It came with 11 minutes and 51 seconds gone in the second quarter. An eight-yard throw to Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas – and on 7.42 on Sunday evening, Mountain Time, Peyton Manning had broken the National Football League record for touchdown passes and further staked his claim to be the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
That pass was the 509th for a touchdown by Manning, taking him past Brett Favre on the all-time list. And Favre, the indestructible “gunslinger” for the Green Bay Packers, took 302 games to reach his 508; Manning did it in 56 fewer games, and after missing the entire 2011 season for spinal surgery that many expected would end his career.
But it did not. Manning was released by the Indianapolis Colts on 7 March 2012. Thirteen days later he signed for the Broncos, and embarked on one of sport’s most remarkable renaissances. Any doubts about his throwing arm strength were put to rest conclusively with two seasons in which he threw 92 TD passes (including a record-tying seven in a single game against the Baltimore Ravens in September last year) and led the Broncos to the Super Bowl in February.
That game ended in crushing defeat to the Seattle Seahawks – and had some speculating that at 38 Manning was close to the end. But this season he has surged back once more, adding a further 19 scoring passes in the season’s first six games alone. “I knew my record would go,” Favre said, “I’m thrilled that it’s Peyton that’s doing it.” Just for good measure, Manning wrapped up his evening’s work with a 40-yard missile to tight end Julius Thomas for No 510.
The qualities that have carried him so far are the perfect mix for a quarterback, the game’s most important position. Obviously, he has a fabulous arm. Add to that coolness under pressure, a ferocious competitiveness and an unequalled knack for on-field communication, and you have a natural leader. Manning’s only “flaw” has been a perceived inability to shine in the biggest games of all, reflected in the fact he has only one Super Bowl ring to his name, against three for his contemporary and closest rival, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.
Manning has been helped by the modern higher scoring passing game in the NFL. In a 16-year career, he has already thrown for 510 touchdowns. Johnny Unitas, the standout quarterback of his era, had only 290 in a career from 1956 to 1973 – two seasons more than Manning who, health permitting, could double Unitas’ total, maybe even reaching a once unimaginable 600.
But even his current record will surely last a while. The two most prolific active QBs are Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Brady, with 374 and 372 touchdown passes respectively. But they are already 35 and 37. Who knows – the quarterback who one day overtakes Manning could be the top 2012 NFL draft pick Andrew Luck, the youngster who replaced him at Indianapolis that year. Luck is currently on a mere 65 touchdowns. But at 25, he’s got a long time to catch up.
NFL's record passers
Peyton Manning broke Brett Favre’s NFL record for touchdown passes, and his throwing feat will take some beating in the coming years.
1. Peyton Manning* 510
2. Brett Favre 508
3. Dan Marino 420
4. Drew Brees* 374
5. Tom Brady* 372
6. Frank Tarkenton 342
7. John Elway 300
8. Warren Moon 291
*Still active in the NFLReuse content