Monday night of Saints superlatives belongs to new NFL passing yardage king Brees
NEW ORLEANS – Monday night was the night Mark Ingram returned to the New Orleans Saints and scored two touchdowns.
It was the night that rookie Tre’Quan Smith showed the pass-catching ability that made him a standout during Saints training camp and preseason by catching two touchdowns and accumulating 111 receiving yards.
It was the night the Saints defense showed signs of becoming the solid unit that it was for much of last season after a rocky start to this season.
It was the night the Saints routed the Washington Redskins, 43-19, to win their fourth straight game after a season-opening loss and maintain their hold on first place in the NFC South.
All of that is well and good, but Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will always be remembered as the night Drew Brees broke the NFL record for career passing yards.
“We accomplished a lot of the team goals going into this game that were necessary to win,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Us being able to win on a night when a significant record was broken makes it that much more special.”
Brees began the game needing just 201 yards to break Peyton Manning’s record of 71,940 yards and he needed less than half the game to do it.
“I just tried to stay very focused on the game and executing each play one at a time, knowing that you’re slowly creeping closer and closer,” Brees said.
The most accurate passer in NFL history did it so quickly with his characteristic efficiency, completing 13 of his first 15 passes, the last being a 62-yard touchdown to Smith, which set off a Mardi Gras-like celebration.
Brees said the record came on a new play.
“It was just this idea that you flood the zone and maybe someone pops open and that’s basically what happened on that play,” he said. “There were a lot of guys out there. We were just running guys all over the place and I think it might have gotten them a little confused and Tre’Quan popped right open.”
Smith said he didn’t expect the ball to come to him. New Orleans had run the same play once before and the ball went to Cam Meredith. But Brees was in the position he was in because of his ability to quickly discern the best option on any given play.
“I thank God it was me,” Smith said. “Now I get to go down in history with somebody famous in Hall of Famer Drew Brees.”
Ingram was antsy to put his four-game suspension behind and resume him role as the Saints’ primary ball carrier. But as significant as his return was, it was a minor sidelight to the record.
“It was history,” Ingram said. “I get to tell my kids that I played with the guy who threw for the most yards in the NFL ever.”
The record-breaking pass was thrown to the same side of the field where the name of Manning’s father, Archie, is inscribed on the Saints Ring of Honor. Archie Manning was the most notable Saints quarterback until Brees came along as a free agent in 2006.
Earlier in the week, Brees tried to avoid reflecting on the impending record and focus on game preparation. But he did acknowledge the partnership between him and Payton, who was a rookie head coach when he made Brees the cornerstone of his first Saints team.
“I wouldn’t be here without Sean Payton,” Brees said. “He was coming here as a first-time head coach. And it was his job to go out and get his quarterback, right? And he chose me. Why he chose me? I don’t know.
“I am coming off the shoulder injury. Many said I might not play again. Even I doubted myself at times as confident a person as I am. And yet, his belief in me gave me all the confidence in the world and the sense of responsibility that I owe it to him as much as anybody, to come back and prove him right.”
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…