Drew Brees' historic season from the 15 Saints who caught his TD passes

New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees, right, had a historic season, throwing touchdown passes to 15 different players -- including Taysom Hill. Sean Gardner/Getty Images

METAIRIE, La. -- Keith Kirkwood was an undrafted rookie receiver from Temple and a long shot to make the New Orleans Saints' roster in early August, when he caught a touchdown pass from Drew Brees during a scrimmage at Tulane's Yulman Stadium.

After the practice, Kirkwood said he and Brees were the final two players on the field, getting in some extra routes. So he took a moment to thank Brees for the opportunity to catch a TD pass from him.

"And he said, 'There's many more to come, brother,'" Kirkwood recalled. "And that stuck with me."

Turns out, it stuck with Brees, too.

Because after Kirkwood spent the first nine weeks of the season on the practice squad, got promoted to the active roster in Week 10 and caught his first NFL TD pass in Week 12, Kirkwood said Brees came up to him and said, "I told you brother, we were gonna have many more to come."

Kirkwood wound up catching three TDs from Brees in 2018 -- including one in the playoff victory against Philadelphia. But his story is hardly unique.

Brees became the first player in NFL history to throw touchdown passes to 15 different players, including the playoffs. And nine of those players were undrafted.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no team has had nine undrafted players catch touchdown passes since the draft came into existence in 1936.

"I think that's what makes Drew so great is it doesn't matter who you are or where you went to school or if you're a first-round pick or undrafted. If you get open, he's gonna get you the ball," said tight end Garrett Griffin -- an undrafted third-year player from Air Force, who caught his first career touchdown in the NFC Championship Game despite having spent the entire regular season on the practice squad.

"If you look over the course of the season, some of the guys who have had touchdowns, it's like people had never even heard of them before," Griffin said. "I think that's what kind of makes Drew special."

Brees and the Saints' offense sputtered a bit down the stretch -- which almost certainly knocked him out of the league MVP battle with Kansas City Chiefs sensation Patrick Mahomes.

But Brees' 18th season was still special enough to put him in contention for his third NFL Offensive Player of the Year award when the league hands out its hardware Saturday. He finished with a career-high passer rating of 115.7 and an NFL-record completion percentage of 74.4 to go with 3,992 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, just five interceptions and a 13-2 record as a starter.

Here's a look back at what made some of those touchdowns (36 total) so special from the guys who caught them:

Receiver Michael Thomas, 10 TDs (including postseason):

"The Rams one (a 72-yard game-clinching TD in the fourth quarter in Week 9), that wasn't a play we had in during the week. And we drew it up on the sideline, executed it and it happened. I usually don't get that much free man coverage, and they had busted the coverage a couple plays before that we could've scored on. And I think [Brees is] the type of guy he doesn't like making the wrong decisions and missing stuff like that. So we came back to that. You gotta know he's gonna get mad if he makes the wrong read, so he's gonna come back to it somehow."

Tight end Benjamin Watson, 2 TDs:

"The one in Baltimore was No. 500 for him. And he goes, 'Take the ball.' And I'm like, 'No I'm not taking this ball. This is going to Canton or something. No, you take this ball.'

"The other one was kind of a deception type play, kind of sell the block and wait till they trigger. And the crazy thing is we got the wrong look. We were really supposed to be checking into a run or a max protection. But he left the play on. So I'm in my stance like, 'All right, well, we've gotta make it work.' And we ended up making it work even though it wasn't a great look for it. He made a great throw with guys in his face.

"You got a guy like him that's a freak, he don't need the right look."

QB/WR/TE/RB Taysom Hill, 1 TD (in the NFC Championship Game):

"Drew and I had laughed and joked about it throughout the season. Drew's not one to pay attention to statistics or numbers or whatever it is. But the rest of us are when it comes to him breaking records. So we did have a conversation about if I caught a touchdown pass during the season, then I was going to be the one that could break the record for most touchdown passes to different people. ... But I was a little surprised going into the week that I had a good opportunity to catch a touchdown from Drew, just because it was the championship game, and you'd think it would happen in a moment that wasn't quite as big as the championship game.

"It went pretty much exactly as we hoped for. We started in a 2-by-2 formation and we motioned into a 3-by-1, figuring the corner or the safety who would travel would soften up with the motion. So as we motioned over there, there was some confusion. The safety bumped over, they were trying to talk it out, who was gonna take who. And Drew timed it up perfectly where I got set just long enough, and he snapped it. And Austin Carr and Tre'Quan Smith did a great job in front of me where it was probably one of the easier touchdowns that Drew has thrown all year and one of the easier plays I've been a part of all year."

Fullback Zach Line, 2 TDs:

"In Tampa, we had kind of a little trickery where I come underneath the quarterback and wind back. And they played it a little differently than we thought. When I'm wrapping underneath Drew and coming back to the left, normally the end plays down the line. But he came right down at me. So I had to find my way around him, and I was happy that Drew was able to get me the ball.

"Honestly when I looked back, I couldn't find Drew. The ball was already in the air when I was looking for him, so it kind of just hit me. So it's nice to have an accurate quarterback who can just kind of put it in there."

Griffin, 1 TD (in the NFC Championship Game):

"It was kind of like a pick route where two guys ran crossing routes. And in practice, Drew didn't hit me until really, really late while I was running across. And that's exactly how it came out in the game. So just the way Drew prepares and how he envisions things, it's kind of unbelievable that that's exactly how it happened."

Receiver Cameron Meredith, 1 TD:

"That was my first game [on the active roster]. Drew had the opportunity to scramble, and I'm pretty sure I was the last read on that play, because I was coming in real late. And once he got out of the pocket, he seen me, and he trusted me, and he just put it on me. ... Drew has to go through every read [in practice] just in case. So when he came to me, it was kind of like clockwork. He's just a special person, just his work ethic, his intensity all the time, his dedication to the details is insane."

Receiver Tre'Quan Smith, 5 TDs, including the 62-yarder on which Brees set the NFL's career passing yardage record in Week 5:

"We were in trips and it was an all-go special. I'm running down the field, and the DB just dropped down for some reason. The running back came out of the backfield, I guess he thought it was a bubble or something and he dropped down on him. And I'm wide open and I see Cam [Meredith] running down the field wide open, too. And Drew kind of pumps Cam and then he came back to me. And my first thing in my mind was like, 'I gotta catch the ball.'

"Then I made kind of a little hesitation on the safety and took it all the way. Then I run and go jump in the stands with the fans and I turn around and there's none of my teammates there. And I'm like, 'Where's everybody at?' Then I turn and look at the middle of the field and I was like, 'Oh, he did it.'"

Smith on his TD in Week 11:

"The [first] Philly game, when I caught the touchdown in the red zone, after that play he said, 'You know why I threw you the ball? Because I trusted you.' [Earlier in the game], we didn't connect on two occasions, one in the back of the end zone, one a deep ball in the middle of the field when I jumped too early.

"Me and Mike had the same route, and Mike [Thomas] being the No. 1 guy here, I'm thinking Mike's gonna get the ball that time. And when I looked at the film, he really could've gone either way. But he kind of looked the safety off Mike's way, then came back to me. And him telling me that really meant so much to me as a rookie, a quarterback telling you he trusts me. It really was an uplift for me."

Tight end Dan Arnold, 1 TD:

"We had had that play up for a couple weeks, and we finally got the look where we knew we were gonna be able to sneak it right in the seam, right on the red zone fringe. And it was one of those plays where it was kind of just one-on-one and he threw it to a place where only I could get it. Especially a guy like Drew, who's gonna put those balls in perfect spots where no matter what the defense is doing, you're still gonna be able to make a play on it. ... So our coaches are always saying, 'Expect the ball no matter what.'"

Running back Mark Ingram, 1 TD:

"Man, he just does a great job selling [the screen pass], you know. His eyes, he's rolling back the other way, he just does a great job selling it. And I think they just lost me with all the movement, and [Andrus] Peat threw a great block and Larry [Warford] was down the field and then I was able to make a move to get back in."

Receiver Austin Carr, 2 TDs:

"The first one against Philly was definitely special, mostly because it was my first one. Also because it was such a quick play that I don't think I realized what happened until right after. I remember catching it and looking for a flag because I thought I might have moved my foot a little early. ... But I knew I needed to get my eyes around quick, because he caught [the snap] and gunned it to me.

"Communication, first and foremost as a quarterback -- getting [15] guys on the same page. Dedication, he's studying hard. And I should have another 'ation,' right? Celebration. You celebrate together. He's not a big ego guy. He's a team player."

Receiver Tommylee Lewis, 1 TD:

"It was all week. They drew up the play, and coach explained how it would play out, and it played out the exact way come game time. It was cool -- especially my first week back [from injured reserve]. I just had to beat the 'backer really, straight down the seam. We knew Michael [Thomas] would hold that corner down backside, and the safety was over the top. And Drew just laid it out there for me."

Receiver Ted Ginn Jr., 2 TDs:

"All week we was running it to where we thought the guy was gonna be inside of me. We thought we was gonna have to have a nice little inside move. But when the play came about, the guy really played me outside a little bit. So it was just a little minor adjustment during the route, but we still got to the end of the route.

"We knew it was gonna be two type of ways we could run it. But other than that, Drew's real good at putting the ball in the right spot at the right time. So as long as you get there, it don't really matter how you get there."

Kirkwood, 3 TDs (including postseason):

"I keep hearing that people think I wasn't in the right spot at the right time (when he nearly collided with Smith in the end zone at Dallas). But, no, Drew knew. It was just amazing to see the trust he had in me."

Tight end Josh Hill, 1 TD:

"It just goes to his preparation. He knows the looks he's gonna get on game day. He works with guys after practice, he knows how they move, he knows how they read things. I think that's a reason why he's so special is because he can get on the same page with so many different people. I don't know if many guys can do that."

Running back Alvin Kamara, 4 TDs:

"He's a great quarterback. That's what great quarterbacks do."