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The Early Lead
Posted at 10:04 AM ET, 12/27/2011

Drew Brees vs. Dan Marino: Whose passing record is more significant?


Drew Brees passed for 307 yards, breaking Dan Marino’s single-season passing record, in the New Orleans Saints’ victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Yes, you might say Brees is the Mercedes of quarterbacks. (SEAN GARDNER / Reuters)
It’s pretty easy to add an “est” to every word used to describe the season Drew Brees is having, now that he has broken Dan Marino’s 27-year-old single-season record for passing yardage Monday night.

Brees completed 23 of 39 passes for four touchdowns (along with two interceptions) and 307 yards — a record 12th 300-yard passing game — as the Saints beat the Falcons 45-16. With 5,087 yards, he is the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 5,000 twice — he had 5,069 in 2008.

But does Brees’ achievement pale next to Marino’s, which was accomplished at a time when NFL rules didn’t empower and protect quarterbacks and receivers?

“His throws were unbelievably accurate and he did this during a ferocious era of NFL defense,” CBS’s Mike Freeman wrote a few weeks ago, suggesting the new record deserves an asterisk. “The 1980s were one of the more violent in football when athleticism on the defensive side of the ball, in many ways, was better than the offense. Players like Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White and Ronnie Lott, among many others — head hunters and rib breakers — were allowed great latitude to do massive damage to wide receivers and quarterbacks. Receivers weren't protected and quarterbacks were brutalized. Though Marino's quick release helped to protect him from many major hits (though far from all of them) his receivers were hammered.”

As great as Marino’s record looks now, just a wait a few years. As Ross Tucker points out, it won’t be long until it will be the only pre-2010 figure in the top 10.

In the matter of graciousness, though, Brees loses nothing to Marino, either in his interaction with Marino via Twitter or with his teammates.

Congrats to @drewbrees. Great job by such a special player.Tue Dec 27 04:44:06 via Twitter for iPad

Thanks to @DanMarino for his class and support during this run. It is an honor to attempt to follow the example he set for us allTue Dec 27 07:26:34 via DROID

He thanked his teammates and Saints personnel afterward, telling them in the locker room (video here):

“This is something we can look back on and talk about. ... I want everybody to be proud of this, because it's all about you. It's not about one person. That's the journey we're on. And it's going to be about us as we continue on, as we win next week and we continue to win and we continue this journey because it's all about the prize at the end.”

Celebrating with my teammates. Such a special night. Thanks to so many for making this possible. Who Dat Nation...I love youTue Dec 27 07:18:40 via DROID

By  |  10:04 AM ET, 12/27/2011

 
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