(Eds: Updates with quotes, details and notes. With AP Photos.)By BRETT MARTELAP Sports Writer
If Drew Brees can help it, he won’t spend much time thinking about a coveted passing record he’d really like to break.
Three seasons after nearly matching Dan Marino’s all-time single season passing record of 5,084 yards – which has stood since 1984 – Brees is on pace through 10 games to make another run at it.
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”I feel very different this year than back in 2008 in regards to this whole Marino thing,” Brees said Wednesday in the midst of New Orleans’ bye week. ”That was the first time I had ever been a part of anything like that. … I tried not to make it stressful, but it was hard not to think about it.
”Maybe because I’ve been through that before, I really am not thinking about it or letting it creep into my mind all that often,” Brees continued. ”I’m just so focused on winning games.”
In the Saints’ 26-23 overtime win at Atlanta last Sunday, Brees passed for 322 yards and two touchdowns. He remained atop the NFL with 3,326 yards passing, the most yards through the first 10 games of a season in NFL history. Should he maintain his unprecedented pace, he’ll finish with 5,322 yards through the air, 238 yards ahead of Marino’s mark.
And there’s more.
Brees has thrown a touchdown pass in 37 consecutive games, moving in front of Brett Favre for the second-longest streak in NFL history, and behind only Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas’ 47.
Brees now has 51 career 300-yard passing games, which ties him with Hall of Famer Dan Fouts for fifth all-time in that category.
He also has completed 70.9 percent of his passes (299 of 422) this season, slightly better at this point than his own NFL record of 70.6 percent (336 of 514) in 2009.
Brees said records are meaningful to him, as long as they don’t come at the expense of winning.
”Any competitive person, when you get close to things like that, you certainly think, `Man, that’d be cool – within the framework of us doing it the right way,” Brees said.
”It’s not like we’re going out with the sole purpose of trying to break records,” Brees continued. ”When you’re winning and you’re breaking those records, it makes it even sweeter.”
At this point, the Saints (7-3) are winning. They lead the NFC South and seek a third straight playoff berth, as well as a second trip to the Super Bowl in three years.
Brees was one medium-range completion away from breaking Marino’s mark back in 2008, when he finished with 5,069 yards. The Saints were a .500 team that season, and Brees said afterward that the record would have been a hollow accomplishment because New Orleans failed to reach the postseason.
Brees also figured he would never approach that mark again.
”I remember how lopsided we were that year throwing the football,” Brees recalled. ”I just thought, `Well, if we really want to play to our potential and be the type of offense we really want to be, we definitely need to be more balanced and so there just won’t be opportunities to even throw for close to that many yards.”
The Saints have been able to run effectively for most of this season, and their offense as a whole is on pace to reach new all-time highs. The most offensive yards the Saints ever had in one season was 6,571 in 2008- Sean Payton’s third season as coach. This season, their average of 436.9 yards has them on pace for 6,990.
Brees noted, however, that his production stands out less in the context of the 2011 season, when other teams are putting up gaudy passing numbers as well. Both New England’s Tom Brady (3,032 yards through nine games) and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (2,869 yards through nine games) also are on pace to eclipse Marino’s mark.
Now 32 years old and in his sixth season in New Orleans, Brees has set a slew of franchise records and led the club to its first Super Bowl title. He is in the final year of his contract, although the Saints could use a franchise tag to keep him should protracted negotiations over an extension continue to drag on.
Based on his performance this season, his best football may still be ahead.
”I do feel that way,” Brees said. ”My goal and what I just strive for and beat myself up over every year is: I want to get a little bit better.”
This season, Brees has thrived while adjusting to changes on the offensive line, including two new centers, which Payton said is like a pitcher getting used to a new catcher in terms of communication during a game.
Payton also cited the leadership role Brees took in organizing workouts with teammates during the NFL lockout as a factor to consider in the quarterback’s performance.
”He’s very in tune to his preparation. He looks very closely at things that he wants to improve on,” Payton said. ”He is his toughest critic and that’s the case with the really, really great players.
”We’ll have success as a team and win a game and feel very good about that … and yet he can come back on that Monday and Tuesday and look closely at things that he wished he’d have done differently and then apply them during the work week.”
Meanwhile, Brees spreads around credit for the impressive statistics listed under his name, adding that if he does become the NFL’s single-season passing king, the whole team should take pride in that.
”It’s more than just me. … It’s every guy that caught a pass or blocked or played defense or special teams,” Brees said. ”That’s a record we can all share and every coach can share.”
Notes: The Saints have cut offensive tackle Ray Willis, who they signed two weeks ago when Charles Brown was placed on injured reserve. Since then, starting right tackle Zach Strief has returned to action.