Starr Set Gold Standard For Avoiding INTs

Aaron Rodgers is the first quarterback to throw for 15-plus touchdown passes with one or fewer interceptions in the first six games of a season. But he still has some work to do to match Bart Starr’s levels of mistake-free play during the mid-1960s.

“In order to win football games, you must keep your own mistakes to a minimum and try to avoid beating yourself. Many times a football game is won by one team’s capitalizing on the other team’s mistakes, not by superior effort on the part of the winning team. And interceptions, of course, are mistakes.”

— Bart Starr from his book “Quarterbacking: Bart Starr”


Like Aaron Rodgers, Bart Starr despised throwing interceptions during his time – so much so that he once devoted a chapter to it in an instructional book.

For most in Starr’s position, even bringing up the word “interception” in an educational-type text seems contrary to the learning process. But Chapter 8 of his 1967 book, entitled “Interceptions and Rules of Passing,” begins with the above quote and proceeds to offer tips, diagrams and explanations.

Perhaps someday Rodgers can re-write that chapter.

This Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Carolina Panthers, Rodgers has a chance to extend some of his personal-best streaks for error-free play. An interception-less game would be his sixth straight this season. (Only two other times in his career as a starter he has made it five games.) And with 12 more attempts without an interception, he would surpass his previous best mark (181 attempts with a pick in 2010).

“I think Aaron’s playing very, very well,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy on Wednesday. “I think he’s spoiled us. I’ve seen him play better. I just think one thing from the standard he’s set, all the little things he’s done at a high level, I mean he’s got a lot of good football in front of him. The way we’re taking care of the football, the big plays, the timely plays – exceptional, no doubt about it.”

As the league’s No. 1 quarterback in touchdown-to-interception ratio (5.52) since 2011, Rodgers last week became the first quarterback to throw for 15-plus touchdowns with one or fewer interceptions in the first six games of the season. His only interception came in the opener, when a third quarter pass slipped through the outstretched fingertips of Jordy Nelson and into the hands of the Seattle Seahawks’ Byron Maxwell.

Like Rodgers, Starr threw an interception in the opener in 1966, though many consider that year to be his best individually. He earned his only MVP award that season as the Packers finished 12-2 in the regular season before winning Super Bowl I.

While the Washington Redskins’ Sonny Jurgensen led the league in yards passing and the Cleveland Browns’ Frank Ryan led in touchdown passes, 16 quarterbacks who started that year – including Jurgensen and Ryan – threw at least 11 interceptions. Starr, however, in 251 attempts over 14 games, threw just three, the lowest total ever for all single-season passing leaders in Green Bay.

Though Starr was 11th in the league in pass attempts in 1966, he stood out in one category that made his low interception total all the more impressive. At 9.0 yards per pass attempt, he set a career-best mark. Two years later, he would surpass that with a 9.5 average but with eight interceptions in just 171 attempts.

The Packers were also undergoing a transformation in the backfield in 1966. Jim Taylor was set to leave Green Bay the next season and injuries rendered Paul Hornung ineffective. Three new backs – Elijah Pitts and rookies Jim Grabowski and Donny Anderson – entered the mix but the Packers averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a team, the second-worst mark under Lombardi, who had always fielded a strong running team.

That put the focus on Starr perhaps like never before. It hardly seemed to affect him. He led the league in passer rating (105.0), completion percentage (62.2 percent) and interception percentage (1.2 percent), a mark Rodgers tied in 2011 when in 15 games he threw six interceptions in 502 attempts.

The mid-1960s were Starr’s finest hour when it came to mistake avoidance. During that time, he went 294 passes without an interception, which remains a Packers record. He threw just four interceptions in 272 attempts in 1964, one of a Packers record three seasons in which he led the league in lowest interception percentage.

Rodgers, however, is the NFL’s career leader for lowest interception percentage (1.69 percent) and has turned it over just once through the air in 189 attempts so far in 2014 (0.53 percent). He is also the career leader in touchdown-to-interception ratio at 3.83.

NFL SINGLE-SEASON RECORDS

Lowest percentage of passes intercepted (qualifiers)

(0.41) Damon Huard, Kansas City, 2006 (244 attempts, 1 interception)

(0.44) Josh McCown, Chicago, 2013 (224-1)

(0.63) Nick Foles, Philadelphia, 2013 (317-2)

(0.66) Joe Ferguson, Buffalo, 1976 (151-1)

(0.81) Tom Brady, New England, 2010 (492-4)

(0.90) Steve DeBerg, Kansas City, 1990 (444-4)

(0.92) David Garrard, Jacksonville, 2007 (325-3)

(Source: 2013 NFL Record and Fact Book and Pro-Football-Reference.com)

Passing Touchdown/Interception Ratio (based on at least 224 pass attempts)

(13.5) Nick Foles, Philadelphia, 2013 (27 touchdown passes, 2 interceptions)

(13.0) Josh McCown, Chicago, 2013 (13-1)

(11.0) Damon Huard, Kansas City, 2006 (11-1)

(9.0) Tom Brady, New England, 2010 (36-4)

(7.5) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay, 2011 (45-6)

(Source: footballdb.com)

Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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