METAIRIE — If the New Orleans Saints weren’t 0-4 and one of only two winless teams in the NFL, Drew Brees would probably be able to enjoy this week a lot more.
It has to be an athlete’s dream to try to break a 52-year-old NFL record — and, as a bonus, do it against the team he used to play for, right?
But losing streaks, the nasty things that they are, don’t care about history or that the team on the other side of the field let you walk six years ago.
So when Brees tries to surpass Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas’ record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass Sunday night against the San Diego Chargers, it’ll be more about breaking into the win column than breaking a record.
It would certainly mean a lot more to him.
“Yeah, if our record were a little bit better it would be,” Brees said. “But it doesn’t change the significance of the record, but hopefully, we can use it as a launch point and a platform for the rest of our season.”
Brees equaled Unitas’ longstanding mark, which has been compared to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941, in the first quarter of Sunday’s 28-27 loss at Green Bay.
While the record he now shares with Unitas is a significant one, Brees is more concerned with trying to get the Saints going in the right direction against the team he played for from 2001-05.
“I very much try to compartmentalize it,” he said. “I just think about doing my job, and typically, the other stuff takes care of itself.”
Brees said he obviously heard a lot of talk about the streak, which started on Oct. 18, 2009 when he had four touchdown passes in a rout of the New York Giants, from his family and friends this week.
But when the Saints went back to work Wednesday to being preparing for Sunday night’s game, it was back to business for him.
“Now that the work week has begun, I’ve really tried to leave it out there,” Brees said. “Obviously, I hope we accomplish it. It’s tremendous, but at the same time I’m focused on doing the job and whatever it takes to help us win.
“If we break the record, and in the process we win, that’s great.”
If he does, it would be the second major NFL passing record he’s earned in the past two seasons. Last year, he threw for 5,476 yards to break Dan Marino’s 28-year-old single-season record by almost 400 yards.
Brees, who is a student of the game and its rich history, said Unitas’ accomplishments certainly speak for themselves.
“Those Baltimore Colts teams,” he said, “that was the heyday, and he really kind of helped pave the way for what we have now.”
Brees received a congratulatory note Tuesday from Unitas’ son, Joe, who said he’s a fan of Brees and wished him the best in his quest to surpass the mark set by his father, who died in 2002.
“My father always said that records were meant to be broken,” Joe Unitas wrote. “I know that if he was still with us that he would wish you the best as well. When I look back on my father’s life, I remember a man who was much bigger than the game of football.
“The things he would appreciate most about you have nothing to do with football; it’s about who you are as a person,” he said.
The words obviously touched Brees, who has thrown a touchdown pass in every game he’s played in since being shut out by the New York Jets on Oct. 4, 2009.
“I’ve never met him personally, but it was obviously a very classy move,” Brees said.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who played with Brees from 2004-05, marveled during a conference call at what his former teammate has done and has an opportunity to do.
“Obviously, that’s a lot of games in a row with touchdowns,” said Rivers, who became the starter when Brees wasn’t offered a new contract by the Chargers in 2006. “If something stands for 50 years, it shows what an awesome accomplishment that is.”
To show how tough it is to do, the next-longest streak behind Brees and Unitas in the NFL record book belongs to Brett Favre, who had a TD in 36 consecutive games from 2002-04.
“You look at how it hasn’t happened and look at all the quarterbacks that have played in those 50 years,” Rivers said. “That’s a heck of a deal.”
Brees, who has 114 TD passes during the streak, has had 13 games in which he threw for just one score. But in only four of those games did the lone touchdown come in the fourth quarter.
The closest it came to ending was in Game 35 on Oct. 30, 2011 when the Saints had to drive 80 yards in the closing minutes while trailing the then-winless St. Louis Rams, 31-14. The 15-play was capped by an 8-yard TD to wide receiver Lance Moore with just six seconds left.
Moore also snared a 12-yard touchdown to extend the streak with 1:55 to play in a Thanksgiving Day win over the Dallas Cowboys in 2010.
“I think it’s exactly like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak,” Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel said. “That’s unbelievable, and for a quarterback to throw a touchdown in 47 consecutive games is something special.
“It’s fun to watch, especially because he’s one of my best friends.”
Tight end David Thomas is actually a part of the record having caught three of Brees’ scoring passes during the streak.
“It’s always neat to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself and something historically that’s big,” he said. “He’d be the first to say that it’s a team thing, and having protection up front and people getting open is the key.”