NFL Nation: Drew Brees

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints re-discovered their downfield passing game last week, with receivers Marques Colston and Kenny Stills both gaining more than 100 receiving yards in a 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Stills
 
Colston
 If that’s a sign of things to come, the Saints’ offense could indeed be ready to start rolling, as quarterback Drew Brees and others have suggested. That was the one missing element earlier this season, as they’ve been very efficient with the shorter passes and run game. Turnovers have obviously been a huge problem, as well, with seven interceptions and five lost fumbles. But the Saints actually lead the NFL in yards per play (6.3).

“That just showed we have a bright, young corps,” said Saints rookie receiver Brandin Cooks, who had a quiet game at Detroit but has quickly emerged as a big part of New Orleans’ offense. “It’s getting close to where they really start having to pick their poison because Kenny went off, Colston went off, and I’ve had a couple of good games. Jimmy [Graham] has done his thing.

“I feel like it’s getting close to us just busting out.”

Although Colston struggled early this season with a fumble, dropped passes and even a rare game where he wasn’t targeted once, there was little doubt that the Saints would continue to rely on him.

Colston once again emerged as Brees’ go-to guy at Detroit -- on a day when Graham was limited by a shoulder injury and the Saints’ run game was limited by Detroit’s stingy defensive front.

Colston caught six passes for 111 yards, his first 100-yard game since Week 1.

“He’s one of the most consistent guys I’ve ever played with, continues to be,” Brees said. “I don’t know his statistics this year, I know he’s coming off a 100-yard game. I know that I’m always looking for him. And so there may be those times where, hey, he’s not getting it as much as he has in the past or on a consistent basis as he has in the past, but it’s by no means an indication of anything.

“I can just tell you right now I look to him as much or more than I always have.”

Stills also had a big game, catching five passes for 103 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown.

The Saints would still like to hit on a few more of those “shot” plays they’ve missed on to Stills, Robert Meachem and others.

Cooks could become a factor in that department, too. Despite his blazing speed, most of his touches have come on shorter routes and run plays so far. But he showed that ability in training camp, and coach Sean Payton said some of it has just been circumstance this year.

“He’s been on some that weren’t thrown that way,” Payton said. “He’s someone that we certainly feel like has deep speed, and we can get the ball too down the field.”
METAIRIE, La. -- When you lose a game the way the New Orleans Saints did last week, coughing up a 13-point lead in the final four minutes at Detroit, quarterback Drew Brees said "it was painful for all of us."

"It bugs you for like 24 hours. I mean, it really bugs you," said Brees, who bluntly admitted after the game that he let his team down with a late interception.

Ultimately, though, Brees insisted that the way the Saints played for the first 56 minutes of that 24-23 loss at Detroit still breeds confidence that things are heading in the right direction.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
AP Photo/Paul SancyaDrew Brees said Sunday's loss to the Lions "was painful for all of us."
And now that the page has officially turned toward a Sunday night showdown against the Green Bay Packers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Brees said the overriding emotion is excitement for that next opportunity to build on that progress.

"As you got into Tuesday and into today, you said, ‘Man, guys, we're getting close,'" Brees said. "I don't think we've scratched the surface with what we can do this year yet offensively. I think we've showed signs, and yet I think just on a consistent basis we haven't quite found it yet. But we're on our way, and that's the exciting thing. You keep chipping away at it, knowing that your best is still yet to come.

"And we're gonna need it this week against Green Bay."

Players like Brees and offensive tackle Zach Strief admitted that they have to be prepared to engage in a shootout with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who might have the hottest offense in football right now.

The Packers (5-2) have averaged 36.25 points per game over their current four-game win streak. Rodgers has thrown for 18 touchdown passes with just one interception this year -- with that only interception coming in Week 1.

"Anytime you go up against a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers on the other side of the ball, you know how sharp he's gonna be and you know you have to be at your best," Brees said. "You don't have to be perfect. But, man, just everything is magnified in a game like this. ...

"It just makes you feel like you have to be even that [much] more precise and execute that much better, take advantage of every opportunity that you get."

The Saints have to be especially precise against a Green Bay defense that has forced 14 turnovers this year. The Packers lead the NFL with a turnover ratio of plus-10, having turned it over only four times.

"More than anything, I think we need to protect the ball against this team," Strief said. "So we don't just have to put up points, we need to do it efficiently. Because they've been really good at taking it away, and that offense has really fed on that."

Turnovers have been a problem for the Saints this year. Brees has thrown seven interceptions, and the Saints have lost five fumbles. And some of Brees' recent interceptions have been very poor decisions while trying to force a throw under pressure -- including the most costly one of the year to date at Detroit.

Brees' TD-to-interception ratio is 11-to-7 this year, which is far below his normal standard. But he said those numbers in and of themselves don't worry him or concern him or "keep me up at night" because he's more concerned with the improvement going forward.

Coach Sean Payton said earlier this week that Brees is "the least of our worries." And Strief offered a similar vote of confidence Wednesday.

"I think that Drew is doing what Drew's always done. And he's not getting a lot of help," Strief said. "I think you look at the two-minute drill at the end of the game [at Detroit], we ran six plays, he was pressured on all six of them.

"So obviously Drew is always gonna probably get more credit and he's gonna get more criticism than he's due. We understand that. And if there's one guy in this locker room we're gonna support 100 percent, it's gonna be Drew."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There will come a time in Sunday's game in New Orleans when one of the two quarterbacks won't be able to keep up.

And it may be only because there's no more time left.

When Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees get together -- and it's not often -- the scoreboard operator usually gets a workout.

Nearly two thousand passing yards and 211 points combined in the only three head-to-head meetings between those two giants of the quarterbacking world is evidence enough that the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints appear headed for another shootout in the Superdome this Sunday night.

"You're not playing against him," Rodgers insisted on Wednesday. "This is the Saints against the Packers."

But that doesn't mean the Packers quarterback won't have to react to what Brees and the Saints' offense throws at him. Or vice versa.

In those three meetings, Brees has thrown for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. However, Rodgers has the edge in Total QBR (see accompanying chart).

The three meetings were:
  • 2008 -- Saints 51, Packers 29: On "Monday Night Football" in New Orleans, the Saints tied a team record for points (which they have since surpassed) and scored seven touchdowns. Brees threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns.
  • 2011 – Packers 42, Saints 34: In the Thursday night season opener at Lambeau Field, Rodgers threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns, while Brees put up 419 yards and three touchdowns but was stopped on the 1-yard line on the final play of the game.
  • 2012 – Packers 28, Saints 27: In Green Bay, Brees threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns, while Rodgers threw for 319 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. The Saints missed a field goal with less than three minutes remaining.

Those three games may play no role whatsoever on Sunday. But the way Rodgers has started this season, it's hard to envision a defensive struggle is in the offing. He has thrown 18 touchdowns and just one interception this season. In the Packer' four-game winning streak, they have averaged 36.3 points per game. That's better than their scoring average (35.0 ppg) in 2011, when they set the franchise record for points (560).

"The year that he's having has been, you just kind of shake your head," Brees said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field. "He’s so impressive. Anytime there's a guy like that on the other side of the ball, you know you have to be at your best and it seems like all the little things in a game like this, all the little details are magnified.

"It's not one of these, 'Hey, we've got to be perfect.' Nobody is perfect. But you have to be pretty darn close. You have to be as good as you can be to have a shot at these guys when he's pulling the trigger on the other side."

In spite of the Saints' struggles in their 2-4 start, their offense has been as explosive as usual at home. In their two games at the Superdome (both victories), they have combined for 907 yards and 57 points.

"It's easy to say, "Well, you start with both teams [which] have had good offenses,' yet just as we say that, you can find yourself in one of those 17-13 games," Saints coach Sean Payton said.

That hardly seems possible, but both Payton and Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday that they have no preconceived notions about the way the game will play out. McCarthy said Wednesday that the plan in every game is to "shoot all your bullets. Hopefully, you're hitting them and they're not hitting you."

"If it ends up being a shootout, we've got to be prepared to do that," Packers right guard T.J. Lang said. "And I think we are every week [with] the amount of production that we've been having. I hate predicting games like that, saying it's going to be a shootout or a defensive battle. We've got to be prepared to do whatever it takes on game day."

The Film Don't Lie: Saints

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
11:00
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A weekly look at what the New Orleans Saints must fix:

No quarterback in the NFL has been worse while under duress this year than Drew Brees, who needs to start making better decisions under pressure when the Saints (2-4) host the Green Bay Packers (5-2) on Sunday night.

Brees now has a league-worst passer rating of 19.4 when he's either under duress or being hit, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- a number that has plummeted with three ugly interceptions over the past two games against the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brees has completed 20 of 47 passes for 199 yards while under pressure with zero touchdowns, four interceptions and five sacks.

The good news is Brees has been under pressure on only 20.4 percent of his dropbacks this year -- a rate that ranks sixth best among NFL teams once you throw out the sack against punter Thomas Morstead on a flopped fake punt at the Dallas Cowboys.

And, at times, Brees and the Saints' offensive line have looked outstanding, like they did during the first three-plus quarters at Detroit this past Sunday, when Brees completed 26 of 32 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns.

But then suddenly, the Saints line couldn't seem to block anyone in the Lions' stifling defensive front as they coughed up a 13-point lead in a stunning 24-23 loss. Brees threw a career-high 10 straight incomplete passes in the fourth quarter -- including a game-changing interception he admitted was too telegraphed.

Left tackle Terron Armstead got beat on that play, and he allowed at least three pressures in the fourth quarter. So did guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs. Right tackle Zach Strief allowed at least two.

Saints coach Sean Payton expressed very little concern over Brees, though, when asked if he thinks he's pressing too much.

"No, I don't," Payton said. "Obviously [you] want to have the one interception back, but I felt like his decision-making and rhythm, I felt like his week of preparation and how he played all during the practice week was outstanding. He's going to be just fine. He's the least of our worries."

DETROIT -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton became terse when questioned about his decision to keep throwing the ball with a six-point lead and 3:38 remaining in Sunday's game.

In hindsight, the decision backfired with quarterback Drew Brees eventually throwing an interception on third-and-9 that allowed the Detroit Lions to come back for a 24-23 victory.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
AP Photo/Paul SancyaSean Payton decided to go pass-heavy late against the Lions, a decision that ended up biting quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints.
"Three minutes, 30 seconds, three timeouts. That's like seven minutes," Payton said when asked why he chose not to start running out the clock at that point. Then he snapped, "Next question. Next smart question."

Payton returned to the question soon after, though, and explained that it would have been easy to second-guess the play calls in that situation either way.

And for what it's worth, I agree -- especially on a day when the Saints' run game was being silenced by a stifling Detroit defensive front.

Last year, for instance, Payton was criticized for choosing to run in a similar situation and allowing the New England Patriots time to march down the field for a late come-from-behind win.

"You get in that situation, and it's tough ... Hand it off three times, and there's two minutes, 48 seconds, more than that. So you go back and forth," Payton said. "It's less than a one-score game. We were in those situations last year. When the team's got three timeouts, and the team's got north of 3:30, 3:40 -- that's a ton of time. ..."

Payton was then interrupted and asked if he didn't think his defense could make a stop.

"I'm answering a question. Be quiet. ... Will you let me finish?" Payton shot back. "We made the decision at that point in the game with what we were wanting to do. I made it. Now it's easy when it doesn't work out to come back and [question it]. Now, if we hand that ball off and end up punting, then it's easy for you to sit in here and ask the same question again."

The Saints went with a pass-heavy mentality all day. But it was hard to second-guess the approach based on the results. The Saints' tailbacks gained 55 yards on 19 carries (an average of 2.9 yards per carry). Brees, meanwhile, completed 28 of 45 passes for 342 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Brees' numbers were even better over the first three-plus quarters, when he completed 26 of his first 32 passes for 335 yards. But the passing game suddenly collapsed, with Brees completing just two of his final 13 passes for a total of 7 yards, including the interception.

Afterward, Brees fell on the sword, saying he let the team down.

Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
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DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field:

What it means: Somehow the Saints (2-4) managed to come up with their ugliest, most painful loss yet in a season filled with them. They blew a 23-10 lead with less than four minutes remaining thanks to huge breakdowns by the defense and quarterback Drew Brees.

The defense allowed a 73-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate and a 5-yard TD pass to Corey Fuller in the final minutes, and Brees threw an interception inside his own territory as the lead -- and possibly the season -- rapidly disintegrated.

The only saving grace for New Orleans is that the entire NFC South is in turmoil, with no teams over .500. And the Saints still have six home games remaining. But they can't expect to win anything if they can't close out games.

Stock watch: Brees' stock rose and fell dramatically in this game. He was clutch for 56 minutes, finally rediscovering his receivers on a day when tight end Jimmy Graham and the run game were nonfactors. But Brees threw his most costly interception of the season from his own 29-yard line with 3:20 remaining. Safety Glover Quin cut in front of a pass intended for receiver Marques Colston to snag the pick on third-and-9.

Brees was then unable to march his team back in the final minutes for a possible game-winning field goal, completing just 2 of 7 passes on the final desperate drive with only one first down. He finished 28-of-45 for 342 yards, two touchdowns (including a 46-yard strike to Kenny Stills) and the one interception.

The defense was just as much of a roller coaster, with interceptions by Keenan Lewis and Kenny Vaccaro nullified by the late breakdowns.

Graham a nonfactor: Graham did play and probably wound up playing close to 20 or 30 snaps by unofficial count. But he was targeted only twice and didn't catch a pass. It’s unclear if the Saints intentionally left him out of the game plan or if he was covered on plays designed for him. He is heading in the right direction with his shoulder injury, though -- and the Saints will need him going forward.

Game ball: Colston and Stills reluctantly get the nod since Brees and the defensive backs had too many highs and lows. Colston hauled in six receptions for 111 yards, many of them resulting in big hits over the middle. And Stills caught five passes for 103 yards and the 46-yard TD on a day when the Saints absolutely needed their receivers to come through.

What's next: The opponents don't get any easier for the Saints, who host the sizzling Green Bay Packers (5-2) next Sunday night. But the Saints love the setting. They have won 13 straight prime-time games inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome by an average of roughly 20 points per game.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Like everyone else a few days before the 2006 NFL draft, Reggie Bush thought he would be moving to Texas. As the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, the electric running back figured he would be the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Then Houston stunned everyone and the night before the draft hinted that Mario Williams, not Bush, would be the No. 1 overall selection.

"I was preparing to go to Houston, and we found out the same way everybody else found out, on SportsCenter,” Bush said. "That was that. That was my first real introduction to the business side of football.

"I got an introduction really quick."

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsReggie Bush started his NFL journey with New Orleans and will play against the Saints for the first time on Sunday as a Detroit Lion.
It was that same night, on the eve of the draft, that Sean Payton called his quarterback, Drew Brees, and told him "I think we are going to get this guy."

Bush’s presence gave the New Orleans Saints a dynamic offensive weapon to add to a backfield that included starter Deuce McAllister at the time. It helped open up the New Orleans offense, and they couldn’t really believe their luck.

Bush fell right into their plans, giving them a game-breaking running back who could catch passes out of the backfield.

"Pure excitement," Brees said. "I think mainly because nobody thought that was even an option."

On Sunday, Bush will face his former team for the first time since being traded to Miami prior to the 2011 season for safety Jonathan Amaya and a swap of sixth-round picks.

The marriage between Bush and the Saints lasted five seasons and one Super Bowl before the team drafted another former Heisman Trophy winner, Alabama running back Mark Ingram, all but signaling Bush’s departure from New Orleans.

Payton said this week that he called Bush before the trade happened. Bush called the decision to pursue a trade and leave New Orleans "a mutual decision" and soon enough Bush was on to Miami and then, eventually, Detroit.

"It was nothing that was unexpected," Bush said. "I don’t have any bitterness toward the team or anybody. It’s part of the business side, the business side of our sport.

"Sometimes it can be ugly, but at the end of the day we all sign on the dotted line and we understand how it works."

Not only will Sunday be the first time Bush faces the team that drafted him, it’ll likely be the first time he talks with Payton since the trade. Bush said Friday the two have exchanged messages through other people but have not spoken directly – but that he plans on talking to him at some point Sunday.

In Bush’s five seasons in New Orleans, he played in 60 games, ran for 2,090 yards and 17 touchdowns, and caught 294 passes for 2,142 yards and 12 touchdowns. In the four seasons since he left the Saints, he has played in 50 games, rushed for 4,475 yards and 17 touchdowns, and caught 152 passes for 1,236 yards and six touchdowns.

He also had the first two 1,000-yard rushing seasons of his career after he left the Saints -- including last season with the Lions.

"He's someone that obviously was an important player for us," Payton said. "Whenever you're able to win a championship, and we were able to with that team in 2009, at that point it validates every selection, every trade, and every signing that brought you to that moment."

Bush, though, tried to downplay facing his former team Sunday -- even if he and another former Saints player, Isa Abdul-Quddus, are two of the team’s captains this week. And Bush acknowledged that it is probably no coincidence he was named a captain this week against New Orleans.

His head coach is pretty savvy like that, but Bush wants to treat it like a typical game -- but acknowledged if the game were in New Orleans instead of Detroit, the approach would be a bit different.

"I’m not going to try and make it more than that, because we still have a job to do and I don’t want to get caught trying to do too much," Bush said. "I think learning from experience in the past, when I’ve tried to do too much, it never really works out the way you want it to and you end up making a few mistakes.

"So for me, I’m going to go into the game with the same mindset I do every game."

All that will change is the opponent on the other side will look very familiar.
METAIRIE, La. -- It's almost impossible to define Reggie Bush's tenure with the New Orleans Saints -- except to say he was one of the most memorable players in franchise history.

Bush certainly didn't live up to the immense hype, but how could he? The former USC Trojan was supposed to be the next Gale Sayers and Barry Sanders rolled into one.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsReggie Bush arrived in New Orleans following a 3-13 season in which the Saints relocated to San Antonio following Hurricane Katrina.
At the same time, it wouldn't be anywhere close to accurate to describe Bush as a "bust." He finished his five-year stretch from 2006-10 with more than 2,000 rushing yards, more than 2,000 receiving yards and a total of 38 touchdowns, including the playoffs. There were frustrating bouts with injuries and inconsistency. But there were also plenty of jaw-dropping moments as a runner, receiver and punt returner -- including some of his greatest during the Super Bowl run in 2009 and the NFC Championship Game run in 2006.

Statistically speaking, Bush has had more success with his current team, the Detroit Lions, and with his previous team, the Miami Dolphins -- averaging more than 1,000 rushing yards per season since 2011.

But unless Bush winds up leading a Super Bowl parade through the streets of Detroit, it’s hard to imagine him making a bigger impact anywhere else.

“[Former New York Giants general manager] Ernie Accorsi said it once, 'When you win a world championship, at that moment it validates every selection and decision and signing that brings you to that point,'" Saints coach Sean Payton said. "[Bush] being included, obviously. He was very good in that game (Super Bowl XLIV). And in the years that he spent with us, he was very instrumental in what we became. From the minute he was drafted, for those people that were here at that time, that was a significant step for us.”

The Saints will face Bush on Sunday at Detroit for the first time since they mutually decided to part ways in 2011 with a trade to Miami.

“He’s probably one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen play the game. He’s one of those guys that you tell your kids about as far as his athleticism,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who arrived in New Orleans less than two months before Bush as a free agent in 2006. “I’m not sure if there has been a player where there was as much hype and excitement for coming out in the draft as Reggie Bush. Maybe you could argue 'Johnny Football' this year. But he was the man.”

Brees recalled the elation throughout the Saints organization -- and the entire New Orleans community -- when Bush unexpectedly fell to the No. 2 pick in 2006 after the Houston Texans decided to draft pass-rusher Mario Williams on the eve of the draft.

That was on the heels of arguably the worst season in franchise history, when the Saints had to relocate to San Antonio following Hurricane Katrina and finished 3-13 before dumping coach Jim Haslett and quarterback Aaron Brooks.

“Sean and I have had conversations about this, about just him being in the room and realizing that moment when it happened that Reggie Bush just fell in our lap. 'Are you kidding me?'" Brees said. “Not only the type of player that he was, all of the things that he could do on the field, but I think what this city needed was somebody like that to be drafted here and the excitement that that brought, lifting everyone’s spirits and giving them hope. That was huge.”

The divorce also worked out for both teams. The Saints quickly replaced Bush with free agent Darren Sproles, who was even more electrifying in that 2011 season in a similar runner/receiver role.

And Bush got his wish to become more of a featured runner in Miami, where he had his first 1,000-yard rushing season in 2011 and has followed with at least 986 yards every year since.

Perhaps most importantly, Bush has stayed healthy over the past four years (though he’s ironically nursing an ankle injury this week that he’s expected to play through).

But Bush, now 29, has also matured as runner, showing better vision and patience inside instead of wanting to turn his runs outside and use his speed around the corner.

“I think he’s definitely matured from my times playing against him when he was here. He’s become an all-around running back instead of just being treated as a wide receiver or a gimmick guy,” said Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton, who used to face Bush as a member of the rival Atlanta Falcons.

“With a player like him, we knew going into the game how he was going to be used. So it made it, I wouldn’t say easy to game-plan for him, but we knew what he was going to be doing,” Lofton said. “Now when he’s in the backfield at running back, you don’t know what he’s going to do. He can run it downhill, he could run a reverse, can line up as a wide receiver, so I think that makes their offense very multiple by using him in those ways.”
To further illustrate why I don't think Drew Brees' arm strength is the reason for the New Orleans Saints' struggles to get the ball downfield, I broke down some numbers from ESPN Stats & Information.

Brees
Brees has completed just 1 of 4 passes this season that traveled 38 yards or more in the air (including his underthrown interception to Robert Meachem last week, but also including a gorgeous 46-yard pass to Kenny Stills a week earlier).

That's not great, but it's not unusual. The entire NFL has completed a total of 29 such passes this season out of 93 attempts (31.2 percent).

In 2011, when Brees had one of the greatest passing seasons in NFL history, he completed 3 of 9 throws that traveled 38 yards or more in the air. In 2009, when they won a Super Bowl, he was 4 of 15.

It's not a good way to measure arm strength, since such throws are simply difficult to pull off in the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles' Nick Foles, for instance, is 1 of 12 on such throws this season. Only four quarterbacks have completed more than two of them this season (Kirk Cousins 4-of-7, Matthew Stafford 4-of-8, Tony Romo 3-of-6 and Brian Hoyer 3-of-7).

The bigger issue, as I wrote earlier Tuesday in my “Film Don't Lie" breakdown of the Saints' downfield passing game, is that the Saints have been unable to get the ball downfield consistently to their wide receivers from all distances.

And there are a number of reasons for it -- including Brees' lack of timing or placement on some of those downfield throws. He admitted he needs to get a better feel for those throws again. I just don't believe it's simply a matter of arm strength with Brees, who still has shown plenty of his usual zip on intermediate throws.

The Film Don’t Lie: Saints

October, 7, 2014
Oct 7
11:00
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A weekly look at what the New Orleans Saints must fix:

The Saints need to rediscover their downfield passing game during the bye, especially with potential shootouts looming at Detroit in Week 7 and versus Green Bay in Week 8.

The deep ball has been fading since last season for a number of reasons. But it was noticeably absent during Sunday’s 37-31 overtime victory over Tampa Bay.

Drew Brees completed 35 of 57 passes for 371 yards. But only four completions went to receivers Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and Robert Meachem. Brees was 2-of-6 on throws of 20 yards or more in the air, according to ESPN Stats and Information data, with no touchdowns and one interception (an underthrown deep ball for Meachem when he took a shot on third-and-long late in regulation).

As I wrote previously, I don’t believe it’s an arm-strength issue with Brees. He still has plenty of zip on intermediate throws and completed a gorgeous 46-yard pass to Stills two weeks ago. But Brees is definitely rusty on the long throws, and he admitted he needs to “get the feel for that again.”

Defenses deserve credit. They’ve clearly made it a priority to take away that element, which is partly why the Saints’ run game has had so much success dating back to late last season. And Brees has also remained efficient while feeding shorter passes to tight end Jimmy Graham, receiver Brandin Cooks and running backs.

The receivers deserve some blame. Colston might have as many as seven drops this season, depending on your grading scale. And though I can’t accurately say whether receivers are getting less separation, there have been some deep throws for Meachem and Joe Morgan in which the corners were in position to make great pass break-ups even when throws looked on target.

Against Tampa Bay, Brees was also dealing with consistent pressure in his face from tackle Gerald McCoy. That’s not to make excuses -- but to point out that more than one fix is needed.
NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints should've blown the doors off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. They were at home, they were up 13-0, and they had a struggling opponent on their heels.

But in a twisted sort of way, allowing Tampa Bay to rattle off 24 unanswered points might just turn out to be the best thing that could've happened.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
AP Photo/Bill HaberDespite three interceptions, quarterback Drew Brees helped lead the Saints to a key division win.
The Saints (2-3) rallied from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 37-31 in overtime -- and who knows, maybe salvaged their season in the process.

"This was a game that by winning, I think could be a defining moment when we look back on the season, when it's all said and done," said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who helped rally the Saints after putting them in a bind with two ugly interceptions.

"Last week, our character came into question, and the leadership of this team came into question," Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said of the Saints' 38-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4. "So you tell me a team that's down 11 points in the fourth quarter and you come back to win in overtime, that says it all. It talks about the character and the leadership of this locker room.

"You know, things aren't always gonna be pretty. But I'll squeak out a win like that every week."

Things definitely were not always pretty. In fact, the Saints tried to turn this into their ugliest loss of the season -- which would have been quite an accomplishment this year.

Brees' first interception set up a Tampa Bay touchdown, and his second one was returned 33 yards for another score. During that same stretch, the Saints' defense started reeling as well, leaving some of those gaping holes in coverage and run defense that we saw in the first four weeks.

But with 13:28 remaining and the Buccaneers leading 31-20, the Saints essentially decided to take their season back.

The offense leaned heavily on running backs Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson to score nine more points in regulation and six more on the opening drive in overtime.

And the defense went into its own version of "beast mode," led by outside linebacker Junior Galette sacking Mike Glennon for a safety with 6:44 remaining -- thanks to an assist from a frenzied Superdome crowd that also stepped up its game while the Bucs were backing up with delay of game and false start penalties.

The Saints' pass rush still needs to get home more often, but the best thing about the defense's performance throughout the day was its aggressive, attacking approach that led to a handful of big plays. Galette, safety Kenny Vaccaro -- even embattled cornerback Patrick Robinson made some big-time plays.

"It's a huge step, I feel like," said Galette, who almost made a game-changing play in the third quarter but couldn't hang on to an interception after linebacker Parys Haralson put a hit on Glennon.

"We shot ourselves in the foot a few times," Galette said. "But we just finished, that was the biggest part. When you get in a game like that, you just have to finish, and that's what we did."

Even kicker Shayne Graham bounced back from a missed field goal and missed extra point over the past two weeks to nail a clutch 44-yarder to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.

"To me, that's the type of game that we needed to have. That was a team win," Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said. "We both made mistakes, and we both came up big for each other.

"Look, we're 1-3, and we're down 11 points. That's an easy tank. It's easy to, 'Here we go again.' And we didn't. And I think this team will start learning to trust itself. You can use a game like that. So there's a ton of things that we'd say, 'Man, we'd like to do that better.' And yet, we found a way to win. And we won together."
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NEW ORLEANS -- To put it bluntly, Drew Brees almost threw away the New Orleans Saints' season on Sunday.

His two interceptions in the second and third quarters of Sunday's 37-31 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the result of horrible decisions, plain and simple. He was getting hit as he threw, and he tried to force passes that weren't worth the risk. The second one was returned 33 yards for a touchdown and led to a rare moment where coach Sean Payton chewed out Brees on the sideline.

"First of all, it shouldn't happen," admitted Brees, who added a third interception on a third-and-long shot late in regulation that he felt was more worth the risk. "The first two certainly shouldn't happen, even though the second one, you get your arm hit. Just know the situation, know when and where to take chances. ... That gave them 14 points. That shifted momentum at a point in the game where I thought we had it firmly grasped."

But let's be honest. Those kinds of plays have always been part of Brees' makeup, stemming from his Brett Favre-like quality of always feeling like he can make something happen out of nothing.

And, oh by the way, Brees did wind up helping the Saints (2-3) make something out of nothing Sunday as they rallied from a 31-20 deficit in the fourth quarter.

The Saints leaned heavily on their running backs down the stretch -- both rushing the ball and passing to them. And Brees finished strong for the most part, finishing with 371 yards on 35-of-57 passing with two touchdowns and the three interceptions.

"I think most importantly is the way we responded," Brees said. "For me, I'm going to stay aggressive. I'm going to stay positive and just know the opportunities are going to come."

Brees has hardly been the Saints' biggest problem this season. Far from it.

In fact, he was downright sharp in the first four games, despite a handful of missed opportunities in New Orleans' 1-3 start. He led the NFL in completion percentage among full-time starters. And I understood why Brees seemed flummoxed earlier this week when asked about the "panicked mob's" concern that his arm strength has regressed.

But there was no denying that Brees struggled to get the ball down the field Sunday when he did take those deep shots.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Brees has completed just 7 of 18 passes thrown 20 yards or more in the air this season, with one touchdown and now one interception. He was 2-for-6 on such throws Sunday, including the late pick that was underthrown for receiver Robert Meachem.

I'm not quite ready to buy in to the arm-strength theory just yet. It wasn't an issue when I broke down the tape through the first four weeks. But something is definitely lacking -- whether the coverage is frustrating Brees or he's rusty from simply not taking enough of those shots to get into a rhythm.

"I think some of the plays that maybe you're familiar with seeing ... we dialed those up, but the coverage is just not giving us those," Brees said. "I would say there's some go routes that I can do a better job throwing. And I think that's just practice and time on task and just kind of getting the feel for that again. But we haven't taken a lot of those shots, and part of that is on me.

"You certainly want to pose that threat to opposing defenses with, 'Man, those guys can run by you. They can beat you with the underneath passing game. They can run the football. They can do a lot of things that we have to be ready for.' So, yeah, that [deep-ball] element has to come back."

If the Saints are going to dig themselves out of this rut they're in, they can't just lean on Drew Brees looking kinda, sorta like Drew Brees this season.

They need him to find a phone booth during the bye week. They need Superman.
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NEW ORLEANS -- The table was all set for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to turn around their season.

Then it all fell apart.

Despite holding an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Bucs lost 37-31 to the New Orleans Saints in overtime Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"We had every opportunity to win this football game," offensive tackle Demar Dotson said. "We had the Saints right where we wanted them. We didn't finish. We allowed things to slip out of our hands. We've got to learn how to finish football games. That's tough to come in here and have the opportunity we had and let it slip away."

It's tough because, with a win, the Bucs would have been nicely positioned. They would have been right in the NFC South race and they would have been coming home with a two-game winning streak and growing confidence for next week's game with Baltimore.

Instead, they're 1-4, in sole possession of last place in the NFC South and coming home angry. There was more anger in Sunday's locker room than there was after a 56-14 loss to Atlanta in Week 3.

"Somebody's got to make a play," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "You've just got to make a play. We let that one go. We let that one go."

The Bucs let this one get away in regulation and in overtime. They took a 31-20 lead when rookie receiver Robert Herron caught a touchdown pass from Mike Glennon with 13:28 left in the fourth quarter.

Plenty of teams have blown leads to Drew Brees and the Saints in their home through the years. But shouldn't you expect to hold on when you have an 11-point lead and your offense and defense have been playing well?

"Yes, we do," coach Lovie Smith said. "There's no other way around it. You're up by 11. With our defense, simple as that, you don't let them score and you win the football game."

That's not what the Bucs did. Two series -- one by the offense and one by the defense -- quickly turned the course of the game. On a New Orleans drive that featured three Bucs penalties, Pierre Thomas scored on a 27-yard run to cut the lead to 31-26.

The Bucs followed that with one of the worst offensive series in franchise history, which is saying a lot. The Bucs started with a first-and-10 at their own 20. They quickly got backed up by three penalties and a fumbled snap by Glennon. Stuck at the 1-yard line, Glennon was sacked for a safety by Junior Gallette to cut the lead to 31-28.

The Saints followed that up with a field goal to send the game to overtime. But that's where things got even worse for the Bucs. On a third down, the Tampa Bay defense appeared to force a New Orleans punt. But cornerback Johnthan Banks was called for illegal use of hands. That gave New Orleans new life and the Saints wound up winning on an 18-yard run by Khiry Robinson.

The Bucs, who finished with 15 penalties for 113 yards, have no one to blame but themselves. They had this game there for the taking and they didn't finish it off.

"It was a key game for us," Smith said. "We put a big emphasis on it. On the road and a division game, that itself says quite a bit. To be able to steal one would have put us in pretty good position. But we seem to do it the hard way. I'm still encouraged by a lot of the things I saw. Disappointed in the loss, but encouraged by some of our play. We're getting better as a football team and eventually our record will show it."

But, despite the golden opportunity, the Bucs aren't there yet.

W2W4: Buccaneers at Saints

October, 4, 2014
Oct 4
12:02
PM ET
Five things to watch in Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints:

Mike Glennon: The second-year quarterback will make his second straight start. He is coming off an impressive game-winning drive in Pittsburgh. Glennon had some success with the deep ball, something the Bucs weren’t getting much of with Josh McCown in the first three games. The Bucs don’t want Glennon in a shootout with Drew Brees, but they will try to take advantage of his big arm and take some shots down the field.

Martin
The running game: The best way to avoid the shootout with Brees is to have a strong running game. The Bucs haven’t run the ball very well so far. But Doug Martin is healthy after missing two games with a knee injury. The Bucs are likely to try to establish Martin early.

The pass rush: The defensive front four showed some signs of life in last week’s win against Pittsburgh. The Bucs recorded five sacks against the Steelers. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Michael Johnson both are playing through injuries, but have been productive. Brees isn’t an easy quarterback to sack because he gets rid of the ball quickly. But the Bucs need to put some pressure on Brees and knock him off his favorite launching spots.

The secondary: The Bucs have a lot invested in their secondary. But the defensive backfield has yet to produce much in the way of results. That needs to change against the Saints. The Bucs have been credited with only five passes defended. The secondary needs to start getting its hands on some footballs.

Lavonte David: The linebacker has played well, but he hasn’t made any of the big plays he made last season. David is the Bucs’ best player after McCoy, and he needs a big game for this defense to slow Brees. David has to make a play or two as pass defender or a rusher.
TAMPA, Fla. -- You could make an argument that the McCowns are the first family of the NFC South.

Josh McCown plays for Tampa Bay and previously played for Carolina. Brother Luke plays for New Orleans and previously played for Atlanta.

Their current teams will square off Sunday when the Bucs visit the Saints.

McCown
McCown
"We have Charlotte, Atlanta, Tampa and New Orleans covered," Josh said Thursday. "We know where to eat at. We know where all the spots are. It’s just where the journey has taken us, and it’s been fun. All of our stops along the way and the guys we’ve gotten to work with whether it’s myself and Jake Delhomme in Carolina or Matt (Ryan) and Drew (Brees) with Luke, it’s been great."

The McCowns might not play Sunday -- Josh is dealing with a thumb injury and Luke is the backup quarterback to Brees, but the meeting still will be special.

"It will be cool," Josh said. "I’ve said it over and over, it’s a blessing just to be in the NFL for one person. For two people in the same family, those are long odds. It’ll be fun Sunday. It will be special for Luke and I."

Josh still was wearing a brace on his right hand Thursday and he has yet to grip a football, but he said he believes he’s making progress.

"It feels like I’m gaining ground and improving," he said. "But there’s still a healing time that has to occur. We just have to let the process take place."

Josh said surgery remains an option if the injury doesn’t heal with therapy and rest. But that is an option McCown wants to avoid.

"You never say never," McCown said. "You don’t know. But we’re hopeful. We’re very encouraged by where we’re at now. But, again, you can’t take anything off the table."

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