The Saints see all they need from quarterback Drew Brees in the first quarter

INDIANAPOLIS — When quarterback Drew Brees capped a second 80-yard drive with touchdown pass No. 2 on Saturday, the Saints decided they’d seen all they needed and gave him the rest of the night off.

It mattered not in the slightest that Brees strained his left oblique Aug. 1 and then missed full team drills as well as two exhibition victories for New Orleans over the next 16 days. From the instant Brees walked up to the line of scrimmage for his first live-game snap of 2014 in a 23-17 win at Lucas Oil Field against the Indianapolis Colts to the moment he was subbed out three series later, he looked primed as he’ll ever be to pass for 5,000-plus yards a third regular season in a row.

He looked primed as he’ll ever be to in 2014 pass for 5,000-plus yards for the fifth time in a career that’s seen him emerge as the only NFL player to ever accomplish that feat more than once.

Brees required less than a quarter to brandish several of the weapons that have allowed him to pass for the most yards (10,339) and throw for the second-most touchdowns (82) in the league since 2012. Such as when he was facing his first third-and-long of the league year on the fifth play against the Colts and fired the ball where only veteran receiver Marques Colston could catch it 4 yards past the line to gain.

Catch it Colston did for a fresh set of downs five yards into Indianapolis’ territory.

But Brees’ accuracy is far from his only trick. Later in the drive, the Saints faced another third-and-long from the Colts 13. Brees took the snap from veteran center Jonathan Goodwin in the shotgun formation, scanned the field as he dropped a few steps back, identified the chance to run; seized it, and slid 2 yards past the first-down marker at Indianapolis’ 3.

That set Brees up for what happened two plays later. He unloaded a short pass to reserve fullback Austin Johnson. Johnson plowed through a tackler and dove over the goal-line for a score that punctuated a drive that began at the Saints 20; helped put the team up 7-0; and unfolded without any penalties, significant for a preseason that’s been rife with them.

After getting the ball back at their 11 following a Colts three-and-out, Brees and the Saints could only move as far as their 25 before punting. But that seven-play drive didn’t end without Brees completing a four-yard pass to running back Pierre Thomas on third-and-3.

That wasn’t merely a third consecutive third-down conversion for Brees against an opponent that came in giving up the fourth-fewest yards this preseason, in his first NFL game since the Saints were eliminated in the divisional round of the playoffs Jan. 11. It buried for good any talk about whether any rust had accumulated for Brees while he was on the mend from his oblique.

When Brees and the Saints touched the ball again, they were again at their 20 and tied with the Colts, though it was now 7-7.

On the second play of the advance, Brees threw his sharpest pass of the night, aiming it deep to the left side of the field and toward All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, covered by linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. The ball eased into Graham’s grasp without causing the tight end to break his stride, and the play didn’t stop until a gain of 38 and a tackle by Indianapolis safety Colt Anderson at his own 39.

After four plays and one penalty each on the Saints and Colts, New Orleans was at Indianapolis’ 13. Colts linebacker Bjoern Werner busted through the Saints’ protection and nearly sacked Brees — but the Saints quarterback avoided a loss by absorbing the contact, falling forward and shoveling an incomplete pass to tight end Ben Watson.

That enabled the events of the ensuing snap: Colston slipped past Jackson, and Brees delivered a pinpoint strike to the receiver in the end zone for touchdown toss No. 2.

Not only did the Saints soon take a 14-7 lead with 32 seconds left in the first quarter and then sit Brees. It meant Brees’ numbers were 9-of-15 for 128 yards and two touchdowns. He completed passes to six of the seven receivers he targeted.

That equates to a blistering passer rating of 127.2, a figure Brees managed to surpass just four times in 2013 and not once when the Saints were visitors. That was a blistering 127.2 away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after last year his average passer rating outside of New Orleans was a pedestrian 86.2.

As is usually the case in the preseason, the Saints’ night on Saturday wasn’t perfect. The Colts were without several starters. The Saints were assessed (10 penalties for a loss of 84 yards), which brought up their totals through three exhibitions to a dismal 42 penalties for 372 yards lost. Second-year receiver Kenny Stills left the game in the first half with a quad injury and didn’t return, a disheartening setback for a player who’s been unavailable for most of training camp and sat out the prior two exhibitions.

However, the franchise’s most important player is in midseason form two weeks ahead of the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at Atlanta. And that’s more than something for the Saints to simply hang their hats on.

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