And now, a few words in praise of Drew Brees.
Not that there haven’t been millions of those heard and said around these parts before.
But the combination of the Saints quarterback’s most recent performance and the setting for his next one make it appropriate to point out the greatness of the franchise’s best-ever player and how, after eight years, we too often take him for granted.
Certainly Saints coach Sean Payton doesn’t.
“Drew is very smart, very disciplined and he understands on every snap what the defense is trying to take away from us,” he said. “He studies more film each week and prepares each week like it was the first game he was playing. All of those things make you appreciate having a quarterback who can manage so many things. I think we saw that in last week’s game.”
Indeed, the Arizona game was typical Brees — 342 passing yards (his eighth straight with at least 300, one shy of the NFL record he already holds), a 63 percent completion rate (just off his career norm of 65.6, third-best in league history) and three touchdowns (his 76th multiple-TD game, the most in the league since he joined the Saints in 2006).
Brees even had a 7-yard touchdown run, surprisingly just the 10th of his career.
But the play that epitomizes Brees’ value came on one that went down an incompletion.
In the second quarter with the score tied at 7 and the Saints at the Cardinals’ 16, Brees dropped back and, under pressure, bought time by moving first to his left and then to his right. With a defender’s hand on his left shoulder, he managed to launch a high pass that just went beyond tight end Jimmy Graham’s reach in the end zone — thrown where no Arizona player could have gotten to it.
On the next play, he connected with Graham in the end zone, and the Saints went on to win 31-7. Without Brees’ ability to keep the play alive, at the least his team is in a much more difficult situation.
“That shows you how smart Drew is,” said Tim Hasselbeck, an ESPN analyst and former NFL QB. “Most quarterbacks want to climb up into the pocket while the pass rushers are getting 9 yards deep behind them. But Drew has a great feel for knowing how to give ground and buy time as well as anyone in the league. That’s why I put him in a class with the best in the game.”
All of this came on a day when the Saints’ offensive line woes negated the running game until the fourth quarter, when the outcome was decided, and offered equally inefficient protection (four sacks, five hurries). All of Brees’ TD passes came when he was being blitzed.
Which brings up another significant aspect of what makes Drew Drew: his ability to make his teammates better, or to at least make them feel better about themselves.
Undrafted rookie guard Tim Lelito had the daunting task of replacing All-Pro Jahri Evans. To say the least, Lelito had a rough day of it.
But Lelito, who was probably as obscure as Brees is famous, said his quarterback was nothing but positive to him.
“Drew’s always an optimist, even when he’s getting bombarded on every play,” Lelito said. “He kept telling me I was doing a good job, and he never got down on me. After the game, he told me, ‘That was a good start, but you’ve got some work to do.’ I couldn’t be in a better place right now.”
Wide receiver Robert Meacham, who rejoined the Saints two weeks ago after playing last season in San Diego, said he missed Brees in several ways.
“You’ve got to love his approach to practice, both as a competitor and then just coming up with little games and stuff to keep it fun,” he said. “And in Drew you know you’ve got a quarterback who will do everything he can to win — coming early to study and staying late after practice to work out. His composure is amazing, and we all feed off of that. He’ll get on to you, but no more than he’ll get onto himself.”
All of that adds up to Brees being in the prime of his career — even though it’s his 13th season, when a player’s skills should at least be leveling off.
“I feel like I can do everything I could 10 years ago or even 15 years ago,” Brees said of the physical part of his game, especially referring to his overlooked athleticism. He holds his own in conditioning drills with Graham, the best all-around athlete on the team.
Hasselbeck said Brees’ dedication to all aspects of his craft dates to 2005, when a shoulder injury rendered him damaged goods and the San Diego Chargers let him walk in free agency. Depending on which version of the story you believe, the Miami Dolphins passed on signing him, sending him to New Orleans’ welcoming arms.
Which brings up the other reason for this paean to No. 9. Since Brees came on board, the Saints are 77-45 with a Super Bowl championship, three other playoff appearances and, with a 3-0 start this season, a great leg up playing in January. Meanwhile, the Dolphins, despite their own 3-0 start, are 48-67 in that same span with one playoff appearance — a wild-card loss to Baltimore five years ago.
What’s more, Ryan Tannehill is Miami’s 10th starting quarterback since 2006, and Joe Philbin is the fifth coach. It makes one wonder what might have been, especially with the Dolphins coming to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Monday night for the first time since Brees became a Saint.
But not Brees.
“I really don’t,” he said. “It feels so long ago. Now I don’t think about it for a second.”
We do, Drew. We do.
Or at least we should.