The 1980s were an age where professional athletes were less concerned about “respect,” getting their “love” or their “props.” In the age of Atari, cassette tapes and Star Wars movies that were actually good, personal glory had a different dynamic. It was generally understood that some players were greater than others, and those that weren't so great had a solid understanding of that.
That was the age of Dan Marino, who played quarterback for the Miami Dolphins back in the day. In 1984, Marino threw for 5,084 yards in just his second year in the NFL. Despite the league's shift to favoring the pass over the last 30 years, Marino's mark stood until Drew Brees surpassed it last night.
The immediate reaction, from the Saints' perspective, was overwhelmingly positive. The Superdome went batty, the team celebrated around their quarterback, and even Marino himself fired off a congratulatory tweet to mark the occasion.
The Falcons, understandably, were not so thrilled as to how it all went down. The Saints took possession of the ball deep in Falcons territory, up three scores, with less than three minutes remaining in the game. New Orleans sat 33 yards away from another touchdown. Brees needed 30 passing yards to break the record. And so the Saints took to the air.
An opponent throwing for a touchdown pass at the end of a game while leading by three scores isn't something that would sit well with any professional athlete today. Unlike more benign ventures like, say, college softball, NFL games are played out to their completion, regardless of the score.
There's often a general understanding as to when the game is out of hand, and teams respond accordingly. The Saints' failure to do so seems like a minor faux pas, like eating salad with the wrong fork or not adding the “plus four” to the ZIP code on a piece of mail.
Having said that, there's an argument to be made. As quarterbacks often hog the glory of their team's accomplishments, they should (and often do) shoulder the bulk of the blame. Brees had another game to break Marino's record, and that was a home game against the Panthers, so he could have done it in front of his home fans. Brees surely could muster 30 yards passing in a game, when he had thrown for 300 or more in 12 of 15 games previously.
Sure, the Saints didn't have to do that against the Falcons, but let's talk about what the Falcons didn't have to do. The Falcons didn't have to get blown out against a team to whom they'd played so closely in four of their last five outings. The Falcons didn't have to whine about not being respected in what ended up as a 29-point blowout. And the Falcons didn't have to let Brees go 10-for-13 on third downs.
The Falcons need to turn the corner. Four of their six losses this season came against playoff teams. Mike Smith has finished in the top two of the South in each of his four seasons at the helm.
By the standards of the franchise, one that has never made the playoffs in consecutive seasons, this is exceptional. By the standards of the NFL elite, it's insufficient. That deserves more worry than being a footnote of a record-breaking feat by a better player on a better team.
If the current order of the NFC standings holds through Week 17, the Saints and Falcons would meet again in the Superdome in two weeks, with an NFC Championship berth on the line. That ought to be good, if the Falcons finally decide to stop talking.