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When Peyton Manning broke the NFL’s all-time passing yardage record in 2015, it was awkward.
Manning’s record-setting pass came after he threw an interception to set up a Kansas City Chiefs touchdown. Manning seemed annoyed the game was stopped. The player who broke the record looked nothing like Manning. He threw four interceptions and had just 35 yards on 20 passes that day, by far his worst as a pro, as he played through a foot injury. That whole season Manning was a shell of his former self (don’t worry, the story of Manning’s final season turned out OK).
That’s what made Monday night’s passing of the torch so much different. Drew Brees broke Manning’s NFL record for all-time passing yards on Monday night against the Washington Redskins, and it doesn’t look like he’s anywhere near the end.
Brees broke the record in style. Needing 35 yards to pass Manning late in the second quarter, Brees threw deep and hit rookie Tre’Quan Smith down the right sideline, Smith avoided a tackle and went 62 yards for the touchdown. The game was stopped as Saints players celebrated with Brees at midfield, the Pro Football Hall of Fame took the football, which will go to Canton, and then Brees hugged his wife and kids before they went for the two-point conversion.
He finished the night completing 26 of 29 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns as the Saints demolished the Redskins, 43-19.
Brees passed Manning’s record of 71,940 yards and if he can hold off Tom Brady by the time both retire — Brees is two years younger, for what it’s worth — his new record will be tough to catch. Brees leads Brady by more than 4,500 yards, and among active quarterbacks Eli Manning is next at about 19,000 yards behind Brees.
Brees has a nice lead on everyone but Brady, and he’s playing as well as ever. Getting to 80,000 yards seems likely as long as Brees wants to play at least a couple more seasons, and a run at 90,000 is a reach but not entirely impossible. Only five quarterbacks have ever passed for more than 53,063 career yards.
Drew Brees has a shot at some unbelievable numbers
Brees has said repeatedly he doesn’t think of retirement and that he can play well into his 40s.
If he sticks to that, Brees should easily add another 10,000 yards onto his total. Maybe much more than that. Brees will turn 40 next January, and Brady is showing that quarterbacks can still be effective beyond 40 years old.
If Brees plays this season and two more, and he throws for even 4,000 yards per season, (that’s really conservative considering his Saints average is 4,841.4 yards per season … seriously), he’d reach 80,000 yards sometime in 2020. Bump that up to 4,500 yards per season, he’d have a little more than 84,000 yards after the 2020 season. A couple 3,000-yard seasons at ages 42 and 43 and he’d reach 90,000, which would be about 20,000 beyond Manning. If you doubled the career passing yardage of Dan Fouts, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Aaron Rodgers or Jim Kelly, to name a few Hall of Fame quarterbacks, you’d still be short of 90,000 yards.
Through the first quarter of his age-39 season, Brees was on an MVP pace (he might have led the conversation if it weren’t for front-runner Patrick Mahomes, who the Saints actually wanted to draft last year before the Chiefs traded ahead of them). He completed 75.8 percent of his passes. He had eight touchdowns and no interceptions. He had 323.8 yards per game, ahead of his remarkable 306.1-yard average over his 13 Saints seasons. His 115.3 passer rating would be a career-best over a full season.
This isn’t Brees inching past Manning right before he retires, as Manning did to Brett Favre in 2015. Or like Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds did with Major League Baseball’s home-run record. Brees looks like he can post yet another 5,000-yard season this year, and maybe some more after that. His final career yardage number might look like something from a different sport, if he keeps playing into his 40s.
Brees is an unlikely record holder
Brees, of course, wasn’t supposed to still be playing at an MVP level heading toward his 40th birthday, because he wasn’t supposed to be in this position at all. He needed an injury to become the starter at his high school, was lightly recruited before landing at Purdue, wasn’t a first-round pick mostly because of his height, the San Diego Chargers chose Philip Rivers to replace him early in his career there, and the Miami Dolphins passed on him in free agency because of his shoulder. He was overlooked at practically every stop in his career, which makes what he has done that much more remarkable.
Now Brees is atop the mountain as the all-time leader in NFL passing yards. Even in this era of exploding passing stats, Brees might take the record to a number we couldn’t have imagined not too long ago.
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