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Checkdowns: Quarterback-Receiver Touchdown Pairings

A good article today from our pal Neil Paine, who asks whether Antonio Gates is the second best tight end in NFL history. I won’t weigh in on that subject, but after catching three touchdowns against the Seahawks on Sunday, Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have now connected on 63 touchdown passes.

That’s the 10th most in NFL history, and the most by any quarterback/tight end pairing. The table below shows all quarterback-receiver combinations that scored at least 50 touchdown passes, including playoffs (and the AAFC). The final column shows the last year in which the duo scored a touchdown; as you can see, one other active combination is on the list, although Drew Brees and Marques Colston have not connected for a touchdown yet this year.

RkQuarterbackReceiverTDsLast Yr
1Peyton ManningMarvin Harrison1142008
2Steve YoungJerry Rice921999
3Dan MarinoMark Clayton821992
4Peyton ManningReggie Wayne762010
5Jim KellyAndre Reed711996
6Drew BreesMarques Colston672013
6Brett FavreAntonio Freeman672001
6Joe MontanaJerry Rice671990
9Johnny UnitasRaymond Berry641967
10Philip RiversAntonio Gates632014
11Otto GrahamDante Lavelli621955
12Dan MarinoMark Duper601992
13Terry BradshawLynn Swann581981
14Daunte CulpepperRandy Moss572004
14Troy AikmanMichael Irvin571999
16John HadlLance Alworth561970
17Ron JaworskiHarold Carmichael531983
17Ken AndersonIsaac Curtis531983
17Terry BradshawJohn Stallworth531982
17Sonny JurgensenCharley Taylor531974
17Frank RyanGary Collins531967
22Jeff GarciaTerrell Owens522003
23Mark BrunellJimmy Smith502002
23Dave KriegSteve Largent501989

Combinations that will hit the 50 mark sooner rather than later: Matt Ryan/Roddy White (47 entering 2014), Tom Brady/Rob Gronkowski (45 entering 2014), Brees/Jimmy Graham (44 entering 2014), and Matthew Stafford/Calvin Johnson (41 entering 2014).

As for the best tight end in NFL history? Tony Gonzalez caught 35 from Ryan, 34 from Trent Green, 23 from Elvis Grbac, and 19 more from players we’d rather not remember.

  • I know this is about touchdowns, but I saw this while researching something else and wanted to mention it:

    I find it interesting that, for all of Marvin Harrison’s greatness, Reggie Wayne has a realistic shot at catching him in both receptions and receiving yards by the end of this season. However, I don’t see him getting another 48 touchdowns before he retires; my prediction is ~20 more before he’s done.

    I guess since this is about a certain topic, I’ll relate to that too…

    I can see Antonio Gates passing Tony Gonzalez for tight end touchdowns, as long as he can stay healthy. It is amazing what having a great QB can do for your stats. Because QB play is so important (look at most of Vernon Davis’ career), I am pretty interested to see what will happen to Jimmy Graham when Drew Brees finally falls off a cliff.

    • ubrab

      I did not realize that M.Harrison was so good at scoring TDs. Especially as to me, he is still the small WR who was avoiding contact at all costs.

      • I think that Manning fellow had a lot to do with it.

        • stony3k

          Both true, and yet both undersell how good a receiver Harrison was. He had great hands, some of his catches were unbelievable.

          • I was always a fan of Marvin’s route running. He was very crisp and sharp out of his breaks. He had deceptive speed as well. I always thought of him as a modern version of Jerry Rice, except not quite as physically powerful (which makes sense, as he gave up about 15 pounds to Rice). Obviously, both benefited tremendously from playing with Hall of Fame caliber passers; I think Larry Fitzgerald is a good example of the kind of crap a wide out goes through without a real NFL quarterback at the helm.

            • stony3k

              I don’t remember who said it, but some DB said that Marvin was the hardest to go up against since his route running was so crisp that you couldn’t guess which way he would break until the last instant.

              • He was definitely one of the three best of his generation (in my opinion, at least). He, Owens, and Moss were all so different in what they could do, but their production was so clearly leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else – and for a long period of time – it was just silly. Harrison had the route running and soft hands; Owens had power and an uncanny ability to beat the press; and Moss was a rare athlete with crazy ball skills and deceptive strength. Obviously, there was more to each of them than that, but those are the basics as I saw them.

  • Gates really hasn’t been the 2004-2010 edition the last few years (he had basically a zero DVOA last year), so it was cool to see yesterday even if it is probably more likely a fluke than a sign of a return to excellence. Would be cool to be wrong about that, though.

  • Matthew

    Where’s brady and moss…

  • jamiel jones

    Where’s Romo and Bryant?

  • Bill the (PBR) Cat

    Three years have passed and this list has changed substantially. Needs an update through the ’16 season. Rodgers/Nelson have over 60, I believe.

    • Ah, this one I assume?

      • Bill the (PBR) Cat

        Hey Chase! I don’t see anything but your question.

      • Bill the (PBR) Cat

        Oops. Yes. My reply below was posted directly to Disqus, and not from this article. (I’m kind of a technosaurus)

  • Mark Growcott

    If we are including Playoff games here as the original table does, Rivers & Gates are now up to 3rd place with 84, Brady and Gronk have 76 as does Brees and Colston. Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson have 64.