Drew Brees became the NFL's all-time leader in yards passing - and he did it with a certain panache and precision that made the 39-year-old quarterback look far from finished.
What a career it has been for Brees, especially in New Orleans. Brees still needs 41 touchdown passes to surpass Manning's record of 539, something the Saints quarterback could achieve next season if he maintains his current level of play. He actually began the evening third on the all-time list and passed Brett Favre (71,838 yards) on Monday, as well. The ball caught by Smith was given to Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker for display in Canton, Ohio. Brees, meanwhile, was able to share the moment with his wife and children down on the sideline.
And, the previous record holder Peyton Manning sent him congratulations.
"I knew we were within striking distance" of the record, Brees said. But I don't think it could have happened in any better fashion than it did.
Brees exited the game at the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter.
The game featured other touches meant to honor Brees. While making his mark in SD, Brees suffered a potentially career-ending shoulder injury in 2005 that caused many teams to pass on him in free agency. Partnered in 2006 with a first-year head coach in Payton, the pair took the previously underachieving franchise to new heights, while also helping bring joy to a New Orleans community struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina's destruction.
The 39-year-old passer, in his 18th National Football League campaign, now has 499 career touchdown passes, one shy of joining a select 500-touchdown National Football League club whose only members are Manning, Favre and New England's Tom Brady, who reached the milestone last Thursday. "I've gotta tell ya, it's been the greatest 1,000 days of my life", Manning says in the video. He did, however, make his eighth career reception on his own deflected pass, and pushed across the line of scrimmage to add an extra yard to his career total.
In the second quarter, Montae Nicholson's unnecessary roughness penalty for leveling Ingram on Ryan Kerrigan's third-down sack extended a drive that ended with Brees' short TD pass to tight end Josh Hill.
"Obviously, and I know Drew feels the same way, you never play for individual records of any sorts", Manning said in June (via the New Orleans Times-Picayune).