NEW ORLEANS - Drew Brees trotted along the sideline holding his helmet and a Hall of Fame-bound ball in his left hand while using his right hand to wave and blow kisses to an adoring Superdome crowd.
Another milestone, another memory, for an undersized and once underestimated player who has broken just about every significant record a quarterback can break - and doesn't look anywhere near done at age 40.
Brees became the NFL's all-time leader in touchdown passes, throwing for four scores to lead the New Orleans Saints to a 34-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night.
“It was special, everything about the night,” Brees said. “It just kind of makes your whole life and career flash before your eyes, because I never thought I’d have a chance to be part of something like this.”
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 16: Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints celebrates his 540th career touchdown pass, for the most in league history, in the third quarter of the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Mercedes Benz Sup (Getty Images)
The scoring strike that broke Peyton Manning's record of 539 career touchdown passes came in the third quarter, when Brees hit tight end Josh Hill for a 5-yard score. Brees' next pass in the game was the 541st scoring toss of his career, a 28-yarder to reserve QB and utility player Taysom Hill that put the Saints up 34-0.
“He's done that to a lot of defenses," Colts coach Frank Reich said. "When he gets like that. I don't know that anybody can stop him.”
Now in his 19th season, the 6-foot Brees - a 2001 second-round draft choice - came into the game already holding NFL records for completions with 6,792 and yards passing with 72,577. He built on those numbers while also setting a record for completion percentage in a game. He completed 29 of 30 passes - 96.7% - for 307 yards before being relieved by Teddy Bridgewater in the fourth quarter. That broke the mark Philip Rivers had held since completing 28 of 29 (96.6%) against Arizona last season.
“He had a hot hand, obviously,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Guys were making plays, but that’s awfully difficult to do.”
The victory kept the Saints (11-3), who'd already won the NFC South, in the running with Seattle (11-3), San Francisco (11-3) and Green Bay (11-3) for one of the top two seeds in the NFC playoffs.
“There’s a lot at stake right now relative to these games when you look at the top of the NFC,” Payton said. "It’s about winning and winning and winning and trying to give yourself the best chance in the postseason.”
The Colts (6-8) were eliminated from playoff contention after losing their fourth straight and sixth out of seven.
They were also left struggled to explain their lack of competitiveness in a game they needed to win.
"I wish I knew all the answers," Colts linebacker Darius Leonard said. “I hate losing more than I love winning.”
Jacoby Brissett struggled at times with accuracy and finished 18 of 34 for 165 yards against a Saints defense looking for redemption after allowing 48 points in a loss to the 49ers a week earlier.
Meanwhile, Colts defenders had no answer for Michael Thomas, who caught 12 passes for 128 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown. Thomas' eighth game this season with at least 10 catches give him 133 for the season, which is also the fourth-highest single-season total in NFL history.
With four more catches, Thomas will pass Antonio Brown and Julio Jones for second most in a season. He needs 11 to eclipse Marvin Harrison's record of 143 from 2002.
Tre'Quan Smith caught a 21-yard touchdown pass for New Orleans.
Jordan Wilkins scored the Colts' lone TD on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.
While Brees holds the career touchdown pass record for now, the Patriots' Tom Brady is only three behind at 538.
“It’s a fluid record,” Payton said. “There's still another quarterback in New England, so that will go back and forth as long as those two are playing.”
The next-closest active player is Rivers with 395.
Brees wasn't about to underestimate Brady's ability to keep pace.
“He’s such a stud. He’s got a lot of rings and records,” Brees said of Brady. “He’s awesome.”
Brees said the ball with which he threw his record-breaking TD would go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and also sounded particularly pleased by who caught it.
“I love the fact it was Josh Hill," Brees said, noting that Hill made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2013 and has been reliable both on offense and special teams ever since.
“The epitome of a great teammate, kind of an unsung hero,” Brees said. “He’s done an unbelievable job. I have so much trust and confidence in him.”
Colts: Reserve safety Rolan Milligan left the game with a foot injury in the first half. Cornerback Quincy Wilson left with a shoulder injury.
Saints: Right guard Larry Warford needed help to the sideline with a left knee injury early in the third quarter. Defensive back C.J. Gardner Johnson left the game with a concussion in the fourth quarter.
Colts: Host Carolina on Sunday.
Saints: Visit Tennessee on Sunday.
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