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Drew Brees ready to summit NFL’s (increasingly) pass-happy era

October 6, 2018

At some point Monday night, Drew Brees will drop back, fire a pinpoint pass with that robotic right arm of his and step forward as the 10th career passing leader in the 99-year history of the NFL.

From Arnie Herber to Sammy Baugh, Bobby Layne, Y.A. Tittle, Johnny Unitas, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Marino, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, the torch will have been passed from eight Hall of Famers to future first-ballot Hall of Famers in Manning and the 39-year-old Brees.

With 71,740 yards, the 18-year veteran needs 201 yards to leap past Favre (71,838) and Manning into first place. Averaging 323.8 yards per game, he should get there at some point in the third quarter of Mondays game against Washington.

How long he stays there will be interesting to watch. He has five of the leagues nine 5,000-yard seasons all in the past 10 years and shows no signs of arm or interest fatigue.

The average reign has been 9.4 years. The longest belongs to Tarkenton, the former Viking who took the record from Unitas in 1976 and lost it to Marino 19 years later.

As a second-round pick of the Chargers in 2001, Brees played his first preseason game in Miami. He has talked about looking up at the ring of honor and seeing Marinos records and thinking, How in the world do you play long enough to have a chance at that?

Just four years later, his career was in jeopardy after he tore the labrum and rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder while trying to recover his own fumble in the 2005 season finale.

The Chargers essentially dumped him because they didnt think his career would survive the injury. The Dolphins pursued him, but flunked him on his physical, went a different direction and traded for Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper instead.

Culpepper lasted one season and went 1-3 as a starter.

On March 14, 2006, the Saints gave Brees a six-year, $60 million deal. He is 122-84 with one Lombardi Trophy with New Orleans. Hard to believe now just how risky that signing was then.

I remember there was nervousness on the team about his shoulder, said Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer, who was fresh out of college as one of Sean Paytons coaching assistants.

We did this one drill, a situation drill, where you just throw the ball out of bounds. There were a couple times when Drew couldnt get it there. And we were looking around not sure if he was ever going to be able to get it there.

Zimmer remembers Week 3 of that season as being the time Brees made some throws to finally assure the Saints that his arm strength would come back to him.

It was against the Falcons in the Monday night game when they reopened the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, Zimmer said. Drew made some throws and I was like, OK, yeah, hes going to be just fine. 

Its fitting that a major passing record will fall early in the 2018 season. This, after all, has been a record-detonating month for all things involving the forward pass.

Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, Derek Carr and Ben Roethlisberger all are on pace to break Mannings single-season mark of 5,477 yards. Patrick Mahomes has 14 touchdowns and no interceptions. Goff and Ryan Fitzpatrick are averaging 10.5 yards per attempt.

Collectively, the league had a record 228 touchdown passes through four weeks. Last years total was 187. And the previous record was 205 in 2013.

And perhaps the most head-wrenching stat being thrown around heading into Week 5 was this one:

The leagues average passer rating through four weeks (94.5) is higher than Joe Montanas career passer rating (92.3). Say it aint so.

Its no secret whats going on. The rise in roughing-the-passer penalties is frustrating defenders and changing the game. And, if that werent bad enough for defenses, illegal-contact penalties through four games have increased from eight last year to 25 this year.

I think theyre protecting the quarterback so much, which is part of it, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. Im guessing the penalties are way up on defense, so thats allowing teams to continue drives. And there are some quarterbacks playing good.

Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: mcraig@startribune.com

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