On Sunday night the San Diego Chargers will play the New Orleans Saints, and barring some highly unexpected and unforeseen circumstances, Drew Brees will throw a touchdown pass. When that happens he will set an NFL record for throwing a touchdown pass in 48 straight games, breaking the mark set by Johnny Unitas some 52 years ago.

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Nothing against Drew Brees, a top-notch and gifted quarterback, but I am far more impressed with Unitas’ streak than Brees’ streak.

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The record books don’t differentiate, but today’s NFL bears little resemblance to that of the league when Unitas played. Defenders could hit would be receivers all they wanted to, making the chances of being where the quarterback expected you to be slim – and that’s before taking into consideration the likely realignment of your jaw should the play call be for you to run a crossing route. Today if a defensive back so much as places a finger on the jersey of the receiver he is covering pass interference is called. Am I expected to believe for one moment that Brees would have completed all those passes if today’s game was officiated in the same manner as it was when Unitas played?

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Johnny Unitas’ record touchdown streak may soon be broken, but it should never be forgotten

When Unitas began his streak teams were throwing the ball on only about 40% of their plays; in today’s NFL teams pass about 60% of the time. When Unitas set his mark teams threw for about 150 yards a game; now it’s about 250 yards a game. When Unitas set his mark he led the league with 25 touchdown passes; now about a dozen quarterbacks throw that many annually. When Unitas played it wasn’t that unusual for teams to have games when they threw fewer than ten passes in a game; today it’s not unusual for teams to throw 40 or 50 passes in a game.

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Look no further than the NFL all-time leader boards for quarterback stats such as touchdowns, passing yards and completion percentage, for both single-season records as well as career totals. The lists are nearly entirely filled with current, active players, or players who just very recently retired. Kerry Collins has more career passing yards than Unitas or Joe Montana! Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe – two players who along with Collins will not gain membership to the Pro Football Hall of Fame – rank seventh and eigth all-time in passing yards! Even Jon Kitna, Brad Johnson and Jeff Garcia show up on all-time leader boards!

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Again, this is no slight to Brees; anybody that breaks such a long standing record absolutely deserves recognition.

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It’s just that what Unitas did was far more impressive when you consider the circumstances and look at the total picture.

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October 5, 1992:
The Temptations’ Eddie Kendricks, the lead voice on ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’, ‘Get Ready’, and ‘Just My Imagination’ died of lung cancer. Coincidentally bandmate Richard Street was born on October 5, 1942.

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Follow on Twitter @AllThingsPats

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Drew Brees may hold the record, but Johnny Unitas' streak is more impressive, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating