Scoring in NFL way up in 2011

Len Pasquarelli breaks down the highest-scoring season since 1965, acknowledging the trend of scoring increases in three of the last four years.

Like most of his teammates, Tampa Bay strong safety Sean Jones was hurriedly dressing Sunday night, probably to escape the scene of the crime, when a reporter noted to him that the Bucs had surrendered the most points in the NFL.

"Wow," said the eight-year veteran. "That seems like a lot of points."

Four hundred and ninety-four points, to be exact, a dubious total topped only by the 2008 Detroit Lions (517) since the 2002 realignment. But then again, the NFL was all about points -- usually scoring them in bunches, and not necessarily surrendering them in gobs in the generous manner of the hapless Bucs -- in 2011.

Overshadowed by the look-ahead to the playoffs, in which five of the 12 participants averaged 25.0 points or more, is the fact the league established a new, modern-day record for scoring this season. The 32 teams combined for 11,356 points, an average of 44.36 per game. That topped the 44.07 points per game that the league averaged last season. The only season higher was when games averaged 46.12 points in 1965, before the merger, and prior to the Super Bowl Era.

This season marked the third time in the past four years that the NFL established a new scoring high.

Said Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White after Sunday's 45-24 victory over the Bucs: "Defenses are still good, man, don't get me wrong ... but it's very definitely swung to an offensive game."

The NFL saved its best for the last weekend of the regular season, with Green Bay's 45-41 win in the shootout with the Lions the highest scoring game of the year. But there were three games among the 256 contests played during the 2011 regular season that featured 80-plus points, and the Packers and Lions were each involved in two of them.

There was some sense at the outset of the season that the new kickoff rule -- which moved the kickoff up to the 35-yard line and resulted in more touchbacks and worse field position -- might negatively impact scoring. But the rule, actually designed to promote safety and not to put a damper on scoring, was easily offset by the record passing season and the resultant offensive explosion.

Touchdowns easily trumped touchbacks.

In all, there were 79 games, more than 30 percent of the regular-season matchups, in which 50 or more points were scored. Thirty-four games featured 60 points or more, 10 had 70 points, and three had 80 points. The Packers averaged 35.0 points per game.

There was at least one 50-point game in all 17 weeks of the regular season. All but three weeks of play featured at least one 60-point game.

"You've got to get the ball in the end zone," New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston noted a week ago, after the Saints had smoked the Falcons, 45-16. "It's the name of the game anymore."

Not surprisingly, the high-powered New Orleans offense finished second in the NFL in scoring, with 547 points, behind only the Packers (560). Green Bay finished as the second highest-scoring team in history, the Saints as the fourth highest-scoring. New England (513) was the third team to score 500-plus points in 2011.

By comparison, since 2002, there had never been a season in which more than one club had scored 500 points. In fact, since the realignment, only four franchises had managed the feat.

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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