Drew Brees needed 201 yards to break the record. We heard it over and over throughout the week—how he’d played 98 games at home in his Saints career and had thrown for at least that amount of yards in 90 of them, and how he had failed to reach that total in just four games over the last nine seasons. It wasn’t really a question of if Brees would break the record on Monday night against the Redskins, but rather, when. He didn’t make us very wait long.
With just under three minutes left in the first half and the Saints already up by two scores, Brees did what we have seen him do so many times during his 18-year NFL career—yet still haven’t fully appreciated. He took a five-step drop in the pocket, set his feet, squared his body to the right, made an almost imperceptible pump fake to Alvin Kamara in the flat, and then uncorked a perfect spiral thirty yards to a wide open Tre’Quan Smith streaking down the seam. The 62-yard touchdown—the rookie receiver’s first, and Brees’s 498th—resulted in 27 more yards than the quarterback needed in order to become the all-time leader in passing yards in NFL history, breaking the record that Peyton Manning held for 1,000 days.
The play, and the aftermath, was a perfect encapsulation of Brees’s career. It was not the most spectacular of plays, it wasn’t gaudy or breathtaking, and it really didn’t look all that difficult. But that ignores that subtle fake that Brees made, which pulled cornerback Josh Norman up and out of position and left Smith wide open. And, sure, it wasn’t the most difficult throw that Brees has made in his career, but it hit Smith directly in his chest, in stride, allowing him to both stay in bounds and keep his momentum moving forward, so he could shed a tackle and run 40 yards to the end zone. Understated, methodical, and ruthlessly efficient.
When the play was over, Brees went up to every one of his teammates on the field and hugged them all. Then, never one to long for the spotlight, Brees put up two fingers and attempted to rush his offense to the line to a two-point conversation, to keep the football game going, but the referees stopped him. This was his moment, and this time Brees would get his proper respect.
The game was halted and the quarterback pointed to the crowd and blew kisses as he walked off the field. Fans cried and bowed down to their quarterback, imitating a Wayne’s World “We’re not worthy.” Brees hugged his four children, whispering into their ears, “You can accomplish anything in life that you work for.” He kissed his wife and then hugged his coach, Sean Payton, briefly, before slapping him on the back, hustling back out onto the field, and yelling, “let’s go win this game, alright?”
That’s Brees—the ultimate teammate, ultimate competitor, beloved by all. It’s not worth enumerating all of the slights that he has faced every step of his career, or the injuries he’s overcome, or the doctors who told him he’d likely never play football again. Brees has stopped being an “against all odds underdog” story years ago. His career has been partly overshadowed by the likes of Manning and Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, and that is a true shame. He’s led the league in passing yards seven times, completion percentage five and touchdowns four, and yet he’s never won an MVP award.
For some reason or another, Brees never seems to be named among the best quarterbacks in league history—which he unquestionably is. Throughout his career, he has never been truly appreciated. But at least for one night, he was. He’s an 11-time Pro Bowler, Super Bowl MVP, Walter Payton Man of the Year—and now the leading passer in NFL history. And he doesn’t appear to be slowing down yet.