Tom Brady and Drew Brees ended the 2015 season in a pretty remarkable place: both have 428 touchdown passes, tied for the third most in NFL history. Both threw their first touchdown pass in 2001, which makes it easy — and fun! — to compare the two players. The graph below shows the number of career touchdown passes for each player over every week since 2001:
Brady took an early edge, both because he started earlier (he had 18 touchdowns in 2001; Brees had 1) and played better earlier (Brees had 28 touchdowns in ’02 and ’03 combined; Brady had that many just in ’03). And, of course, Brady’s scorched-earth 2007 season helped see him take his biggest lead. Consider that through 2007, Brees had thrown fewer than 30 touchdown passes in each of his first seven seasons. Since then? Brees has thrown more than 30 touchdowns in all eight seasons!
Let’s look at this another way: the graph below shows how many more touchdowns Brady had in his career than Brees over the last 15 years:
Do you remember the Sunday Night Football game between the Patriots and Bills in 2007? That game, the 10th of the 2007 season, may have been the peak incarnation of those Patriots.1 The Patriots jumped out to a 35-7 lead at halftime, courtesy of four touchdown passes from Brady to Randy Moss. Early in the third, Brady threw a touchdown to Ben Watson, which gave him 195 career passing touchdowns, and a 64-touchdown lead on Brees. That was as high as Brady’s edge ever got after any week of play2, and the injury in 2008 enabled Brees to cut Brady’s lead down by more than half.
Speaking of memorable games, what about the Monday Night Football game between the Chiefs and the Patriots in the fourth week of the 2014 season? The one was Brady was benched for Jimmy Garoppolo? That likely represented the nadir of Brady’s post-2008 career, and it also happened a day after Brees threw a pair of touchdowns in a loss against Dallas. After week four, Brees had a 7-touchdown edge on Brady, with 370 career touchdown passes to 363. That was the largest edge of Brees’ career3 Both players threw two touchdowns the following week, keeping the lead at seven, before Brady began a hot streak that closed the gap and more. By game 10 of 2014, he was back ahead of Brees.
Brady has thrown 69 touchdown passes over the last two years, compared to 65 for Brees. But given that Brees is a year-and-a-half younger than Brady (530 days, to be exact), he’s the better bet to finish ahead. How do their trajectories compare to other touchdown kings? Check back tomorrow.
- New England covered in 9 of the first 10 games, before covering in just one of their last 9 games. [↩]
- Although Brady would again be at +64 five games later. And, for a pair of 24-hour stretches, he technically held a 66-touchdown lead on Brees. Entering week 13, Brady was up by 62 touchdowns, and threw four touchdowns against the Steelers that week, while Brees threw three against the Falcons. But New Orleans was on Monday Night Football that week, so Brees did up the lead to 66 before the week ended. And the Patriots/Giants game in week 17 that year was on Saturday, so Brady was at +66 then, too, before Brees threw three the next day in his season finale. [↩]
- Well, since the Chiefs game was on Monday, Brees technically had an 8-game edge prior to that game, the largest edge of his career. [↩]