NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees is now the leading passer in NFL history.
The New Orleans Saints’ 39-year-old quarterback broke Peyton Manning’s record of 71,940 career passing yards Monday night — moving ahead of both Manning and Brett Favre in the process.
And he passed Manning in spectacular fashion, with a 62-yard touchdown pass to rookie Tre’Quan Smith to give the Saints a 26-6 lead in the second quarter of Monday’s game against the Washington Redskins. He did it in front of both a prime-time national audience and the home crowd in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
As planned, the NFL stopped the game to recognize the achievement, and Brees looked emotional as he waved and blew kisses to the crowd. He then personally delivered the ball to Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker on the sideline. Brees’ wife, Brittany, and his kids were also on the sideline for hugs and kisses.
Brees is the unlikeliest of all-time great quarterbacks — just 6 feet tall, barely recruited out of high school, he fell to the San Diego Chargers in the second round of the NFL draft out of Purdue in 2001 and was doubted by most of the league when he became a free agent after a career-threatening shoulder injury in 2005.
But that’s when he came to New Orleans and his career took off. Brees and Saints coach Sean Payton have formed one of the most prolific offensive duos in NFL history over the past 13 years — including a Super Bowl victory after the 2009 season.
Brees also holds the NFL records for most career completions and highest completion percentage. He set the single-season passing yardage record in 2011 with 5,476 (before Manning passed him by one yard in 2013). And he has thrown for more than 5,000 yards five times over the past decade — something no other quarterback has ever done more than once.
“It’s crazy. I never would’ve dreamed,” Brees admitted last week, while insisting that this isn’t the time to reflect and that he wanted to try and keep his weekly routine as normal as possible. “It just speaks to the longevity. And it says a lot about the teams I’ve been on, the coaches, the teammates, the players. Everyone has a hand in this, and I hope they know that.”
Brees has long told the story of looking up at the Miami Dolphins’ ring of honor during his first preseason with the Chargers and seeing all of Dan Marino’s statistics and wondering how they could be possible.
“So to be sitting here 18 years later in striking distance … it’s just kind of mind-boggling,” Brees said.
Brees was also asked about how much Payton has meant to his career after Payton hand-picked Brees to be his quarterback when he became a first-time head coach in New Orleans in 2006.
“I wouldn’t be here without Sean Payton,” Brees said. “He chose me, why he chose me I don’t know. I’m coming off the shoulder injury. Many said I might not play again. I even doubted myself at times, even as confident a person as I am. And yet, his belief in me gave me all the confidence in the world and also the sense of responsibility that I owe it to him as much as anybody to come back and prove him right.
“And then obviously the evolution of what we’ve been able to accomplish over the last 13 years together — and hopefully more. It’s a dream come true.”
Saints running back Mark Ingram II joked that Brees has broken so many records that Monday night would be “just another day in the life of being a teammate of Drew Brees.”
“[But] it’s special, just to know that no one in the game has done what you’ve done. And it just says a lot [about] him, about his work ethic,” Ingram said. “He works every day to be the best, and he deserves it. So we’re all behind him and we all want to see him get every single passing record there is known to man, because he deserves it.”