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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 brees td

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:

brady edge brees

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.

  1. New England covered in 9 of the first 10 games, before covering in just one of their last 9 games. []
  2. 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. []
  3. 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. []
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  • Josh Sanford

    Lost in the comparison of Brees and Brady is the discussion of just how bad Brees has been for the Saints.

    There’s any number of people who look uncritically at the Brees signing by New Orleans, and they think to themselves (or they eve grow so bold and say to a friend), ” Man, New Orleans really cleaned up when they signed Brees! That might be greatest free agent signing of all time.” Wait just a second! To properly analyze what Brees brought to the Saints, you have to look at what he had been doing for the Chargers and what the Saints needed from him. On closer analysis, Brees might be the WORST free agent of all time.

    Grooming a Backup:
    Because Brees got consistently banged up in San Diego, he gave the GM both opportunity and motivation to try out adequate backups. In fact, by missing games at a rate of 1.5 per season for the Chargers, he motivated the team to find, select and groom Phil Rivers. And while Rivers has not offered his team the same injury consistency as did Brees, there are things that he has done adequately. For the Saints, Brees has played in 158 out of 160 games. This is no way to get your team to spend 2nd and 3rd round picks on QBs in the draft. Especially in view of the fact that he “supposedly” had a “terrible” shoulder “injury,” and that’s why not many teams were interested in him.

    Rushing Productivity:
    While a Charger, Brees ran the ball like a man possessed. He averaged 2.7 yds/attempt. That’s been cut in half for the Saints. And predictably, because of his moribund failure as a ball carrier, the Saints don’t ask him to run as much as he used to: his per game rushing totals for the Saints are only ⅓ as high as they were when he was in California. Consequently, the Saints have been forced to burn valuable draft capital April after April, searching for the productivity that Brees can’t give them. As recently as 2015 they spent heavily in the draft, taking RB Marcus Murphy 230th overall.

    Ineffective After the Catch:
    Brees spoiled the Chargers when he was the QB. Over a four period, he averaged 29.8 yards per reception. No QB was better. However, in New Orleans, perhaps because he was distracted by other things, his YPC is a tiny fraction (less than 10%) of what he did in San Diego. One can only imagine the constant friction that this causes among the coaching staff, as the WR coaches must jockey for time with him. Now the Saints barely ever throw to him.

    Overall Productivity:
    No year was worse for Brees than 2013; it was the year that his passing hit rock bottom: in all other years for the Saints, he has led the NFL in some meaningful category of passing. In 2013, however, he was so bad (446 out of 650 for 68.6%, 5162 yards and 39 TDs) that he failed to lead all other throwers in any meaningful category. Surely they were thinking of cutting him! But in predictable Brees fashion, he’s done just enough since then (leading the league in yards the last two seasons) to not get cut.

    I am not necessarily a Saints fan, but even I feel bad for them, and I wonder how they will ever recover from signing Brees.

    • McGeorge

      If only Brees were taller, he’d have been better.
      Being short, like Russel Wilson, is a disadvantage.

    • I’m not quite sure whom this is directed at, but I applaud it regardless.

      • Josh Sanford

        I’m not trying to burn anybody: I was just being a goofball. Drew Brees is underrated to me.

        • Richie

          I thought you were going to make an argument about his cap figure being a detriment to the team in recent years – which probably has some merit.

          Also- how the heck did Brees have TWO receptions for 20+ yards with the Chargers?

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  • Richie

    Fascinating that there are now 2 active players who are tied, and both have somewhat of a chance to catch the career record in a category. How often does that happen?

  • Josh Sanford

    Marino: 2 seasons with 32 or more TDs
    Brady: 6
    Favre: 7
    Manning: 7
    Brees: 8 seasons, IN A ROW. What a joke. I mean, I know we have to adjust for era, and I know he throws a lot of passes (39.7 Att/gm for the last 10 years), but the shear volume of TDs in right around crazy.

    All NFL QBs prior to 1990: 9 seasons