Matching last season not Brees’ goal
During a record-shattering 2011 season, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees seriously raised the bar on a career that seemingly had no limits since he teamed up with Sean Payton six years ago.
The holder of almost every franchise passing record imaginable, Brees took aim at Dan Marino’s NFL single-season record of 5,084 yards for the second time in four years.
After coming up 15 yards short in 2008, he broke it in the next-to-last game of 2011 and padded his total the next week to finish with 5,476 yards while breaking his own NFL single-season record in completing 71.2 percent of his passes.
But almost from that moment, when the numbers stopped piling up, Saints fans wanted to know one thing: Would he be able to top them?
We won’t know until late December, of course, but Brees will start setting his course Sunday when the Saints open the season against the Washington Redskins in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Given the magnitude of the season and the five-year, $100 million contract Brees signed in July, it would seem like he would be under pressure to produce another monster season. But nothing could be farther from the truth, as far as he’s concerned.
“Yeah, I’ve been down that road, and I don’t do that,” Brees said of trying to top last season. “I do make this goal every camp, every season: I want to be a little bit better this year than I was the year before. But you can’t always measure that with statistics.
“It will be hard to ever match last year’s statistics,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that have to come together in order to do that. Statistics don’t always equal success in wins and losses and playoffs and championships.”
That doesn’t mean he won’t try even though he’s armed with a big contract that guarantees him an NFL-record $61 million over the next three seasons.
As far as the 33-year-old quarterback is concerned, there’s always room for improvement for himself and his teammates.
“Do I feel like there is still some left in the tank for us? Absolutely,” he said. “Can we get better? Absolutely. Can I get better? Absolutely.”
Brees’ coaches and teammates expected nothing less when he got his new deal.
Despite a contentious offseason in which he was tagged as the franchise player and threatened to not report to training camp for fear of suffering a career-ending injury, everything returned to normal when Brees agreed to his new contract on July 13.
Of course, everything wasn’t normal as he rejoined a team that was running without Payton, who was suspended for the season for misleading NFL investigators looking into a pay-for-performance scheme.
Still, Brees seemingly picked up where he left off in training camp.
“I don’t think his approach is any different because I don’t know how much better it can get,” said offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr., who has worked alongside Brees for a decade including four years with the San Diego Chargers.
“He’s a guy that works at his game to the utmost. He’s a guy we expect to lead this team just like he has every year since we’ve been here.”
Interim coach Joe Vitt, who is serving a six-game suspension to start the season, said last month that he’s excited to see what Brees will do for an encore.
“Last year is last year. There’s no sense of entitlement around here, so we’re all grinding right now,” Vitt said. “I don’t have a crystal ball. But if Drew is just Drew and does what Drew does, he’s going to give us a great chance to win this division and give us a great chance to compete after that.
“I’ve said this before: He is certainly the greatest player that I’ve ever been around, and I’m going on 34 years (in the NFL). This is a player whose character and integrity outweigh his playmaking ability.”
He certainly made a few of them over the years, especially last season.
“Listen, that was special. That’s in the history books,” Brees said. “That’s there forever. Nobody can take that away from me until somebody breaks the record down the line, which I hope they do because records are made to be broken.
“But it still doesn’t take away the moment.”