METAIRIE - Drew Brees is comfortable in any situation on the football field, but the veteran New Orleans Saints quarterback seems to ooze confidence when operating from the shotgun formation out of the no-huddle with an empty backfield.
Case in point:
In the second half of Sunday’s 40-33 comeback win against the Houston Texans at the Superdome, Brees completed 23 of 31 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns, operating almost exclusively out of the aforementioned formations.
The previously undefeated Texans had no answers, though they did intercept Brees once in the third quarter when Saints’ second-year tight end Jimmy Graham ran a wrong route.
At one point, Brees threw on 14 consecutive plays - dialing up one successful play after another.
Leading 26-17 early in the fourth quarter seemed to almost work against the Texans and play right into Brees’ hot hand.
With Brees at the controls, the Saints (2-1) put up the most points in the fourth quarter in franchise history - 23. It would have been 26, but coach Sean Payton took a John Kasay field goal off the scoreboard with 42 seconds remaining in order to run out the clock after a Texans’ penalty.
Whether the maestro Brees is put in a position Sunday to orchestrate his sweet music against the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) at noon in EverBank Field remains to be seen.
“I love the tempo and the rhythm of no-huddle,” said Brees, who finished 31 of 44 for 370 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions for a 99.6 passer rating. “I feel like you kick up the tempo a notch and it allows you to get into a rhythm. You’re going to throw it every down. There are no backs (in the backfield).
“I think the biggest challenge is that you’re also letting the other side know you’re throwing every play. They can pin their ears back with their rush and rush the passer. You have to be very efficient with your reads, get the ball out on time and protect the football.”
In addition, Brees must react quickly when he doesn’t get the read that he desires. In other words, if it’s in the game, it’s in the game.
“A lot of times, Sean and I are communicating calling plays, but we’re changing plays at the line,” Brees said. “So, there’s a lot of thinking going on, at least pre-snap.”
Payton, a former record-setting college quarterback who played for the Chicago “Spare’’ Bears during the 1987 NFL players’ strike, paints a similar picture with more graphic details.
“It’s karaoke, and you either know the words or you don’t,” Payton said. “And if you don’t know the words, you’re in trouble.”
The rhythm and tempo are vital, he said.
“The one aspect that goes unnoticed that we watch initially is when the formation breaks, and (Brees) is taking a peek at the defense and finding out who, or if anybody, is coming and how can we get the protection right,” said Payton. “That’s all happening prior to him catching the shotgun snap, reading the defense and making a great throw.
“So, there’s a lot going on in eight seconds,” he said. “And, now the ball is snapped and he’s into his routine. He’s extremely smart and works hard at going through all these things in his mind by game day, so it comes easier and appears slower than maybe it would be.
“When he got going last weekend and you look at the ball distribution, it went to a lot of different players. It was something.”
Indeed it was.
In that fourth quarter alone, Brees completed 13 of 19 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns (129.9 passer rating), plus two two-point conversion passes.
Saints wide receiver Lance Moore was the beneficiary of both two-point completions, plus five more catches for 51 yards and one TD in the fourth quarter. Overall, Moore caught all nine passes thrown to him for 88 yards.
“Sometimes the game kind of works like that,” said Moore, who established a single-game best with his nine receptions. “I don’t know how many catches I had in the first half (1 for 14 yards), but it wasn’t a lot.
“Sometimes you need someone to give your team a spark, and I’m a fiery guy. I have a sense of urgency about me and I want to make plays. I bring enthusiasm out there, and it was an awesome game to be a part of.”
Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was sidelined for last week’s game with a knee injury, worked limited again Friday and is questionable for Sunday’s matchup with the Jaguars. Payton said wide receiver Marques Colston (fractured collarbone) was also limited, but should play Sunday even though he’s questionable. Center Olin Kreutz (knee), tackle Zach Strief (knee), tight end David Thomas (concussion), and strongside linebackers Martez Wilson (shoulder) and Will Herring (hamstring) didn’t work and won’t play Sunday. For the Jaguars, defensive end Aaron Kampman (knee) will miss his fourth straight game. Running back Montell Owens (knee) was also ruled out by coach Jack Del Rio, while wide receiver Kassim Osgood (hamstring) and cornerback Derek Cox (groin) are doubtful. In an online vote of fans, Brees and the Saints were selected as the winner of the GMC Never Say Never Moment of the Week award. Down 26-17 early in the fourth quarter against the Texans, Brees led his team to 23 points in the final 9-1/2 minutes for an eventual 40-33 victory.