It all starts with the Cold, Hard Football Facts. And here's Brees' stat line from Monday night.
• 18 of 23 (78.3%), 371 yards, 16.13 YPA, 5 TD, 0 INT, 158.3 passer rating
A few key numbers leap screaming off the sheet:
Nobody did it against Belichick's Giants, where he was defensive coordinator. Nobody did it against Belichick's Browns, where he was head coach. Nobody did it against Belichick's Jets, where he was the assistant head coach. And nobody had done it against Belichick's Patriots, where he was once an assistant and now head coach.
In fact, since Belichick took over as head coach of the Patriots in 2000, only three players had thrown as many as four TDs against his defense, and all were named
Belichick has coached a lot of games as a coordinator and head coach, 394 to be exact. Only Brees has produced five TD passes against him. And while it may be a new experience for Belichick, it's certainly not new for Brees. Of the 39 five-plus TD performances since 2000 (regular-season only), Brees has produced four of them.
And perhaps nobody had produced a "perfect" effort in a game in which he needed to play near flawlessly to prove that he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the greats of the game.
Passing yards per attempt is probably the single greatest individual statistical indicator of success in football, and maybe in all of sports. Teams that win the passing yards per attempt battle win nearly 75 percent of the time and the great quarterbacks almost always have high averages per attempt, from
So when you see a number like 16.1 YPA, it pays to investigate a little further. Turns out Brees is just the fifth player since 1960 to average more than 16 yards per pass attempt in a game (min. 20 attempts).
Here's the entire list, in chronological order:
Brees, in other words, is the first player in 34 years to average more than 16 yards per attempt in an NFL game. Three of the four quarterbacks who did it before him are in the Hall of Fame.
A closer inspection of the numbers also reveals that Brees's performance Monday night stands out even from these best efforts by some of the best passers in history.
Jurgensen carved up a struggling young Cowboys expansion team that had won just eight games in nearly three seasons before facing his Eagles.
Unitas, likewise, faced a struggling young expansion Falcons team that had had gone 4-17-1 before succumbing to the Colts legend.
Namath, meanwhile, tore apart a Colts team that was a shadow of the 1970 Super Bowl champions. Baltimore head coach
Johnson, a relatively unknown journeyman playing his last year in 1975, is the anomaly on the list. He opened Week 1 of the season with a career performance. But he did it against the struggling Chiefs and rookie head coach
None of those quarterbacks faced a team with a winning record, let alone one of the great winning organizations in history. Only Jurgensen, like Brees, had faced one of the great coaches of his generation, but
But there's one more reason Brees' performance stands apart. His 16.1 average is simply not supposed to happen in today's game.
Offensive theory was much different in the 1960s and into the 1970s than it is today, back when Jurgensen, Unitas and Namath had their great prolific days. Back then, teams attempted to stretch defenses vertically with long, high-risk passes. Completion percentages were much lower and INTs were far more likely in that era.
However, averages per attempt and averages per completion were much higher back then than they are in today's game, the one revolutionized by the
Quarterbacks do throw a lot of touchdown passes in today's NFL, as Brees did Monday night. Quarterbacks do have high completion percentages, as Brees did Monday night, and they do have high passer ratings, as Brees did Monday night.
But quarterbacks simply do not average 16 yards per attempt in today's NFL. It hadn't happened in 34 years. It doesn't happen on the big stage of Monday night football. It doesn't happen against Belichick. It doesn't happen against the mighty New England victory machine. It doesn't happen for an 11-0 team that has never won a Super Bowl.
But it all came together for Drew Brees Monday night, in the single-greatest regular-season passing performance in modern NFL history.