Drew Brees is a bona fide future Hall of Fame quarterback: one of the most prolific passers in history, proud owner of numerous individual records for both passing yards and accuracy, and a Super Bowl MVP.
But even Hall of Fame QBs get the statistical blues. Brees was picked off five times at Atlanta Thursday night, the biggest reason the Falcons held on for a 23-13 win over a team that had owned them for so long (7-1 in last eight) and that handed them their only loss earlier this year.
It was the first five-pick performance of Brees' career. His record of 54 straight games with a touchdown pass came to an end, too.
But Brees is hardly alone among great quarterbacks who turn out major-league duds.
Here’s a look at some of the more notable meltdowns by the game’s greatest quarterbacks.
George Blanda gives new meaning to the term “pick six”
Blanda was the great big-game gunslinger of his time and was largely responsible for the AFL's reputation for wide-open, wild gunslinging football.
He threw a then-record 36 TDs for the Houston Oilers in 1961, and followed that season a still-record 42 INTs in 1962. He coughed up six INTs in a game three times in his career, including twice in that 1962 season alone.
He threw six INT in the season opener against Buffalo, a game the Oilers actually won, 28-23. He completed 8 of 18 passes with 0 TD and 6 INT in a 31-7 loss to the Dallas Texans.
Blanda also threw 5 INT in a game a record seven times.
Y.A. Tittle’s beatdown for the ages
The Hall of Famer Tittle set the NFL record with 36 TD passes in 1963, a mark which stood until broken by Dan Marino in 1984.
But then he suffered one of the most gruesome beatings ever in the 1963 NFL championship game against the Chicago Bears and one of the best defenses in history.
He was knocked from the game several times with injuries and injected with more painkillers than a circus elephant with a tusk-ache. Yet he kept coming back for more.
Tittle completed just 11 of 29 passes with 5 INT that day while the Bears shut down the NFL's best offense and won the NFL title, 14-10.
Bart Starr – Mr. MVP gets toasted
The only five-time champion quarterback was the NFL’s defending MVP in 1967. But he had one of the worst games of his career in Week 2 of 1967, the season famously chronicled in the book “Instant Replay.”
He threw 5 INT in just 19 attempts against the Bears in Week 2, yet Green Bay held on for a 13-10 win. Starr, the best big-game quarterback in history, recovered nicely from the worst game of his career. He capped the year with the first of his two Super Bowl MVP performances in Super Bowl I.
Joe Namath – high-risk, high-reward gunslinger
Namath is in the Hall of Fame and is known for his big arm, but not his accuracy. He completed just half the passes in his career and, like Blanda, threw six INT in a game three different times.
In 1967, Namath famously became the first 4,000-yard quarterback (4,007) in pro football history. But he also threw 6 INT in a 28-28 tie that season with the Houston Oilers.
Johnny Unitas – 5 pick games and championship shutout
Unitas is widely remembered as one of the great clutch quarterbacks in history, largely on the strength of his win over the Giants in the 1958 NFL championship game, the first overtime in NFL history.
But he and the Colts also suffered a choke for the ages in the 1964 championship game: Unitas completed just 12 of 20 passes for 95 yards with 0 TD and 2 INT in a 27-0 loss to the Browns.
The Colts had scored an NFL best 428 points that season. They remain the last team shutout in an NFL championship game.
Unitas also suffered four different five-pick games in his career, in 1960, 1961, 1966, and 1970 – a last a year in which he and the Colts won the Super Bowl.
Len Dawson nearly blows Kansas City’s Super Bowl shot
The Kansas City Chiefs won their only Super Bowl at the end of the 1969 season.
But the 11-3 Chiefs twice lost to the Raiders, including a 27-24 home loss in November, when Dawson was picked five times on just 25 pass attempts.
Terry Bradshaw’s 1979 turkey
Bradshaw was the defending Super Bowl MVP in 1979, and about to win his fourth Super Bowl in six years, while proving himself later in his career one of the game’s great big-game gunslingers. But he was picked five times in a 35-7 loss at San Diego just days before Thanksgiving.
Warren Moon twice eclipsed by Pittsburgh
The great Moon was one of the most prolific passers of his day – except against Pittsburgh. He had two 5-INT games in career, once at Pittsburgh in 1991 and again at home against the Steelers in 1992. The Oilers lost both games.
Dan Marino’s Thanksgiving day disaster
The great Marino suffered a 5-pick game against the Jets in 1988, but also threw three TD that day. His worst effort came with 0 TD and 5 INT in Dallas. That's O.K. Only everybody in America's watched the worst game of Marino's career. It was played on Thanksgiving day in 1998. The Cowboys won, 20-0.
Troy Aikman’s Meadowlands meltdown
The Dallas Cowboys three-time Super Bowl champion QB must have known the end was near when he threw 5 INT with a 35.0 rating in a 19-14 loss at the arch-rival N.Y. Giants in October 2000.
He retired at the end of the season.
Brett Favre’s just having 6 INTs of fun out there
The worst playoff performance by any quarterback, Hall of Fame or otherwise, in recent years certainly belongs to the great gunslinger Favre, the all-time leader in everything: including most picks in a playoff game since 1950.
He was intercepted six times in Green Bay’s 45-17 loss in the 2001 divisional playoffs.
The last QB to throw six picks in a postseason game was Norm Van Brocklin, also a Hall of Famer. He was picked off six times by the Browns in the 1955 NFL championship game, a 38-14 Cleveland win over the L.A. Rams.
Peyton Manning super-discharged by San Diego
Believe it or not, the last QB to throw six picks in a game is no less a legend than future Hall of Famer Manning, who some say is the best QB of his generation.
He threw six INT in a nationally televised primetime 23-21 loss at San Diego in 2007.
So two of the last three quarterbacks to throw six INT in a game are Favre and Manning (Chris Chandler 2004 the other), who will hold the top two spots in almost every career passing stat by the end of Manning's career.
So buck up little Drew Brees. When it comes to big-game gaffes by great QBs, there's a long line ahead of you.