Drew Brees found himself thinking about No. 400 on Sunday night.
Fifteen years into his career, Brees finds himself surpassing major milestones on a fairly regular basis these days. Early in the first quarter, Brees found Josh Hill on a short touchdown pass for the 5,000th completion of his career, a barrier only Brett Favre and Peyton Manning had surpassed before the Saints quarterback.
But No. 400 meant a little something more, and as the Saints got ready for overtime, Brees found himself daydreaming a bit about reaching the milestone in dramatic, meaningful fashion.
“This rarely happens, but I did think to myself, maybe God intended No. 400 to be the one that wins this game,” Brees said. “Thanks to C.J. Spiller, that happened.”
The spectre of No. 400 hung in the air after Hill’s touchdown.
Brees could feel its presence. His teammates and coaches tried not to talk about it, but Brees knew he had a chance to join a select club earlier than any of the four luminaries — Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and Tom Brady — who’d reached the 400-touchdown peak before him.
The sensation felt a little like the end of the 2011 campaign, when Brees chased down Dan Marino’s 27-year-old single-season passing mark.
“You try to tune a lot of stuff out. But kind of like the passing record back in 2011, you hear guys whispering, and then somebody kind of makes the mistake (of letting it slip), just like in a dugout when somebody’s got a no-hitter,” Brees said. “I guess I was aware of it and just kind of made that part of my thought process.”
Brees turned the daydream into reality a few moments after overtime began.
When the Saints started to get set on the second play of overtime, Brees noticed the Cowboys’ secondary in man-to-man coverage, a little discombobulated by the Saints’ formation.
“Drew was smart enough to snap it quickly,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
Spiller, lined up in a tight slot on the inside of Brandin Cooks, wheeled for the sideline at the snap, his speed instantly creating separation as Spiller raced into the window between the linebacker and the safety, and Brees put the ball on the fleet running back in time to give Spiller a chance to make a move on Barry Church, the one man who might have a chance to bring him down.
Brees’ touchdown pass ended overtime faster than any other game in NFL history.
And it gave the Saints’ legendary quarterback another lofty place among the game’s elite. By hitting Spiller for the game-winning score, Brees reached the 400-touchdown mark in 205 career games, four games faster than Peyton Manning and faster than any NFL quarterback in history.
Spiller, a veteran who finally got a chance to show what he can do in front of a new fan base, recognized the significance of the accomplishment and ran over to his quarterback to toss Brees the ball.
“This is your ball, brother,” Spiller told Brees. “You deserve it.”