Five observations on Drew Brees being on the precipice of breaking the time-honored record of John Unitas for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass:
1. I'm amazed it lasted this long -- 52 years -- and I'm amazed Unitas went 47 games (one game shy of four full regular seasons in those days) throwing at least one touchdown pass between 1957 and 1960. Unitas' streak lasted until 1960. The best offense in the Western Conference that year (Green Bay) completed 137 passes with nine touchdown throws. In 2011, the Saints, with Brees at quarterback, completed 472 passes with 46 scoring throws. See what I mean?
2. In Unitas' 47 games, he threw 102 touchdown passes. In Brees' 47, he threw 114. That shows how ahead of his time Unitas was.
3. To illustrate what a different era Unitas played in, just look at some of the passing lines he had during the streak. On Nov. 3, 1957, in a home loss to Pittsburgh, Unitas completed two-of-nine passes. One was a five-yard touchdown toss to Raymond Berry. Against Green Bay in 1958, Unitas completed five balls all day, but two were for touchdowns.
4. And to illustrate what a fluky thing streaks can be, Unitas' ended against a mediocre Ram team on a mild 55-degree December day at the L.A. Coliseum. The Rams allowed 27 points a game in the 11 other games they played that year. But against Unitas that day, the Rams won 10-3 and held Unitas to a frustrating 17-of-38 afternoon.
5. Brees may have company, and soon. Tom Brady's current streak is at 36. If Brady throws a touchdown pass in every game this year, he'll break the Unitas mark at home against the Dolphins in the final regular-season game of the year.
I tried, and failed, to reach Brees to discuss his chase this week. I assume, like Unitas would have done, Brees would have deflected talk about the record and concentrated solely on the fact that the Saints are 0-4 and playing for their lives Sunday night against San Diego. But he's no dummy. He knows the historical significance of the night, and he knows the NFL wouldn't have let his suspended coach and GM, Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis, back in the building were it not for an event such as this.
The Unitas family, through son Joe, sent a classy letter to Brees this week, wishing him well as he plays to break the record.
"The way Dad was,'' said Joe Unitas from his home in Las Vegas, "he felt records were made to be broken. I remember his saying once about this, 'I didn't know I was setting any record, and I didn't care. All I cared about was 'Did we win the game?'
"Dad never talked a lot about his football days. I learned mostly when someone came to interview him. I remember standing off to the side when HBO and NFL Films came to interview him, listening to every word. He just wasn't caught up in his football life. I remember literally he cleaned out the house once and had all his old football trophies out by the trash in a big box, and Mom had to go out there and get them before they were thrown away.''
I know Brees some, and I believe he'd be honored if his peers would say about him: He didn't play for records. That's what Joe Unitas tried to get across over the phone. "Drew, I think, sounds a lot like Dad -- a competitor who is all about winning,'' he said. In a game that's become so numbers-driven, I think he's right about Brees.
I strongly recommend you give a listen this weekend to the fifth NFL podcast of the year, with Indianapolis GM Ryan Grigson on coach Chuck Pagano, ill with leukemia, and the NFL's receiving-yardage leader after four weeks, Miami's Brian Hartline. Grigson gets emotional. Hartline gets real. As usual, it's available on SI.com and on iTunes.
Grigson on convincing a skeptical Pagano last January to come in for a head-coaching interview when the ill-prepared Pagano thought he was the longest of long shots: "I said, 'Chuck, think about it: Your entire life you've been going from place to place, working your tail off, moving your family ... for this opportunity. So who cares if you have a suit, who cares if you have a note pad or anything or any fancy book, just come here because we want the guy, the person, not all the window dressing and baloney. Just bring your soul here.' And why so many people are drawn to him, and why I was after him after all the people I interviewed, is heart. He's all heart and that comes through. And that's why he's a leader because players identify with that because you can't fake that. And these players are just too smart and know guys that have a big front that are full of baloney and Chuck's not."
Miami kicker Dan Carpenter (No. 5): While precocious rookies like Blair Walsh and Greg Zuerlein (a perfect 8-of-8 for the Rams from 46 yards and beyond in his first month as a pro), Carpenter has already cost the Dolphins one win -- missing two late field-goal tries against the Jets in a three-point loss. Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel had a great stat Friday morning: Carpenter is 10-of-25 from more than 45 yards in the last two seasons.
That's the kind of inaccuracy that lands a kicker on the unemployment line. I reference Carpenter because the Dolphins should be in a competitive game in Cincinnati, one that can be won or lost in the final minutes. Hard to see Miami sticking with him much longer if he keeps missing.
1. Peyton-Brady XIII. DVR the game, because this 13th meeting between the two giants of the game (Brady 8 wins, Manning 4) could be the last one. Brady's 35, and he swears he'll play 'til he's a great-grandfather. His longevity's not in question. Manning's 36, and nothing is guaranteed with his physical condition. Enjoy the 4:25 p.m. ET start from Foxboro -- and the finish, whatever happens. FYI, Denver and New England would meet (in Foxboro, again) next year only if the two teams finish in the same place in the AFC East and West standings this year.
2. Early games rule. Vick at Roethlisberger, in the Keystone State showdown that happens once every four years. Green Bay at Indy, featuring the first matchup between Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck -- who could be the Brady and Manning of the next decade. Or, Atlanta at Washington, featuring the first game pitting Matt Ryan against Robert Griffin III -- who could also be the Brady and Manning of the next decade. Baltimore at Kansas City, where Matt Cassel will run for his life and try to save his job at the same time. This is a very good slate of early-Sunday games, even with the schedule reduced to 14 games with the two byes.
3. Kevin Kolb trying to find some blocking, somewhere. If that was a 4-0 team that walked into the Ed Jones Dome Thursday night, my name is Art Vandelay.
4. The Colts, plodding on. At Lucas Oil Field Sunday, "Chuckstrong'' T-shirts will be sold, and donations accepted for leukemia research, as a tribute to rehabbing coach Chuck Pagano. The game's going to be tough, too. Packers are in town.
5. Tebow Time. It doesn't matter what Mark Sanchez says, or what rumors are out there about supposed pressure from owner Woody Johnson on the staff to start the backup. If Sanchez struggles mightily Monday night, there's going to be no good reason Rex Ryan won't go to Tim Tebow the following Sunday against Indianapolis at home.
6. Spagnuolo's D. The Saints have no one to rush the passer, which means Brees had better not only break that record Sunday night, but also throw for 400 yards. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo presides over a unit that has gone five and a half quarters without sacking the quarterback, and hasn't allowed fewer than 420 total yards in a game yet.
7. The waffling NFL. Did the NFL really ban Gregg Williams and Sean Payton for the year? I couldn't tell, what with Williams in the Ed Jones Dome Thursday night to watch the team that employs him, the Rams, and Payton due in the Superdome Sunday night for his second visit to the Saints since being suspended and ordered to have no contact with the team. How many exceptions can the league make for Williams and Payton? Look, either you suspend coaches or you don't. Either you ban them from being around their teams or you don't. Can't have it both ways.
8. Turnover in the league office. There will be pressure on Roger Goodell to find a fall guy for the officiating debacle by the time the league convenes for its annual fall meeting later this month. And there will be pressure to reorganize the officiating department, which I think is coming for 2013. I can tell you this: There is a big chill between the regular officials and the league office, including VP Ray Anderson and officiating czar Carl Johnson, right now. Stay tuned.
9. Seattle chasing Cam Newton. The formidable Seahawks rush got barely a sniff of Sam Bradford Sunday. If that repeats Sunday in Charlotte, the Seahawks will wake up on the bottom of the NFC West Monday morning.
10. Brian Hartline. A man averaging 113 receiving yards a game can't hide for long, and I expect Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to have his guys hit him early and often in the five-yard bump zone Sunday.