NFL Top 10 500-Yard Passing Games: No. 8 Boomer Esiason (522 yards vs. Redskins, 11-10-1996)

By Walter Barooshian
Dec. 16, 2017

In the 1980's, Boomer Esiason, a second round pick out of Maryland, was one of footballs most prolific passers. Playing in a no-huddle offense with the Cincinnati Bengals, Esiason was selected to three Pro Bowls, won M.V.P. honors in 1988, and lead Cincinnati on the brink of their first ever Super Bowl championship in the same season, losing to 49ers 20-16 in Super Bowl 23.

He moved on from Cincinnati in 1993 when he was traded to his hometown club, the New York Jets in exchange for a third round pick. In his first season in New York, Esiason showcased his talents that made him so successful in Cincinnati, throwing for 3,421 yards while earning his fourth trip to the Pro Bowl.

But his homecoming did not have a fairy-tale ending. Two sup-par seasons followed, which was highlighted in a coaching carousel and a severe concussion when he was caught under his facemask by Bills DE Bruce Smith. The seriousness of that hit led him to becoming the first player in NFL history to enter a concussion study during the season.

Esiason was released by the Jets in 1996 in favor of Neil O'Donnell, who had just lead the Steelers to a Super Bowl, and was also a former Maryland Terrapin.

Esiason would then sign a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals. For the first time in his career, he wasn't the unquestioned starter as he battled fellow free-agent signee Kent Graham for the starting job.

By the time 1996 rolled around, the word around the league was that Boomer had little arm strength left and was struggling to make the throws required of an NFL QB.

Although Esiason would beat out Graham for the starting job, the chatter about his eroding skills were confirmed early in the season, going 0-3 to start the '96 campaign, throwing no touchdowns, three interceptions, and was eventually benched for Graham.

After six games sitting on the bench, Esiason would get another chance to start vs. Redskins at RFK Stadium in Week 11 after Graham injured his knee in a 16-8 loss to Giants in Week 10.

On the eve before Veterans Day, Esiason would breathe new life to his NFL career and show the football world he can still go the distance.

But not even the greatest statistical performance of his career got off to a roaring start. In his first eight plays at RFK Stadium, Boomer fumbled once, completed one pass -- for no gain -- while throwing two interceptions.

Esiason later recalled his offensive coordinator Jim Fassel telling him on the sideline after those two interceptions, "Look, if you don't want to get benched again, you better start throwing the ball to your teammates as opposed to the Washington Redskins."

Esiason responded, "Look, if you bench me, we're going to fight right here on the sideline. There is no way you are benching me."

Four hours later, Esiason finished with 522 yards, the third most passing yards in a single game in NFL history at the time. He lead the Cardinals back from two 14-point deficits, including one in the fourth-quarter en-route to a 37-34 win in overtime against Redskins.

After the game, Esiason was both elated and humble regarding his performance. "I guess I've still got a few more yards left in my arm." said Esiason. "I'd be lying if I didn't say it feels great. I'm really happy, I guess, but I'm not going to overreact {and say}, Well, I'm back.' "

Esiason set three NFL records, most passing yards in a single quarter (252), which occurred in the fourth quarter, oldest quarterback with a 500-yard game (35), and the first quarterback to throw 500 yards in a game without having a 100-yard receiver.

Esiason completed passes to eight different receivers. None of them amassed more than 92 yards. His leading receiver was fourth-year pro Marcus Dowdell, who had 92 yards and one touchdown on three receptions. He would never play again after the '96 season.

Esiason's 522 yards was more than he threw in his first three combined starts in the season (316). His record-setting performance rejuvenated Esiason & the Cardinals, ripping off three straight wins after a 3-6 start to begin December at 6-6 with hopes of a potential playoff berth. In that three-game stretch, Esiason threw for 1,149 yards and eight touchdowns.

Unfortunately, that turnaround would be short-lived. Two sup-par performances by Esiason followed, and was right back on the bench when Kent Graham returned from injury. Cardinals would finish 1-3 in their final four games to end the 1996 campaign at 7-9.

Esiason proceeded to request his release from Arizona soon after. But on that November afternoon in our nations capital, the ole gunslinger showed he still had plenty of firepower left in his rifle, which provided him with one more tour of duty in his illustrious career back to where it all began, in Cincinnati in 1997.