for touchdown passes with the Patriots is perhaps the least likely to be broken in our lifetimes. Considering he didn’t play his rookie season and missed virtually the entire 2008 season with a knee injury, he basically averaged 30 touchdowns per season. Averaged. Only his first full year in 2001 did Brady throw for fewer than 23 touchdowns in a season.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees, 491 (2006-20)
The closest thing to Brady in his generation, Brees amassed over 80,000 passing yards in his career. Bress led the league in passing touchdowns four times in a span of five years between 2008-12, throwing 190 TDs in that span. He threw for at least 32 touchdowns in nine straight seasons from 2008-16.
New York Giants: Eli Manning, 366 (2004-20)
Somehow, it feels like Eli Manning has never gotten the due he deserves for what he did as Giants quarterback. Not only did he knock off the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl 42, then beat them again four years later, he owns every significant passing record in Giants history. Phil Simms may have had more personality, and maybe it’s because Eli played somewhat in the shadow of his older brother Peyton, but this was a first-ballot Hall of Fame career that doesn’t seem to get treated as such by fans and media.
New York Jets: Joe Namath, 170 (1965-76)
That he still holds the Jets record for most touchdown passes in franchise history seems almost like an afterthought compared to the way Namath helped change the course of football history. His signing by the Jets and the AFL in 1965 was a pivotal moment in the eventual merger between the two leagues, and his guarantee to beat the heavily-favored Colts in Super Bowl 3 became an iconic sports moment that transcended football. Did you know he didn’t throw any touchdowns in that Super Bowl, nor a single pass in the fourth quarter? No matter.
Philadelphia Eagles: Donovan McNabb, 216 (1999-09)
McNabb put up one of the greatest quarterback resumes of all time, joining Tarkenton, Elway, and Steve Young as the only quarterbacks with 30,000 passing yards, 200 TD passes, 3,000 rushing yards, and 20 rushing touchdowns. But he only won one NFC Championship game in five tries and famously broke down physically at the end of his lone Super Bowl. His legacy deserves better.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, 416 (2004-Present)
Whatever number Big Ben finishes with as a Steeler, the most remarkable number is probably going to be 12. That’s the NFL record number of touchdowns he threw in consecutive games in 2014, connecting for six in each game. That is a mark that might outlast his total touchdown number.
San Francisco 49ers: Joe Montana, 244 (1980-92)
Montana is going to be remembered first and foremost for his brilliant play across four Super Bowl victories. And he will always have the reputation of Joe Cool for his seemingly laid-back demeanor. But this is a player who overcame multiple serious back injuries to play as long as he did. If not for the devastating Leonard Marshall hit in the 1990 NFC Championship game, it’s likely Montana would have held off Steve Young a bit longer and added to his franchise record.
Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson, 285 (2012-Present)
Prior to a finger injury that cost him games in the 2021 season, Wilson was the personification of durability and consistency, not missing a single game in each of his first nine seasons and throwing for at least 20 touchdown passes in all nine. He topped 30 TD passes five times and threw for a career-high 40 touchdowns in 2020.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, 121 (2015-19)
It’s really hard to make sense of the fact that a franchise that has existed for 45 years now has never had a quarterback throw more touchdowns than Winston, who only played five seasons in Tampa and was hardly the model of quarterback efficiency. But Winston did pack a lot of production into those five seasons, good and bad, and for now, that’s good enough to be the standard-bearer.
Tennessee Titans: Warren Moon, 196 (Set with Houston Oilers 1984-93)
That this man had to spend the first six years of his professional career playing in the Canadian Football League is an embarrassment to the NFL. Moon threw for an NFL career-high 33 touchdown passes in 1990, but his legacy as an Oiler is probably being at the helm for the Buffalo Bills’ record comeback in the 1993 playoffs from a 35-3 deficit in the second half. Without that collapse, the Oilers might still be in Houston.
Washington Football Team: Sammy Baugh, 187 (1937-52)
Slingin’ Sammy Baugh was the first legendary NFL passer in a league that was almost exclusively a running league in his heyday. Perhaps the greatest quarterback in league history in terms of efficiency – he led the league in completion percentage eight times – Baugh twice led the league in passing touchdowns, in 1940 and ’47.