Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
To ultimately win the argument, or even be unquestionably in it, Drew Brees needs more than numbers.
To truly be the league’s best quarterback, Brees needs to start winning games like the one he’ll play Sunday against the New York Giants. Win that game -- and a few more like it -- and Brees can take ammunition away from those who say he’s not in the same class as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
They’ve both won the big one -- the Super Bowl -- and a lot of other pretty important games along the way. Brees hasn’t. Through no real fault of his own, the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints has a career record only slightly better than .500.
Statistically, he’s right there -- and, in some ways, ahead of -- Manning and Brady. But none of that really matters until Brees starts taking away the first thing his detractors point to.
He needs to win some games that matter.
No game has mattered more for the Saints in the past few years than this one. They’re 4-0. The Giants are 5-0. They’re meeting in the Superdome and the winner is going to walk away as the early-season best team in the NFC, or, at very least, share that honor with the Minnesota Vikings.
A win here isn’t going to forever prove that Brees is the league’s best quarterback, but it would be a big step.
For the past few years, Brees has been putting up numbers on a par with Manning’s and better than Brady’s. He threw for more than 5,000 yards last year, but it didn’t really matter as the Saints failed to play defense, struggled with injuries and finished out of the playoffs for the second straight season.
In 2006, his first year with the Saints, Brees led the team to a playoff berth, but Manning and Brady have taken their teams deep into the playoffs multiple times. The Saints are playing defense now, they’ve worked their way through some injuries and they’ve even got a running game. All that might be enough for Brees to start winning the argument.
He’s already in the argument. Earlier this year, I wrote several times that Brees is the best quarterback in the league -- right now. I’m not going to totally back off that statement now, but will acknowledge that Manning is having an exceptional season. The Colts quarterback has thrown for 300 yards in each of the first five games.
He’s a machine so good that the Colts can change coaches and let receiver Marvin Harrison walk and they don’t miss a beat. They might even be better than last year. Manning also is the prototype of all prototypes. He’s got the genes, the size, the arm and the No. 1 overall draft status.
Manning’s one of the all-time best and, when all is said and done, he might be the best.
Brees is not the prototype for anything other than Sean Payton’s offense. He’s listed at 6-feet. He’s not. I’m 6-foot-3 and have stood next to Brees and felt as if I’m at least four inches taller. He’s got an arm that probably would be in the middle of the pack or lower if you lined up all the NFL quarterbacks and had them throw the ball as far as they could. He’s mobile, but isn’t really a running threat.
What Brees is at this moment is the perfect quarterback in the perfect system. Could you put him in the offense of Indianapolis or New England and get the same results as Manning and Brady? I’m guessing not. Could you put Manning or Brady in New Orleans’ offense and get the same results Brees does? Maybe. But the New Orleans offense isn’t built so that it requires the traditional prototype.
Payton’s offense throws the ball all around the field and most of the passing game is built on short- and mid-range routes. The offense relies on Brees to make quick decisions and get rid of the ball very rapidly. You want proof of just how good Brees is at getting rid of the ball? The Saints are without Pro Bowl left tackle Jammal Brown, who’s out for the season with an injury. The Saints have been playing Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief there. Those two probably couldn’t start at left tackle for another team in the league, but their presence hasn’t even been noticed because the ball is gone by the time defensive ends run through or around Bushrod and Strief.
The intellect and the ability to get rid of the ball so fast are the two areas where Brees excels, and they make up for all the things he lacks. He’s also surrounded by a pretty remarkable collection of talent at the skill positions. With Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey healthy after being banged up much of last season, Brees might have the best collection of talent in the league.
Brees put up massive numbers last year when Colston and Shockey were hurt and the defense couldn’t stop anyone. That was enough to at least put him in the argument with Manning and Brady, but people usually countered that with something like this:
"How many Super Bowl rings does Brees have?" or "What’s he ever won?"
Valid points at the time, but the times might be changing. The Saints are winning a lot of games now and they’ve got a defense.
Sunday is a chance for Brees to win a very meaningful game. If he wins that one and a few more like it, Brees could jump all the way to the top of the argument.