Drew Brees passed for a touchdown in an NFL-record 48th straight game, then watched as ex-teammate Robert Meachem caught his second touchdown pass of the game to give the San Diego Chargers a 17-14 halftime lead over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night.
Brees' 40-yard touchdown pass to Devery Henderson tied the game at 7 late in the first quarter and surpassed the mark of 47 straight games with a touchdown that Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas set between 1956 and 1960.
After the completion, Brees galloped to the end zone to hug Henderson. The rest of New Orleans' offense pursued and swarmed around Brees in celebration.
Brees took the game ball to the sideline where he continued to accept congratulations. The scoring pass capped an 80-yard drive in which Brees completed all three of his third-down passes, including the touchdown connection with Henderson.
In the second quarter, Marques Colston made his franchise-record-tying 50th touchdown catch as a Saints receiver on Brees' perfectly placed pass to the back of the end zone. The catch matched the mark Joe Horn set in 2006. The play also gave New Orleans a 14-10 lead that lasted until Meachem's 44-yard touchdown catch in the final minute of the half.
At Brees' request, the NFL allowed head coach Sean 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, so long as they did not have contact with the team. It was the first time this season any of them were in attendance for a Saints game and they looked on from the suite level of the Superdome.
Unitas' son, Joe, was in attendance after sending a letter to Saints headquarters during the past week in which he wished Brees the best in the Saints quarterback's attempt to break his father's 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 social media to offer his own congratulations to Brees.
On his Twitter page, Goodell wrote: "Congrats to (at)drewbrees & his teammates on breaking Unitas' record. Amazing accomplishment by great QB & leader. We're proud of you, Drew."
Vitt is expected to take over the coaching staff when his six-game suspension ends. Loomis was docked eight games. With the Saints coming into the game at 0-4, the Saints desperately needed to win to salvage some faint hope of a playoff berth before Vitt and Loomis resumed their work.
Philip Rivers staked San Diego to a 7-0 lead with a 15-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Meachem, marking the former Saints receiver's first touchdown since signing with the Chargers as a free agent last winter.
Meachem snatched the ball from Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins in tight coverage, capping a drive that included completions of 39 and 32 yards from Rivers to Malcom Floyd.
San Diego moved ahead 10-7 on Nick Novak's 20-yard field goal, a disappointment for the Chargers after Saints cornerback Jabari Greer was called for pass interference against Floyd, resulting in a 25-yard penalty that gave San Diego a first down at the New Orleans 6-yard line. Novak, filling in for injured kicker Nate Kaeding, later missed a 55-yard attempt.
Rivers was 14 of 22 for 202 yards and two TDs in the opening half. Meachem had three catches for 67 yards, looking the best he has all season on the field where he spent his first five seasons as a pro. Brees was 16 of 24 for 182 yards, hitting Colston four times for 75 yards.