Drew Brees passed Peyton Manning to become the N.F.L.’s leader in career passing yards, breaking the record in the second quarter of a 43-19 win over the Washington Redskins on Monday.
Brees, the prolific New Orleans Saints quarterback who is in his 18th season, came into the game in third place, behind both Manning’s 71,940 and Brett Favre’s 71,838. He passed Favre with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Josh Hill, and then exceeded Manning’s total with a 62-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Tre-Quan Smith.
AND THERE IT IS! A 62-yard touchdown pass for the history books! pic.twitter.com/TSxecnm4lQ
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 9, 2018
Play was briefly suspended as Brees celebrated with teammates on the field before being greeted on the sideline by his family. The ball from the touchdown pass was immediately handed to a representative of the Pro Football Hall of Fame so it could make its way to Canton, Ohio.
A visibly excited Brees was overheard on the broadcast telling his children, “You can accomplish anything in life if you’re willing to work for it!”
His wife, Brittany, kept her eye on the prize, telling Brees “Go win this game.”
That Brees would pass Manning was a foregone conclusion. Manning, who retired in 2016, had long seen Brees in his rearview mirror, and talked openly before the season about how the record would soon change hands.
“He deserves it,” Manning told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. “He’s been a great player for a long time.”
Unlike Manning, who backed into the record by getting it during of one of the worst individual performances of his career — a 2015 loss in which he completed just 5 of 20 passes for 35 yards and four interceptions — Brees thoroughly dominated the Redskins, completing 26 of 29 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns. His third touchdown, a 35-yard pass to Smith, was the 499th of his career, and he even officially completed a 1-yard pass to himself by diving forward to keep possession of a throw that had been deflected.
With Monday’s performance, Brees’s career total sits at 72,103 yards, earning him widespread congratulations online, including a message from President Barack Obama that said Brees was “always a class act.”
In what is quickly becoming a year dominated by passing yard totals, it seems fitting that the N.F.L. would get a new career leader in the statistic. Brees, 39, bested Manning’s mark in 12 fewer games, and in doing so he became the ninth player to hold the record since Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins helped revolutionize the passing game in the 1940s.
Numerous records appear to be in peril this year: There have been 14 400-yard passing games through five weeks of the season, which is not only a record but more than the previous four seasons combined. Even a perennial leader in passing yards like Brees has had to work hard to keep up — after Monday’s game, he was still 69 yards behind the N.F.L.’s leader, Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams. Brees became the 11th quarterback this season to break the 1,500-yard mark, which gives each an average in excess of 300 yards a game.
But Brees’s dominance cannot be written off as merely a product of its era, as he created the passing revolution as much as he benefited from it. He began his career as an undersized second-round pick by the San Diego Chargers in 2001, when Dan Marino’s single-season mark of 5,084 passing yards in 1984 was seen as nearly unbreakable. Thanks to a huge shift in strategy and several rule changes, Marino’s 1984 mark is now the seventh-most in a season, with Brees having personally topped it four times.
Marino, who once held virtually every major passing record, now sits fifth in career passing yards and fifth in career passing touchdowns. His signature marks first fell to Favre, then to Manning, and by next season, the touchdown record, which currently stands at 539, could belong to either Brees or Tom Brady, who has one more than Brees, but is more than a year older.
The question going forward is how much Brees can add to the record, and who could possibly challenge him for it in the future. Other than Fran Tarkenton, who retired five years before Marino entered the league, each of the career passing yards leaders after Baugh had at least part of their career overlap with their successor. There is no telling which player could one day pass Brees, but Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions has a surprisingly good chance, and young players like Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Goff could one day gun for him as well.
For now, and for the foreseeable future, Brees, whose career was nearly written off after shoulder surgery following the 2005 season, sits alone at the top of the list.