Drew Brees broke Peyton Manning’s record to become the N.F.L.’s leader in career passing yards, breaking the mark in the second quarter of a game against the Washington Redskins on Monday.
Brees, the prolific New Orleans Saints quarterback who is in his 18th season, came into the game in third place, behind both Manning’s 71,940 and Brett Favre’s 71,838. He passed Favre with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Josh Hill, and then exceeded Manning’s total with a 62-yard catch-and-run by Tre-Quan Smith.
Play was briefly suspended as Brees was greeted on the sideline by his family while the Saints celebrated the touchdown on the field. The ball from the touchdown pass was immediately handed to a representative of the Pro Football Hall of Fame so it could make its way to Canton, Ohio.
Manning, who retired in 2016 and had long seen Brees in his rearview mirror, talked openly before the season about how the record would soon be changing hands.
“He deserves it,” Manning told the New Orleans Times-Picayne. “He’s been a great player for a long time.”
Unlike Manning, who backed into the record by getting it during of one of the worst individual performances of his career — a 2015 loss in which he completed just 5 of 20 passes for 35 yards and four interceptions — Brees was thoroughly dominating the Redskins when he broke the record, with New Orleans going up 26-6 with the touchdown.
Manning made light of losing the record in a video posted to Twitter by the Saints.
In what is quickly becoming a year dominated by passing yard totals, it seems fitting that the N.F.L. would get a new career leader in the statistic. Brees, 39, bested Manning’s mark in 12 fewer games, and in doing so he became the ninth player to hold the record since Sammy Baugh of the Washington Redskins revolutionized the passing game in the 1940s.
Numerous records appear to be in peril this year: T here have been 14 400-yard passing games through five weeks of the season, which is not only a record but more than the previous four seasons combined. Even a perennial leader in passing yards like Brees has had to work hard to keep up — he came into Monday’s start with 1,295 yards, 432 behind the N.F.L.’s leader, Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams. Ten quarterbacks have already thrown for more than 1,500 yards.
But Brees’s dominance cannot be written off as merely a product of its era, as he created the passing revolution as much as he benefited from it. He began his career as an undersized second-round pick by the San Diego Chargers in 2001, when Dan Marino’s single-season mark of 5,084 passing yards in 1984 was seen as nearly unbreakable. Thanks to a huge shift in strategy and several rule changes, Marino’s 1984 mark is now the seventh-most in a season, with Brees having personally topped it four times.
Marino, who once held virtually every major passing record, now sits fifth in career passing yards and fifth in career passing touchdowns. His signature marks first fell to Favre, then to Manning, and by next season, the touchdown record could belong to either Brees or Tom Brady, who came into Monday with four more than Brees, but is more than a year older.
Other than Fran Tarkenton, who retired five years before Marino entered the league, each of the career passing yards leaders after Baugh had their career overlap with their successor. There is no telling which player could one day pass Brees, but Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions has a good chance, and young players like Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Goff could one day gun for him as well.
But for now, and for the foreseeable future, Brees, whose career was nearly written off after shoulder surgery following the 2005 season, sits alone at the top of the list.