Saints’ Brees reaches 5,000 yards for third straight season

Drew Brees has this 5,000-yard passing season thing down.

Prior to 2008, only one other NFL quarterback had thrown for 5,000 yards when the Miami Dolphins’ Dan Marino piled up 5,084 yards in 1984.

Brees joined him with 5,069 yards in 2008, then did it in 2011 (5,476) to become the only quarterback in NFL history to have more than one. He achieved it again in’12 (5,177).

Brees reached that mark for the fourth time in six seasons Sunday with a 41-yard touchdown pass to Robert Meachem in the second quarter of a 42-17 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome that put the Saints in the playoffs.

Brees, who needed just 219 yards going into the game, lofted a long pass down the right sideline that Meachem brought in while cornerback Darrelle Revis defended with 8:04 left in the second period — pushing Brees’ total for the season to 5,022 yards.

He went on to finish the game with 381 yards and the season with 5,162 yards — giving him three of the top five passing seasons all-time.

RECORD FALLS: While he reached 5,000 yards for the fourth time and the Saints won to clinch a playoff spot, the day wasn’t perfect for Brees.

His NFL single-season record of 5,476 yards he set in 2011 was broken by Peyton Manning in the Denver Broncos’ 34-14 win against the Oakland Raiders.

Manning went into the game with 5,211 yards, 265 shy of Brees’ mark. His 5-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas with 13 seconds left in the first half broke the record by 1 yard at 5,477, then did not play in the second half.

“Are you kidding me?” Brees said when told Manning broke his mark. “I guess if I had a hundred more yards, they would have kept him in and he certainly would have broken it anyway.

“A lot of credit to him, his preparation and level of play … it’s impressive. I thought I might have that one for a little big longer than just two years, but records are made to be broken.”

GIMME FIVE: With the win against the Bucs, the Saints qualified for the playoffs for the 10th time in franchise history — and the fifth time under coach Sean Payton, a club record.

Payton previously guided his team to the postseason in 2006, ’09, ’10 and’11.

The Saints also made the playoffs in 1987, ’90, ’91 and ’92 under Jim Mora and in 2000 under Jim Haslett.

ENDING THE DROUGHT: The Saints came out firing to start the game, scoring a touchdown on their first possession — a 44-yard pass from Brees to wide receiver Lance Moore — to cap a nine-play, 80-yard drive.

It was the first score on the opening series of any half for the Saints since Garrett Hartley kicked a 28-yard field goal to start the second half of their Oct. 13 game against the New England Patriots.

Counting that game, they scored on 8 of 12 first-series opportunities. After that Hartley field goal, however, they were 0-for-18 in their next nine games until breaking through Sunday.

The also scored on their initial possession of the second half as Pierre Thomas had an 8-yard TD run to open the third quarter.

SIXTEEN FOR GRAHAM: Saints tight end Jimmy Graham reeled in his 16th touchdown pass of the season, a 10-yarder from Brees, with 3:08 remaining in the first quarter Sunday.

But Graham didn’t find the end zone again and came up one shy of tying the NFL single-season record for receiving touchdowns by a tight end.

The New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski set the NFL mark in 2011 with 17 touchdown catches.

INACTIVES: The Saints’ inactives were LB Keyunta Dawson, S Isa Abdul-Quddus, WR Nick Toon, DE Tom Johnson, RB Travaris Cadet, CB Terrence Ferderick and QB Ryan Griffin.

Inactives of note for the Bucs were three injured starters — SS Mark Barron (hamstring), G Carl Nicks (foot) and LB Dekoda Watson (groin). Nicks played with the Saints from 2008-11.

HOME SWEET HOME: The victory against the Bucs gave the Saints an 8-0 record at home this season, marking the second time in three seasons that they were undefeated in the Superdome.

They also did it in 2011, which means that Payton, who was suspended for the 2012 season, has won 16 consecutive regular-season home games — 17 when you count a wild-card playoff win over the Detroit Lions in 2010.

The only other team to not lose at home this season was the Cincinnati Bengals.

DEFENSE! DEFENSE!: The Saints’ defense allowed just 17 points in Sunday’s win, which was the seventh time in eight home games that they gave up fewer than 20 points.

They finished the season allowing 125 points at home for an average of 15.6 points per game.

LAGNIAPPE: Saints rookie left tackle Terron Armstead, who gave up three sacks in his first NFL start last week, allowed none Sunday as Brees was dropped just once. … The Saints were 10-1 this season and 49-3 since Payton arrived in 2006 when allowing fewer than 20 points. … Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, who was elected to his first Pro Bowl on Friday night, was chosen by Brees to start the Who Dat! chant after the opening coin toss. … The Bucs had just one field goal in the second half, giving them just 83 points after halftime of their 16 games.