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Drew Brees cements status as all-time NFL great

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NEW ORLEANS -- The electric crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome seemed to keep track of every pass Saints quarterback Drew Brees attempted in the early stages of Monday night's game against the Washington Redskins, cheering loudly on every completion.

Then at the 2:46 mark of the second quarter and needing 35 yards through the air, Brees connected with rookie wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith on a 62-yard touchdown pass, setting off an ear-piercing detonation of ovation, which perfectly captured a historic moment.

Brees, one of The Big Easy's beloved figures, now stands alone as the NFL's most prolific passer after moving ahead of Peyton Manning to become the league's all-time career passing leader.

"I don't think it could've happened in any better fashion than it did," Brees said after the game. "To have in that moment with my teammates on the field, the offensive line, I mean, it played out even greater than I could've imagined.

"I tried to rehearse this scenario in my mind this week just so I could really focus on the game, but to have that moment with Sean [Payton] and Mr. [David] Baker from the Hall of Fame, then my boys and my wife, Brittany, and my daughter, Rylen, it was incredible."

The significance of accomplishing the feat in front of an adoring hometown crowd was also not lost on the Saints signal-caller.

"They are just so passionate and I wanted this as much for them as anybody," Brees said.

Brees, who finished the game with 363 yards passing to give him 72,103 on his career, entered Monday night 201 yards shy of Manning (71,940) and 98 yards from second place, previously held by Hall of Famer Brett Favre (71,838).

The 39-year-old Brees, however, needed less time to set a new benchmark, producing the yardage in 254 games compared to Manning's 266 and Favre's 302.

Manning, who was not in attendance, provided a statement on Brees breaking his record in a prerecorded video played in the stadium.

"Drew, congratulations on this record," Manning said. "You've done it the right way. All your hard work and dedication paid off ... Way to go. Proud of you. And good luck the rest of the way."

Brees, who is in his 18th professional season, has 11 more games in the 2018 season -- and potentially beyond -- to add to the milestone and other notable achievements on his accomplished career.

He entered the league in 2001 out of Purdue as a second-round pick with the then-San Diego Chargers, where he spent five seasons (2001-05). Brees then joined the Saints as an unrestricted free agent in 2006 and partnered with head coach Sean Payton before commencing a run at the record books.

"He deserves it," Payton said. "It's been an unbelievable run and it doesn't feel like it's been 12, 13 years. It feels like it's been shorter than that."

Still, the 6-foot, 209-pound Brees' path produced its share of obstacles and doubters, but he proved time and time again that size doesn't matter.

He also overcame a career-threatening torn labrum to his throwing shoulder in 2005 before asserting himself as one of the league's elite passers equipped with talent and a renowned work ethic on and off the field.

"The way he meticulously works in putting drives together, he always knows what's going on," Saints running back Alvin Kamara said. "I was talking to somebody about it the other day about how he's always like 10 steps ahead.

"I find myself on the sidelines sometimes like, 'Dang, this dude knows everything.' I'd be like even in timeouts, 'What are you thinking right here?' He'll tell me and I'd be like, 'Dang, I wasn't thinking about that, but now I know.' I'm always trying to step into his head a little bit. One of the all-time greats, for sure."

So, how elite has been Brees over the years? Let the numbers do the talking for him.

With hawk-like vision on the field and the mind of a chess master to pick apart defenses, Brees ranks as the NFL's all-time leader in completions, which he established in Week 3 by moving ahead of Favre.

The Saints quarterback is the NFL's most accurate career passer with a 67.1 completion percentage and Brees' 72 percent completion rate in 2017 set a single-season NFL record. He also holds a Saints record of a 68.3 completion percentage since signing as an unrestricted free agent in 2006. With a 97.1 career passer rating, Brees owns the fifth-best rating of all-time in the NFL record books.

Brees is the only signal-caller in league history to produce 4,000 yards passing in 12 consecutive seasons, which he achieved in every season since 2006, and the only quarterback to produce five 5,000-yard passing seasons (2008, 2011-13 and 2016). He has led or tied for the league lead in yards passing in a single season an NFL-record seven times.

With 499 touchdown passes on his career, Brees ranks fourth on the all-time list behind Manning (539), Favre (508) and Tom Brady (500). He needs one touchdown passe to become just the fourth quarterback in league history to pass for 500 scores.

Brees is the only quarterback in league history to pass for five touchdowns in a game 10 times, one more than Manning's nine and four more than Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino's six.

From 2008 to 2016, Brees became the first quarterback in NFL annals to throw for 30 touchdowns in nine straight seasons. He is tied for first in the NFL record book with Manning and Favre for the most seasons of 30 or more touchdown passes.

"The things he's done throughout his career is just unbelievable," Saints backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. "To be in the same room as him and watch how he goes about each and every day just shows why he's had such an outstanding career. I'm excited for him, excited for this team. Everyone knows how much he means to this team, this organization and this city."

Meanwhile, for all the eye-popping production, Brees has just one Super Bowl ring, has never won the league's Most Valuable Player award and was named a first-team All-Pro just once on his illustrious career.

Sure, he's been selected to 11 Pro Bowls and was named Super Bowl MVP, but an argument exists that Brees is underrated outside of New Orleans despite his many accomplishments.

Saints left tackle Terron Armstead understands championship rings might play a role in influencing outside opinions, but the offensive lineman has no doubt his teammate deserves to be considered highly in any quarterback debates.

"In some aspects, you might feel like Drew is overlooked," Armstead said. "I don't know if he feels like that, but all I know is he competes his butt off, prepares his butt off to be the best. He is the best. I mean, statistically, it's not even an argument."

Additionally, Brees' teammates understand they are "playing with a living legend" and would like nothing more than to secure another championship ring for the signal-caller.

"He's got one," Armstead said. "We're fighting for another one, we're chasing one. That's the goal."

With a 4-1 record after Monday night's 43-19 win and the return of running back Mark Ingram to one of the league's top offenses, the Saints are primed to make another run at the postseason with the league's all-time passing leader.

And Monday night's record-breaking performance in front of a nationally televised audience further solidified Brees' place in any discussion when it comes to a list of the all-time great quarterbacks in the league.

"He's the ultimate competitor and he's driven by greatness," Bridgewater said. "History speaks volumes of how great he is."

Follow Herbie Teope on Twitter @HerbieTeope.

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