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CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Brees' record-breaking night tainted by decision to go for it late


NEW ORLEANS -- The kid got his wish.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees broke the NFL single-season record for passing yards, breaking Dan Marino's single-season mark of 5,084 yards with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles in the Saints' 45-16 dismantling of the Atlanta Falcons Monday night.

"I kind of got emotional before the game," Brees said. "There was a kid as I was signing autographs who said, 'I'm here to see you break the record.' It made me think of when I was a kid."

This is one of those where-were-you moments, another snapshot of life being permanently etched into our memories. It's kind of funny that a man throws for over 5,000 yards and the pass that broke the record traveled only 9 yards in the air.

"It's a special night," Saints coach Sean Payton said.

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Marino set the record in 1984. Rules have changed since to favor the passing game, which helps the modern quarterbacks, but Brees has been hotter than a New Orleans summer day in the past month as he took down the record with 5,087.

In doing so, he led the 12-3 Saints to the NFC South division title. This victory puts the Saints in as either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NFC, depending on what happens this week.

If they are the third seed, there is a chance they will play the Falcons again in two weeks. If they do, they will be facing a team that sure didn't take too kindly to the way Brees broke the record.

Nor should they have.

Brees broke the record with 2:51 left in the game with the score 38-16. It was a questionable decision to say the least to go for it in that manner since the Saints have another game to break the record. Payton must have known that too since he brought up the decision before somebody asked about it during his post-game news conference.

"Someone is going to ask this question so I am going to answer it before it's asked," Payton said. "Typically, would I be throwing it there? The answer would be probably not. In fact, the answer would be 'I wouldn't be.' But I thought it was appropriate that we get the record. And we did it. We have a ton of respect for Falcons coach Mike [Smith], his staff and his players. It seemed like the right thing to do. I felt real good about the decision."

Respect? The Falcons players didn't see it that way. Nor did much of their staff.

The players I talked to all thought it was classless.

"No need for that," one player said. "It came on our watch, but it didn't have to come that way. We won't forget it."

Payton said he talked to Smith about the decision after the game, and also addressed some of the Falcons players about why he went for the record with the score what it was that late in the game.

The word I got out of the Falcons locker room was the only player he talked to about it was quarterback Matt Ryan.

"He didn't talk to me," Falcons corner Dunta Robinson said.

"I'm with Dunta," safety William Moore said.

A handful of other defensive players said they had no contact with Payton either.

"We weren't trying to run up the score or anything," Brees said,

Maybe not, but the Falcons sure didn't like it.

When I asked Payton how he would have felt if that were done to his team, he said, "It's hard for me to answer because it didn't happen to me. But I felt really good about the decision."

The way I see it, what should have been a truly special moment, something that should have happened in the context of the game, and made it tainted with questions.

It won't overshadow what truly is a special record for one of the greatest passers of this generation, even ever, but it does take some of the gloss off of it.

Brees walked onto the field for his final drive and needed 30 yards to break Marino's record. The Saints got the ball at the Atlanta 33. He first hit Marques Colston for 12 yards. He then hit Devery Henderson for 11 yards before hitting Sproles on a simple option route for the 9-yard touchdown and the record-breaker.

The Saints called five pass plays on the six plays in that drive. You could see the Falcons coaches on the other sideline looking angrily across the field during the drive, as if to say, "Really?"

"My hat's off to Drew," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "I congratulate him."

Smith wouldn't say anything negative about the decision to go for it, but his body language during the drive said it all. He wasn't pleased and team sources said he wasn't thrilled about Payton's decision to go for the record.

This comes a year after the Saints danced on the Falcons logo at the Georgia Dome after beating Atlanta last year with one player from that team that night saying, "I pissed on the Falcons logo."

"That's just who they are," the Falcons player said. "We'll see them down the road. We won't forget any of it."

None of us will forget what we saw Monday night. We saw greatness. We saw one of our generation's special quarterbacks take down a record that has lasted 27 years. This much I know: This new mark won't last another 27.

Heck, it might not even last a week. New England's Tom Brady is just 190 yards behind Brees heading into the final week.

For now, the kid got his wish.

It's just too bad it happened the way it did.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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