- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Even if you had Drew Brees' cellphone number, there’s no way you could reach him right now.
You wouldn't even get a ring; you'd hear, “This mailbox is full.’’ It’s been that way for weeks now, and you can’t really blame the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints.
Contract talks? They can wait until after the season.
Dan Marino? He can wait, too.
“[Marino] actually reached out to me this week and wanted to do something, but I’d really like to just focus on the game,’’ Brees told the New Orleans media Thursday. “I respectfully just kind of said let’s wait here and just kind of let everything fall into place the way it is, and then we’ll definitely sit down. I would love to do that.’’
There’s no disrespect toward Marino intended, and we will get to how much respect Brees has for Marino’s record of 5,084 passing yards in a season in a minute. You also can bet Brees will be more than willing to resume the contract talks he tabled weeks ago.
Just, not right now!
The way Brees is approaching life these days is pretty much the same way he approaches a drop-back. He’s still looking at his first read.
A contract extension that could make him the highest-paid player in history and sitting down with a Hall of Famer are also in the playbook. But they’re down the list of progressions, and Brees isn’t ready to check off any time soon.
It may sound corny or clichéd, but Brees is focused entirely on one thing. He wants what he and the Saints got in the 2009 season. He wants a Super Bowl championship.
“Honestly, I’ve tried to just kind of numb my senses to the whole thing right now and just think about winning football games, executing this offense, being prepared as I can be, focusing on the process and just knowing that the result will take care of itself,’’ Brees said.
If you’ve spent much time around Brees, you’d know that what might seem corny and clichéd from others is simply Brees being himself. You can’t shake Brees on the field with an 11-man blitz, and it’s the same way off the field.
Brees is every bit as aware as the rest of us that he needs only 305 passing yards to break the record Marino set in 1984. He’s also very aware his contract expires the moment the season ends, and he’s smart enough to know he has as much market value as any other football player on the planet.
But Brees wants to talk about only one thing. He wants to talk about the “Monday Night Football’’ game with the Atlanta Falcons. If the Saints (11-3) win, they'll clinch the NFC South title. Brees has been locked on this progression for months.
“We all looked at the calendar prior to the season starting,’’ Brees said. “We all said, 'Hey, Monday night. The day after Christmas. Atlanta. Week 17. That’s going to be a meaningful game obviously within the division.' Then you add on some of the other stuff, and it just makes it more meaningful. I guess we can’t make this game any bigger than it already is.’’
Even though that’s precisely what Brees is trying to avoid, you can make Monday night much bigger than he describes it. Brees is on the verge of breaking a record that was set just before he celebrated his fifth birthday.
This is football’s version of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s record or Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire slugging it out. This is history, and Brees has been down this road before. In 2008, he spent much of the season on pace to break Marino’s record.
But he finished that season with 5,069 yards, which seemed appropriate at the time because that New Orleans team was mediocre and didn’t make the playoffs. At that point, Brees did sit down with Marino, who took his team to the Super Bowl in his record-setting season.
“We talked about it after the ’08 season,’’ Brees said. “At the time it was kind of just like, ‘OK, we made our run at it, and the chances of that happening again are probably really, really slim.'"
Well, it’s happening again. The Saints are winning, and in Brees’ eyes, it won’t be a shame if he breaks the record this time around, as long as some other things happen.
“Is that a significant record?’’ Brees said. “Yeah, I’d say that’s very significant. ... All those are significant records, but the most important thing is winning this game to win the division, to continue our win streak and also stay in line with our goals to continue to progress as we move towards the playoffs here.’’
Critics have said that breaking Marino’s record won’t mean a lot. They say the league has changed to make life easier for quarterbacks and much more difficult for defenses. They also point to the fact that New England’s Tom Brady also is on pace to break the record, and Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning aren’t far off.
There’s some validity to the argument about the game changing to favor offenses. But you can’t blame Brees for that.
The guy just happened to come along and hook up with coach Sean Payton, an offensive mastermind who probably could have taken Brees and exploited defenses in any era.
“Having Sean Payton has been everything for me,’’ Brees said. “Having the opportunity here to be with him, to be coached by him and mentored by him. I think he brought out a confidence in me that I didn’t have before. I’ve always been a really confident guy, but I think there were certain things that might not have ever come out unless I was with him. I think that that has showed. Each and every year I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit better and that’s always been my goal, was just to get a little bit better. And statistics don’t always show that. But in my heart, I know that that’s true, and he’s a huge part of that.’’
The statistics are showing that Brees is getting better. In his heart, the record and the new contract will mean a lot more if they come in tandem with another championship.