Drew Brees became the all-time touchdown pass leader on Monday, and it was not the most impressive part of the night. The Saints quarterback, who will turn 41 in January, played one of the best games of his 19-year NFL career in a 34-7 demolition of the Indianapolis Colts, also setting the single-game completion percentage record and reasserting that the Saints will be as scary to face as any team come January.
Brees finished the game with 29 completions on 30 passes, good for a 96.7 percentage and a narrow edge over the mark Philip Rivers set last season. Brees’s lone incompletion was a pass in the flat to running back Latavius Murray.
“I’ll be honest with you, you always think about the one that you missed, right?” Brees told ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the game. “If I just set my darned feet and threw it to the running back, it’s 30-for-30. So that one may haunt me for a little while.”
Brees wasn’t dinking and dunking on his other 29 passes. He threw for 307 yards (10.2 yards per pass) and four touchdowns with no turnovers or sacks. New Orleans started the game with six scoring drives, four of which went for touchdowns, while the Colts didn’t score until their eighth drive.
The game was over fast, but the record-breaking touchdown was delayed. With the Saints up 17-0 with just 14 seconds left in the half, New Orleans had the ball with second-and-goal at the Colts’ 5-yard line. Brees tossed a touchdown to receiver Tre’Quan Smith to give him the all-time record just seven seconds before halftime, but a flag came in as the Saints began celebrating. The penalty was on Smith for offensive pass interference, nullifying the record. The call made head coach Sean Payton apoplectic. Fans in the stadium booed (2019 has been a bad year for pass interference penalties at the Superdome).
The Saints rectified the injustice quickly. New Orleans took the ball to open the second half and marched 75 yards on 12 plays, ending with Brees finding tight end Josh Hill on a play-action pass (amazing, considering there was zero chance of them calling a run) to set the all-time mark.
. .— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 17, 2019
Yards leader. Touchdowns leader. RECORD-SLAYER. pic.twitter.com/inFCArqQtV
On his first pass after breaking Peyton’s record, Brees tied the completion percentage mark with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Taysom Hill for his 28th completion in 29 attempts.
Brees and New Orleans looked unstoppable against Indianapolis’s injury-depleted defense. Nine different receivers caught balls, but none were more important than Michael Thomas, who had 12 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. It’s his eighth game this year with 10 or more catches, an NFL record in the Super Bowl era according to NFL Research. Thomas quietly broke the team’s single-season receiving record in this game and is just 10 catches away from tying Marvin Harrison’s single-season record for receptions with two games left to play. Thomas has proved this season he is the best receiver in the league. Brees found Thomas for his first touchdown of the night, which tied him with Tom Brady for second all time.
Brees found Tre’Quan Smith on their next drive to tie Manning for the record.
The Saints are now 11-3 and playing their best football of the season. Their offense is humming after shredding the elite 49ers defense for 46 points last week, albeit in a loss. New Orleans went 5-0 without Brees in the lineup after he suffered a thumb injury in Week 2, but that streak was mostly fueled with defense and Teddy Bridgewater’s game management. Since Brees returned in Week 8, he is tied for second in passing touchdowns (19) and seventh in passing yards (2,039). As a team since Week 8, the Saints are tied for third in point differential (58), sixth in total yards (2,734), and fifth in touchdowns.
The Saints are firmly a Super Bowl contender for the third year in a row, and after the Minneapolis Miracle and the pass interference no-call in back-to-back years, New Orleans will be sated only by a Super Bowl. This season is the 10th anniversary of their 31-17 Super Bowl win over Peyton Manning and the Colts. Brees now has 541 passing touchdowns in his career, breaking the record set by Manning (538). Brees will be neck and neck with Tom Brady (537) for the foreseeable future, but for now, he is the all-time leader in passing touchdowns, yards, completions, and completion percentage, and he will soon be the all-time leader in pass attempts. After the game, Lisa Salters asked Brees what he sees when he looks back at his career.
“I’m trying not to [look back at my career],” Brees said. “I’m trying just to focus on the present and stay in the moment and just enjoy these moments as much as I possibly can. When it’s all said and done, when I’m retired and on to the next chapter, maybe I’ll be able to look back and really reflect. But for now, it’s on to the next challenge, the next opportunity. There’s more games to be won, and I feel like our best is yet to come.”