Drew Brees back to being efficient self

Associated Press photo by SCOTT EKLUNDNew Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees passes during warmups against the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 2 in Seattle. Show caption
Associated Press photo by SCOTT EKLUNDNew Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees passes during warmups against the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 2 in Seattle.

After 13 games last season, Saints quarterback Drew Brees had thrown 18 interceptions which put him within striking distance of one personal record he doesn’t want to break — 22 picks in a season.

Brees threw just one in the final three games and wound up with 19, which still didn’t sit well with a quarterback who’s used to shattering records like passing yards, touchdown passes and passing efficiency.

Fast forward to the same point of this season, and Brees has put the ball in opponents’ hands just eight times — one in the last five outings — going into Sunday’s game with the St. Louis Rams.

“I’m just trying to be as efficient as I can be. … I try to be very cognizant of that, understanding the value of protecting the football,” Brees, who has 33 TD passes this season, said when asked about the turnaround.

“If you look at it statistically, we’re undefeated (this season) when we don’t turn the ball over,” he said. “That stat alone will help you win just about every game, so our whole team has done a very good job of it.”

When asked if 33 to eight ratio in touchdowns to interceptions was similar to a baseball pitcher’s ratio of strikeouts to walks, Brees grinned and said, “We like to throw strikes.”

Playing keepaway

Brees said the Saints are undefeated this season when they don’t have a giveaway, like they did in Sunday’s 31-13 bashing of the Carolina Panthers.

It was the fourth time this season the Saints have not turned the ball over as they also did it against Chicago, Buffalo and Atlanta. That pushed their record since Sean Payton was hired in 2006 to 26-1 in the regular season and 2-0 in the postseason when they don’t turn it over.

Ryan’s route

Having been fired by the Dallas Cowboys in a phone call while on a Caribbean vacation in January, one of the first people Rob Ryan called was Aaron Kromer, then the Saints’ offensive line coach.

But Kromer, who soon left to become the offensive coordinator in Chicago, couldn’t ask Payton because he was still serving a bounty suspension.

“Damn,” said Ryan, who spent two 8-8 seasons in Dallas. “That’d be the perfect spot for me.”

Ryan eventually ended up in New Orleans after accepting a job and working five days for the Rams on a verbal agreement with coach Jeff Fisher.

For the first time Friday, Ryan, who said he “didn’t get the right vibe” in St. Louis because Fisher wanted to use a 4-3 scheme, delved into details about the circuitous route he took to what he called “the perfect situation.”

“I thought to myself, ‘I was already mad about the Dallas situation, and you know what? This is the best thing for me to do and (the Rams) —- for me to walk away and wait for the perfect opportunity,’ ” Ryan said.

Around that time, Payton, who had been reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, fired defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and brought Ryan in 11 days after he left the Rams staff.

Ryan called Fisher, who said Wednesday he wasn’t mad at Ryan’s change of heart, a friend of his family’s.

“We love him. We respect him. He’s a great coach,” Ryan said.

Injury report

Payton listed five players as questionable — NT Brodrick Bunkley (back), DE Glenn Foster (knee), S Rafael Bush (ankle), LB Keyunta Dawson (calf) and TE Josh Hill (hamstring) — for Sunday’s game.

Bunkley and Foster worked fully in Friday’s practice after being limited Thursday. Bush, Dawson and Hill did not practice all week.

For the Rams, WR Tavon Austin (ankle), CB Janoris Jenkins (back), G Harvey Dahl (knee) and RB Daryl Richardson (thigh) are questionable. CB Brandon McGee (foot) is probable.

Getting the message

After drawing six holding penalties in the first eight games, left tackle Charles Brown has done a much better job with no holding calls in the last five.

Brown smiled Thursday when asked by reporters how he’s been able to reduce the number of penalties.

“It’s just in my mind to try and not get these penalties,” he said. “I didn’t know they were adding up like that, really, until coach (Payton) said something.”

Advocate sportswriter Ramon Antonio Vargas contributed to this report.