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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Quarterbacks change NFL's yardstick of greatness

Six quarterbacks — Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers — have surpassed 4,000 yards passing. The league has never seen anything quite like this.

December 23, 2011|Sam Farmer
  • Three of the six quarterbacks who have passed for more than 4,000 yards this season are Super Bowl winners (from left): Drew Brees of New Orleans, Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay and Tom Brady of New England.
Three of the six quarterbacks who have passed for more than 4,000 yards this… (Photos by Associated Press…)

They are the six shooters of the NFL, the half-dozen hot-handed quarterbacks who have already thrown for more than 4,000 yards this season.

They are from all over the country — New Orleans' Drew Brees, New England's Tom Brady, the New York Giants' Eli Manning, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, Detroit's Matthew Stafford, and San Diego's Philip Rivers — and they're throwing the football all over the map. With two games to go, their numbers could shoot into the stratosphere.

Brees is the leader of the pinpoint-passing pack, averaging 341.4 yards per game. He has 4,780 yards and needs just 305 more to eclipse the single-season record of 5,084, set by Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino in 1984. That could come Monday night against Atlanta.

Three years ago, Brees came oh so close to breaking Marino's record, falling 16 yards short but becoming just the second quarterback in NFL history to surpass 5,000 yards.

"When I sit back and look at it, that record's stood for a long time," Brees said at the time. "One of greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game owns it." He said he wasn't sure that breaking the record while his team fell to 8-8 — as the Saints did that season — was "necessarily the way that record deserves to be broken.

"That's why I'm able to accept the fact it didn't happen."

There will be no such capitulation this season. The 11-3 Saints are tied with San Francisco for the second-best record in the league, have locked up a wild-card berth, and have the NFC South title in their cross hairs. Brees is the embodiment of the mobile and deadly accurate quarterback that's so coveted by teams, and he's on a historic pace.

Tim Tebow's ground-bound style notwithstanding, the NFL has evolved into a high-scoring passer's league, and 4,000-yard seasons have become the new gold standard. A record 10 quarterbacks accomplished that feat in 2009. There easily could be nine by the end of this season — with Indianapolis' Peyton Manning on the sidelines — as Dallas' Tony Romo (3,895), Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger (3,856), and Carolina's Cam Newton (3,722) are within range.

New Orleans Coach Sean Payton was asked this week if he's surprised Marino's record has lasted 27 years.

"I don't know that anything really surprises you," he said. "Our game has evolved. I think you're seeing very good quarterback play. . . . Typically, these records in our league all get broken, and some of them just have a longer shelf life than others."

A glimpse at this season's 4,000-yard passers:

DREW BREESNew Orleans (4,780 yards)

HE'S NO. 1

Brees is ranked first in the league in attempts, completions, yardage, third-down passer rating and completion percentage, and second in touchdown passes and passer rating.

BY THE NUMBERS

11: 300-yard passing games in 2011, the league's single-season record.

41: Consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass, the second-longest streak in NFL history. Johnny Unitas holds the record with 47.

18,500: Brees' passing-yardage total from 2007-10, the league's highest total over any four-year span.

DID YOU KNOW?

Brees was an outstanding youth tennis player and beat Andy Roddick several times. Roddick, who would go on to become the world's No. 1 player, once told the San Diego Union-Tribune of Brees: "The most annoying thing was that Drew played about twice a week. I was hard-core; I was playing every day, every weekend. I could never beat the guy."

QUOTE OF NOTE

Brees on Marino's record: "I've really just tried to kind of numb my senses to the whole thing right now, and just think about winning games . . . knowing the result will just take care of itself."

TOM BRADYNew England (4,593)

BROTHERS IN ARMS

Brady and Brees are the only players to reach 3,000 yards in the first nine games of the season. Brady had record yardage (3,032) for the first nine games of the year.

BY THE NUMBERS

1: Brady became the first player to follow a 500-yard passing performance with a 400-yarder after consecutive games this season of 517 and 423.

95: Times Brady has thrown two or more touchdown passes in a game. The Patriots are 80-15 when that happens.

1,327: Passing yards Brady had in the first three games this season — 517, 423 and 387 — the most yards in NFL history over a three-game stretch.

DID YOU KNOW?

Quarterbacks selected ahead of Brady in the 2000 draft were Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger and Spergon Wynn.

QUOTE OF NOTE

Teammate Danny Woodhead, after Brady threw for four touchdowns and a team-record 517 yards in the opener against Miami: "We're pleased to have him on our side."

ELI MANNINGNew York Giants (4,362)

COMEBACK KID

Five times this season Manning's team has overcome fourth-quarter deficits to win, tying a franchise record for comebacks.

BY THE NUMBERS

2: Manning's spot on the Giants' list for all-time touchdown passes. With 181, he's 18 shy of leader Phil Simms.

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