NEW ORLEANS -- Quarterback Drew Brees is such an inexorable offensive force on the football field that sometimes his gaudiest personal benchmarks seem to whiz by without much notice.
While directing the New Orleans Saints to a 31-13 rout of the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Brees put up another trademark performance, torching the NFL's top scoring defense with four touchdown passes -- two each to wide receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jimmy Graham.
Brees became the first NFL quarterback in history to record six consecutive seasons of at least 30 touchdown passes. He now has 33 scoring passes this year against just eight interceptions.
On a night when he completed 30 of 42 passes for 313 yards, Brees also reached 50,000 career passing yards faster than any quarterback in NFL history. He did it in his 183rd game, eclipsing Peyton Manning's record of 191 games.
"In a lot of places when a quarterback has 50,000 yards, they might have fireworks and stop the game," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "This was just kind of a 'That a boy' (moment).
"It's a pretty unique feat. It just really shows his consistency, his durability and his availability, along with his skill set. I'm happy for him -- and obviously proud of him."
In snapping Carolina's eight-game winning streak, the Saints (10-3) took sole possession of first place in the NFC South. They were coming off a 34-7 loss to the Seahawks in deafening conditions Monday night in Seattle.
New Orleans' 31 points were the most allowed this season by the Panthers, who entered the night surrendering a league-low 13.1 points per game. Carolina gave up as many as 24 points only one other time this season, in a 24-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 2.
The Saints spotted Carolina a 6-0 first-quarter lead, then unleashed Brees and a raucous, sellout home crowd on the Panthers.
Brees threw scoring passes of 6 and 15 yards to Colston and 5 and 8 yards to Graham.
When Brees surpassed the 50,000-yard mark in the fourth quarter, he simply smiled and acknowledged the sellout crowd's ovation.
"I love this offense and I love what Sean Payton has put together," Brees said. "I love this group of guys that I get to chance to play with. We've been through some great times. We've shared the joy of a world championship, and now we're attempting to make another run at it."
The revived Saints defense sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton five times -- three by defensive end Junior Galette and two by defensive end Cameron Jordan -- and held him in check (22 of 34 for 160 yards and one touchdown).
Brees spread the ball around to so many receivers that sometimes Colston's contributions get overlooked. However, Colston found soft spots in the Panthers' zone to make nine catches for 125 yards. He lost another touchdown when his right knee came down a half-yard short of the goal line in the third quarter.
"He absolutely is one of the most underrated players in the NFL," Brees said of Colston. "He was a seventh-round draft choice and he had more catches than any player in NFL history his first two seasons, and he really hasn't stopped. He's so durable and reliable and such a big-time playmaker. I'll match his numbers up against anybody."
The Panthers hurt themselves early in the game by not fully capitalizing on excellent field position and by not finishing off time-consuming drives.
A 13-play, 53-yard drive to open the game burned 6:18 of the clock, but the Panthers had to settle for a 45-yard field goal by Graham Gano after Newton was sacked on third down by Galette.
Then, after the Saints went three-and-out, Panthers return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. returned a low punt 32 yards with a nifty move down the right sideline, and Carolina got an extra 15 yards when punter Thomas Morstead tackled Ginn by the facemask.
That set up the Panthers at the New Orleans 32, but they again settled for a Gano field goal, this one from 26 yards. At that point, the Panthers held a 6-0 lead, having run 22 plays to the Saints' 3.
"In the red zone, you've got to score touchdowns if you're going to beat a team like the Saints," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "When you get to the red zone, you have to score."
Payton said the second red-zone stop was perhaps the key to the game.
"The concern I had coming into the game was having the energy we needed to play a divisional game in a short week," Payton said. "We ended up getting the stops we needed defensively. I thought holding them to a field goal on that particular drive was huge because you felt it was potentially going to be 10-0."
After a sluggish start, Brees and the Saints offense got into a rhythm, driving for touchdowns on their next three possessions to take control, 21-6.
The three scoring drives went for 80, 86 and 76 yards, and Brees capped the marches with scoring tosses of 6 and 15 yards to Colston and 5 yards to Graham.
Graham's 8-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown was his NFL-leading 14th scoring catch of the season.
NOTES: Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart, who was limited in practice last week due to a ankle injury, left Sunday's game in the third quarter after hurting his right knee. He will undergo an MRI exam Monday. In the loss to the Saints, Stewart gained 16 yards on one carry and made a 16-yard reception. ... With a 6-yard scoring pass to WR Marques Colston in the second quarter, Saints QB Drew Brees set an NFL record by throwing at least 30 touchdown passes in six consecutive seasons. He broke Brett Favre's record of five consecutive seasons with at least 30 TD passes, set with the Green Bay Packers from 1994-98. ... Colston surpassed 8,000 career receiving yards with a 21-yard reception on the Saints' first scoring drive. The Saints scored a touchdown on just one of their previous 18 possessions. ... New Orleans improved to 7-0 at home. ... ... The Panthers inactive players were WR Tavarres King, WR Marvin McNutt, DB Josh Norman, RB Kenjon Barner, LB Jordan Senn, G Chris Scott and DE Frank Alexander. For the Saints, WR Nick Toon, FS Rafael Bush, QB Ryan Griffin, CB Trevin Wade, LB Keyunta Dawson, OT Terron Armstead, and DE Glenn Foster were inactive.