Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a touchdown, perhaps the most spectacular run of a career that hasn’t included a lot of runs. But the most impressive stat of all might have been that the Saints had 577 yards of total offense (the second-highest output in franchise history) without a 100-yard rusher or receiver and without a sack.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever witnessed that before.
Didn’t think so. It sure looked like perfection.
Instead of celebrating, though, Brees was ripping himself apart -- and apologizing to Michael Jordan -- for not doing enough.
“I’m always hard on myself,’’ Brees said. “I expect perfection. I just know deep down there are some things I still need to work on.’’
Really? What’s left to work on when you’ve put 49 points on the board and spread 25 completions among seven different receivers?
“He is his own worst critic and he is as hard on himself as anyone else could possibly be,’’ New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. “The time he’s been in our system, we’re on Year 6 now, and he’s throwing the ball with great rhythm and anticipation.’’
But let’s stop the tap dancing and the personal critiques. Let’s get right to the truth.
Brees has been a very good quarterback for a long time. But he now is playing better than he ever has. He should be a candidate for Most Valuable Player.
Go ahead and start the chants for Aaron Rodgers. I get it and there's no doubt Rodgers is having a tremendous season. But I think Brees is having every bit as good a season as the Green Bay quarterback. Maybe better, and I am not alone.
“Aaron Rodgers is on an undefeated team and obviously that means a lot,’’ New Orleans right tackle Zach Strief said. “Aaron Rodgers is an absolutely great quarterback, no doubt. But, is anybody playing better than Drew Brees right now? Probably not.’’
No, definitely not. Brees is on a roll that has him on pace to break Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a single season (5,084 in 1984). On his current pace, Brees would finish with 5,366 passing yards. He’s also got the Saints off to an 8-3 start and alone atop the NFC South.
Yeah, the Packers defeated the Saints in the season opener and Rodgers and Green Bay have kept right on winning. No knock on Rodgers, but he’s got a great team around him. So does Brees, but name another true superstar on the New Orleans roster?
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“He’s in that conversation,’’ said Colston, who had six catches for 78 yards. “As long as we keep winning, he’s got to stay in that conversation.’’
Colston came into the NFL in 2006, the same year Brees arrived in New Orleans. Colston has seen Brees in games and practices. They went to an NFC Championship Game in their first year together and won a Super Bowl in the 2009 season. Brees became only the second quarterback ever to throw for 5,000 yards in 2008.
“Drew Brees is even better now than he’s ever been,’’ Colston said. “The crazy thing is that we long ago came to expect great things from him. But he’s taken it to an even higher level. Heck, that touchdown run he had, I’ve never seen out of him.’’
Ah, yes, the touchdown run. If you haven’t seen it, check the highlights. It came with 5:48 left in the third quarter. That’s when Brees dropped to throw, tucked the ball, ran and dove across the goal line.
Shades of Tim Tebow from a guy who's never been known as a runner.
“When he’s throwing the football, you would say he’s very decisive,’’ Payton said. “On that play, you could say the same thing.’’
Brees was decisive on the run that gave the Saints a 35-10 lead. He even was decisive on what he attempted to do next, although that was the one moment of the night where Brees wasn’t perfect and that’s where the apology to Jordan came in.
After scoring, Brees made a run for the goalposts. His plan was to dunk the ball over the post, in the same manner he used to imitate Jordan’s dunks on a shorter-than-regulation basketball rim when he was growing up.
“I was a little more tired than I thought I would be,’’ Brees said. “I didn’t quite get the oomph and I turned it into more of a finger roll. I apologize to Michael Jordan.’’
But Brees didn’t have to apologize for anything else. Heck, Brees is so good that he forces Payton to defy every coaching handbook that's ever seen. When the Saints got the ball back at their own 12-yard line with 1:09 left in the first half, Payton didn't call for handoffs to run out the clock. He turned Brees loose. The Saints went straight down the field and scored on a pass to Moore with 40 seconds left in the half and a 21-3 lead.
"It's that confidence that players around have in him and, obviously, we have in him,'' Payton said.
In the locker room after the game, his teammates were still in awe.
“It’s weird to say this,’’ Strief said. “You play with lots of guys through the years and every guy you play with you can remember him having a bad game at some point. I can honestly say I’ve never seen Drew Brees have a bad game. What he did tonight was simply amazing. He just keeps getting better and better.’’
“He’s the only quarterback I’ve really played with in the NFL,’’ Colston said. “But I look around at other quarterbacks and I just can’t imagine a better quarterback than Drew Brees.’’