NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Drew Brees got suspended coach Sean Payton in the building, broke a prestigious NFL passing record and led New Orleans to a desperately needed first win of the season.
For one memorable night, at least, the entire beleaguered Saints organization and its frustrated fans could celebrate a special moment in football history and recapture that winning feeling that had become commonplace before an offseason overshadowed by the NFL's bounty investigation.
Brees broke Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas' half-century-old record by throwing a touchdown pass in his 48th straight game, and the Saints defeated the San Diego Chargers 31-24 on Sunday night.
"I guess you really couldn't have written a better script for tonight," Brees said. "To break the record, to get the win, and the fashion in which we won — really a complete team effort all the way around.
"The amazing thing about a record like this is it spans over the course of four seasons and hopefully we can keep it going to for a while," Brees said. "There are so many people that are a part of this."
Brees' 40-yard pass to Devery Henderson eclipsed the mark of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass Unitas set from 1956-60.
Brees said he was honored and humbled to break a record by a player he saw as a pioneer who stood for "everything that's great in this league."
Brees finished with four touchdown passes, including three to Marques Colston, giving the seventh-year receiver a franchise-record 52 TD catches with the Saints (1-4).
At Brees' request, the NFL allowed Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis — all serving various suspensions in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation — to attend the game. They and Unitas' son, Joe, saw Brees pass for 370 yards, enough to put Brees over 30,000 yards passing as a Saint in his 100th game with the club.
Afterward, Brees took an elevator near the Saints' locker room up to the Superdome's suite level to share a few moments with Payton, Loomis and Vitt.
"It gave us a good mojo for sure," Brees said of Payton's presence. "I love my coach, so glad he could be here. Mickey and Joe Vitt as well. It is special for our team, special they could be a part of this record."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the one who suspended Saints personnel in the bounty matter but also granted Brees' request for Payton, Vitt and Loomis to attend the game, chimed in on his Twitter page shortly after the record fell, writing, "Congrats to (at)drewbrees & his teammates on breaking Unitas' record. Amazing accomplishment by great QB & leader. We're proud of you, Drew."
Philip Rivers passed for 354 yards and two touchdowns to former Saint Robert Meachem, but had two costly turnovers in the final quarter.
"I can't tell you how tough it is to lose a game like this," Rivers said. "We were right there. We were up by 10 points and just didn't get it done. We have a great team, a championship caliber team. But we have to win close games like this."
The first late turnover was Roman Harper's interception and 41-yard return on a pass tipped by fellow safety Malcolm Jenkins. That set up the Saints' final score on Garrett Hartley's field goal. San Diego (3-2) still had a chance to tie in the final minute until defensive end Martez Wilson stripped Rivers and recovered the fumble to seal the victory.