There have been four passing touchdown kings in the last 40 years: Fran Tarkenton, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, and Peyton Manning. I thought it would be fun to plot the number of career touchdown passes each player had on the Y-Axis after each game of their career (shown on the X-Axis):
As you can see, Tarkenton lags quite a bit behind the other three, but of course he played in a much tougher era. He also held the touchdown crown for a record 19 years and 11 months. And he finished strong: he threw 110 touchdowns in the last 80 games of his career (games 164-243), which is even more than Marino had (105) during games 164-263 of his career.
Marino’s incredible early start really stands out: by game 63, he was at 156 touchdowns, far ahead of Manning (109), Favre (102), and Tarkenton (91) through 63 games. It isn’t until game 179 that Manning finally passes him (340-338), while it takes Favre until game 213 (385-384) to move ahead. Marino would also jump back ahead of Favre, ultimately finishing with 420 in 242 games; at that point, Favre was still at 414.
Manning’s trajectory is of course impressive. But it’s the shape of his career that really stands out. Consider:
- Manning played in 266 games: he threw 252 touchdowns in his first 133 games, and 287 in his final 133.
- By comparison, Favre threw 269 in his first 151 games, and 239 in his final 151, and Favre was known for his longevity!
- Marino had 245 in his first 121 games, and 175 in his final 121 games.
- Tarkenton had 182 touchdowns in his first 121 games, 3 in his 122nd game, and 157 in his final 121 games, and he was a fast finisher!
Even with his bad finish in 2015, Manning still had a remarkable run in his 30s. At the halfway mark of his career, he was a Hall of Famer, and then he was arguably better on his back nine. That’s how you go about having two HOF careers.
The most incredible part of this chart? That would be the intersection, where you can’t even see three of the quarterbacks. At game 175, Brees was at 334 touchdown passes, Marino was at 333, Manning 332, and Brady 330. That’s unreal!1. Brees is actually still ahead of Manning’s pace, with 428 passes in 217 career games. Through 217 games, Manning was at 420, Brady 414, Favre 391, Marino 387, and Tarkenton 305. Brees was 36 years and 353 days old in game 217; Manning was 36-232 (game 9 of the 2012 season) when he had his 217th game. He ended that season with 436 touchdowns and turned 37 the following March. Brees ended last year with 428 touchdowns and turned 37 the following January.
So, given that backdrop, we could make the case that Brees is on pace to break the record, although Manning set the single-season touchdown record in his next year. Still, given the way Manning fell off at age 39, it’s within reason to think that Brees could set the record with another 110 touchdowns. He’s also a year and a half younger than Brady, so he is the bigger threat to Manning’s record. He’ll need 112 more touchdowns, which would likely require four more seasons. He has shown no dropoff in play, but neither did Manning until December 2014.
- Favre was at 312; Tarkenton 247 [↩]