- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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A few postseason wins would really cement the legacy of Saints quarterback Drew Brees.NEW ORLEANS -- The talent, the gaudy numbers and even the name have made it so you no longer have to argue that Drew Brees is an elite quarterback.
You can throw his name in any sentence that involves Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. In this, his fourth season as quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, Brees’ stock only continued to soar as he led his team to a franchise-record 13 wins. He belongs in any argument about the league’s best quarterbacks.
But how do you stop the qualifiers like, “Yeah, he’s as good as those guys, but what’s he ever won?’’ Or how do you stop the perceived snubs when Manning, who had basically the same numbers, goes out and wins the Most Valuable Player Award in a landslide over Brees?
It’s real simple. Brees must win big games. We’re talking big games like Saturday’s divisional playoff against Arizona and Warner, who is one of the best postseason quarterbacks in history. We’re talking big games like the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl.
Even Brees admits he sees similarities and one big difference between himself and Warner.
Brees is looking for his second postseason win with the Saints.“A Super Bowl ring and a lot of experience and a lot of years in the league,’’ Brees said.
Ah, the Super Bowl ring. It’s what Warner, Brady, Favre and Manning have. It’s what Brees lacks.
We’ll deal more with that in a few weeks if Brees and the Saints can get to Miami. But for that to happen and for Brees to truly get the respect he deserves, he must win a couple of big games in the meantime or else the qualifiers and the snubs will just keep coming.
You can make the case that Brady, Manning, Warner and Favre have been in the right places at the right times, surrounded by great teams that helped them earn their rings. You can also point to Brees’ career record (55-51 before this season) and say he has put up huge stats, but never has won much of anything.
That’s all true and it’s not really Brees’ fault. After leading the Saints to the NFC Championship Game in his first season (2006) in New Orleans, Brees has been dragged down by problems on defense and injuries on offense as the Saints turned in two very mediocre seasons.
The perception, at least, has started to change this year. Brees has won some big games. He beat the Jets when they were undefeated. He beat the Giants when they were undefeated. And he beat New England (and Brady) in a Monday night game that was as hyped as any contest this season.
Has Brees suddenly become a better quarterback?
“He has three more years in the offense and I think our rushing attack is better than it was in ’06, which is conducive to getting good quarterback play,’’ Saints head coach Sean Payton said. “He’s someone that does a great job with his own expectation level. He’s his own hardest critic and in each offseason leading into the following year, he does a great job of looking closely at things he can do better."
I’m not going to disagree with Payton when it comes to assessing quarterback play. But I think Brees has been very good the whole time he’s been with the Saints. He’s the perfect quarterback for Payton’s system, and there are times when he plays with a precision that you just don’t see from other quarterbacks, except for Manning on his best days.
What’s changed is that Brees now has a better team around him. The Saints have balance in the running game, a good tight end in Jeremy Shockey and four receivers who are also good, but Brees makes them look even better than they are. He also now has a defense -- at least in theory. After adding coordinator Gregg Williams and a whole bunch of new personnel in the offseason, the Saints stopped being horrible on defense. They came out early in the season and actually were pretty decent.
The defense tailed off in the second half of the season, but that was mainly because of injuries. Most of those injured guys are back now, and the Saints are at least capable of doing some things on defense to slow Warner and the high-flying Cardinals.
That has given Brees added confidence, not that he’s ever been a guy who has lacked confidence.
“I know what we’re capable of,’’ Brees said. “ … Three of the last four years we’ve had the No. 1 offense in the league. That’s a body of work. That’s not just a stretch of games here, a stretch of games there. That’s a body of work. We know how to play at a high level offensively.’’
There’s no doubt Brees and the New Orleans offense can play at a high level. The Saints have done that pretty much throughout Brees’ time in New Orleans.
But, now, they have to take it to the next level. More precisely, to truly get to the next level, Brees must win this game. And maybe the next two.
It’s nice to go out and put up huge numbers and it’s very nice to win 13 games. But losing the first playoff game would be a huge disappointment for Brees, the Saints and their fans. They’ve come to expect more this season.
The days of getting all you can out of Brees and putting blame everywhere else when the Saints lose needs to stop. Maybe the Saints need to be better than ever. Or maybe, good as he is, Brees needs to be even better in these situations and totally carry his team.
If he does that for a few weeks, the days of his legacy coming with disclaimers and his name not being engraved on MVP trophies finally will end.
NEW ORLEANS -- The talent, the gaudy numbers and even the name have made it so you no longer have to argue that Drew Brees is an elite quarterback.You can throw his name in any sentence that involves Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner.