Friday, December 23, 2011

Quarterback Drew Brees may set record for passing

Three years ago, when New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees became only the second quarterback in football history to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season, he spoke with the first one to do so and the only one to ever throw for more than Brees, Dan Marino. The topic, understandably, was Marino's single-season yardage record of 5,084, which has stood since 1984.

drew_brees23.jpgNew Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is 305 away from 5,085 passing yards this season and he is averaging 341 yards per game.
"We talked about it after the '08 season," Brees recalled Thursday. "And at the time it was kind of just like, OK, we made our run at it, and the chances of that happening again are probably really, really slim."
Those chances are looking fat right now. The two might have a different conversation quite soon.
Brees is 305 away from 5,085 passing yards this season and he is averaging 341 yards per game. Consequently, in what has by every measure been an extraordinary season for him, it is Marino's mark that will be squarely in the spotlight when Brees leads the Saints (11-3)against division archrival Atlanta (9-5) on "Monday Night Football."
In truth, Marino's record is imperiled regardless of whether Brees breaks it against the Falcons. Should the Saints have much on the line New Year's Day when they host the Panthers, Brees will be in the lineup and it would be almost impossible for him not to surpass the mark by the end of that game.
Nor is Brees the only quarterback who will be after Marino's record. New England's Tom Brady, with 4,593 yards thus far, also has a good shot at it. But neither Brady nor Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, whose yardage (4,360) total trails Brees and Brady, are likely to catch Brees.
All of which means the 2012 edition of the NFL record book is likely to show, on that line, "most passing yards, season," one entry, "Drew Brees, New Orleans."
New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees talks about breaking Marino's recordNew Orleans Saints' Drew Brees talks about breaking Marino's recordIn his weekly press conference, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees talks about what it would mean to break Dan Marino's passing record and clinch the NFC South division with a win over Atlanta.Watch video
Brees, having gone through this record chase before, has always sounded the same note. He would like the record, he considers the records important, but he wants to win more.
"Honestly, I've really tried to just kind of numb my senses to the whole thing right now," he said. "And just think about winning football games, executing this offense, being as prepared as I can be, focusing on the process and then knowing the result will just take care of itself. I haven't talked with Dan yet here, this season."
Brees has a chance Monday night to etch his name in the record book and clinch the NFC South division crown.
"Does it get much better than that?" he asked.
Records are made to be broken, as iconic athletes who set them from Jack Nicklaus to Nolan Ryan are generally the first to attest. Yet despite changes to football, particularly on offense since Brees was 5 years old in Austin, Texas, and Marino set the single-season yardage record in Miami, the single-season mark has remained.
Saints Coach Sean Payton employed a classic version of the modern football staple -- "it is what it is" -- when asked if the longevity of Marino's record surprised him.
chart-breesmarino-122311.jpgView full size
"I don't know that anything really surprises you," Payton said. "Our game has evolved. I think you're seeing very good quarterback play, which is exciting. I think you're seeing over the last 20 years colleges who throw the ball much more effectively; all the way to the high school level, and that's carried over to our game in a number of ways. Typically, I think, these records in our league all get broken, and some of them just have a longer shelf life than others."
Brees has his own perspective. Like many great players, Brees is something of a football historian. On Thursday he reflected on the various high-octane offenses that helped shape his approach.
"Also one of my favorite quarterbacks of all time, Joe Montana, and the West Coast offense," he said in a discourse that touched on the 49ers, the Chargers, the Bills, the Oilers and the Rams, who set the single-season record for total yardage by a team, which the Saints are likely to shatter in 2011.
"So I think there's been these offenses kind of spread out all over the country," Brees said. "Some West Coast, some Northeast, some down South, yet everybody kind of has their own version and everybody's putting up points and putting up yards. Seems like they were throwing it a lot, maybe not according to today's standards, but it sure seemed like it."
In Brees' time, his analysis is largely correct. That would seem to augur regular assaults on Marino's record, yet before this season the only real threat was Brees in 2008.
"I am a little surprised," said Steve Hirdt, executive vice president of the Elias Sports Bureau, when asked about the longevity of Marino's record.
Statistically speaking, the big numbers in the passing game didn't emerge until the late 1970s. When the NFL had a 14-game season, only Joe Namath ever topped 4,000 yards passing in one season, barely breaking that mark with 4,007 in 1967.
A package of rules changes around 1977 and 1978 carved the first chinks in NFL defensive armor. Before that, the league's best teams usually featured a smash-mouth rushing attack, such as the Larry Csonka-led Dolphins or the Franco Harris-led Steelers. In response to that emphasis, and in an effort to make the game more exciting for fans, the NFL made two rules changes that had a dramatic effect.
The first was a blocking liberalization, essentially allowing offensive linemen more freedom of motion that reduced holding calls.
"Before that was changed, linemen couldn't even extend their arms," Hirdt said. "Afterward, protection got a whole lot better."
The second key change, he said, "was reining in bump-and-run coverage."
Thus, by the time the 1978 season commenced, the NFL had slightly tilted the field in a quarterback's advantage, but they remained level changes in the sense they applied to every team equally. What wound up radically changing the game was an intellectual and physical combination unique to San Diego, in which a coach and a quarterback put offensive football into overdrive.
Commanding an offense designed by Don Coryell, Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts broke Namath's single-season yardage mark in 1979. In 1980, Fouts broke his own record and then for good measure broke it again in 1981, throwing for 4,802 yards in a season. Within four years of the league expanding its schedule and tweaking its rulebook, the benchmark for passing yards in an NFL season increased by nearly 20 percent.
When Marino then broke the 5,000-yard barrier in 1984 his total was only a marginal improvement over Fouts'. Yet, remarkably, it has stood.
All of which can lead to only one conclusion, according to Hirdt:
"If Brees breaks the record, he will have earned it."
Saints players were more outspoken than Brees in saying they want him to break the record, but, like their quarterback, only in the context of victory over Atlanta.
"We talk about it amongst ourselves as far as offensive line goes, but I never heard coaches or him speak about it all, they're just trying to win games," guard Carl Nicks said. "He's so close, we definitely want him to get it. It's history, it's a record that might not last too long seeing how these quarterbacks are playing, but you're part of NFL history and it's a great honor and I would love to tell my kids about it 20 years down the road."
The receivers who gather in many of Brees' passes feel the same.
"We don't really get into it, it's never a deal where, 'he needs such and such yards'; we don't even know," Devery Henderson said. "Actually, we just go out and play. If it happens it happens, but it's good to be part of it."
Wide receiver Robert Meachem echoed Nicks' history reference, but pulled it back to the main task at hand.
"It would be a plus for him and a plus for us if he gets it, but at the same time all we want to do is get the 'w,'" he said.
One man who does know what's up is Marino. The NFL analyst for CBS recently approached Brees about a network segment on his teetering record.
"I respectfully just kind of said let's wait here and just kind of let everything fall into place the way it is and then we'll definitely sit down," Brees said. "I would love to do that."
James Varney can be reached at or 504.717.1156..

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