Brees breaks NFL passing record

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees set the NFL record for most passing yards in a season Monday night in a 45-16 win over the Falcons that clinched the NFC South title. Brees broke the mark of 5,084 yards set by Dan Marino during the 1984 season with Miami.

”I was really trying not to think about the record or anything,” Brees said. ”I knew we were close. A couple guys mentioned stuff to me on the sideline. I didn’t want to hear it. It’s like a pitcher with a no-hitter, I guess.”

The play that put Brees over the top: a 9-yard scoring completion to Darren Sproles on his last pass in the fourth quarter, giving him 5,087 yards — with one game left to play. Brees threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns.

As Sproles spiked the ball, Brees put his arm over his head and started walking toward midfield while the Superdome crowd went wild and his teammates chased him down.

”I just got bum-rushed by the offensive linemen so I figured at that point, OK, I guess we finally broke the record,” Brees said.

Minutes after Brees broke the record, Marino offered congratulations on his Twitter account.

”Great job by such a special player,” Marino wrote.

With the way he has played the past six years in New Orleans, Brees may someday be joining Marino in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While Brees has consistently played at a high level since signing with the Saints as a free agent — including a 2009 campaign in which he won MVP honors in Super Bowl XLIV — the 2011 campaign is shaping up as the best of his 11-year NFL career.

Besides breaking Marino’s mark, Brees may top the NFL’s single-season completion percentage record of 70.62 that he set in 2009. Brees entered the Falcons game with a 71.53 completion percentage.

Brees also added to his career-high total of touchdown passes in the second quarter against Atlanta. He notched the 38th of the season on an 8-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Marques Colston.

Brees’ four touchdowns gave him 276 for his career, moving him ahead of Joe Montana (273) and Vinny Testeverde (275) for ninth all-time. He is the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 5,000 yards twice; he had 5,069 in 2008.

The Saints also failed to make the playoffs that year, which Brees has said took away some of the luster from his effort.

”I love our fans, I love the fact that everybody could be part of this on ‘Monday Night Football,”’ Brees said. ”There’s so many people that are a part of this. It’s not about me, it’s about this team, it’s about this city, it’s about these fans. So many people contributed to this, and I’m happy for them.”

New Orleans (12-3) entered the Falcons game already having secured a postseason berth for the third consecutive season.

Brees’ accomplishments also have probably raised the price tag for New Orleans to keep him in the fold. Brees is set to become a free agent in the offseason but the Saints are certain to use the franchise tag to retain his services for the 2012 season if a long-term extension cannot be reached.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.