Stats & Info: Drew Brees

Keys to victory: Seahawks 23, Saints 15

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
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Harry How/Getty ImagesMarshawn Lynch set a Seahawks postseason record with 140 rushing yards in Saturday's win.
The Seattle Seahawks entered Saturday having lost their previous four divisional playoff games, and their 2-6 record all-time in the round was tied for the second-worst mark among teams with at least three divisional playoff appearances.

But Seattle rode another “beastly” effort from Marshawn Lynch, along with a stellar performance from its defensive secondary, to pick up the 23-15 win over the New Orleans Saints and secure a spot in the conference championship for the third time in franchise history.

Seahawks offensive key: Marshawn Lynch
Lynch finished the game with a Seahawks postseason-record 140 rushing yards, breaking a mark he previously shared with Shaun Alexander. Lynch now has three of the four highest single-game rushing yardage totals in Seahawks history.

For his career, Lynch now has three 130-yard rushing games in the postseason. Under the current NFL playoff format (dating back to 1990), only Terrell Davis and Thurman Thomas have more such games.

Lynch did the majority of his work going right up the middle, with 19 of his 28 rushes to that area, for 108 yards (5.7 yards per rush). On the nine rushes outside the tackles, Lynch gained just 32 yards, for 3.6 yards per carry. Thirty-one of those yards came on his fourth-quarter touchdown run.

In true “Beast Mode” form, Lynch finished with 66 rush yards after contact. In Seattle’s Week 13 victory over the Saints, Lynch finished with just 45 total rush yards on 16 carries.

Seahawks defensive key: limiting Jimmy Graham and screen passes
During the regular season, Jimmy Graham led the Saints in receptions and receiving yards and scored a team-high 16 touchdowns (no other player scored more than five). On defense Saturday, Seattle managed to limit the Saints tight end to just one reception for eight yards on six targets.

At the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees was 0-for-4 when targeting Graham, with all four incompletions having been broken up by Seahawks defenders.

Thanks in part to Seattle limiting Graham, the Saints finished just 3-for-12 (25 percent) on third down. During the regular season, the Saints were third in the NFL and tops in the NFC, converting 43.9 percent of their third downs.

New Orleans also struggled with screen passes, usually a strength of the team. The Saints ran six screen passes Saturday, gaining positive yards on only one of those plays.

During the regular season, the Saints led the league in screen-pass completions to running backs with 59, 14 more than any other team, and were third in yardage on screen passes to running backs.

Matchups to watch: Saints vs. Seahawks

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
12:16
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The Seattle Seahawks hope we’ve seen this weekend’s NFC divisional playoff game before.

Seattle scored a decisive 34-7 home victory in Week 13 over the New Orleans Saints, who had one of the worst offensive games of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era. The 27-point loss was the second largest under Payton-Brees, and their points, yards and first-down totals were all the fewest in a game in at least five years.

They get a chance for redemption Saturday but will have to deal with CenturyLink Field again. Here are four matchups that will help decide the game:

Drew Brees’ deep ball vs. Seahawks secondary
Brees had his worst game of the season in Week 13. He completed multiple passes at least 15 yards downfield in every game this season except that one (0-for-8). Though he didn’t throw an interception, Seattle defenders broke up five of Brees’ eight deep attempts in that game.

The Seahawks held Brees without a deep completion in a game for the second time in the past eight seasons. Brees targeted six different Saints on those eight throws, highlighting the skill and depth of Seattle’s pass defense.

Brees rebounded well, completing 57 percent of his deep throws over the final four weeks of the regular season (second in the league). But his next deep completion against Seattle will be his first this year, and the Saints will need better production from their passing game to advance.

Rob Ryan vs. Marshawn Lynch/Russell Wilson
Brees wasn’t the only star player who underperformed in that Week 13 matchup. Lynch had 16 rushes for 45 yards, a 2.8 yards per rush average (his second lowest of the season).

Lynch was limited because New Orleans keyed in on stopping Seattle’s ground game. The Saints loaded the box (more defenders than blockers) on 23 plays, the fifth-highest total of the season. The only quarterbacks they loaded a box against more this season were Geno Smith, EJ Manuel, Mike Glennon and Tom Brady early in the season (without Rob Gronkowski and with inexperienced receivers).

The problem for Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was 5-foot-11 Wilson had no trouble against the loaded box. Wilson finished 8-of-9 for 119 yards and two touchdowns when the Saints loaded the box. Ryan’s strategy slowed Lynch but enabled Wilson to shred the Saints’ secondary.

Seattle’s pass rush vs. Saints offensive line
The Seahawks secondary isn’t the only strength of the defense. Their pass rush ranks first in controlling the line of scrimmage overall and when sending a four-man rush. No team in the league has pressured opposing quarterbacks more often than Seattle (203 times).

The Saints did a good job this season of protecting Brees, who was under pressure or sacked on the fourth-lowest percentage of dropbacks in the league. They are strengths of their respective teams, but the Seahawks did enough to disrupt Brees in Week 13.

Brees was under pressure or sacked on 11 of 39 dropbacks (28 percent), his third-highest percentage this season. Brees was sacked only once, but it was a first-quarter Cliff Avril strip-sack that Michael Bennett returned 22 yards for a touchdown.

Percy Harvin vs. Keenan Lewis?
The Seahawks offense has been effective this season without Harvin, who returned to practice this week and is a possibility for Saturday’s game. Harvin’s league-best 8.5 yards after catch per reception average in 2012 might have been even better if he played with a better deep-ball quarterback.

Christian Ponder missed on 55 percent of throws deeper than 20 yards downfield in 2012 with Harvin and connected only once in his career on a deep throw with Harvin. Wilson connected on 26 deep throws this season, third most in the league, and would likely use Harvin better than Ponder if Harvin is healthy.

It appears that Lewis will play Saturday. He held DeSean Jackson without a catch before he left with a concussion last weekend and may draw Harvin if he’s healthy.

Keys to victory: Saints 26, Eagles 24

January, 5, 2014
Jan 5
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Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsMark Ingram helped lead a Saints rushing attack that racked up 185 yards against the Eagles


The New Orleans Saints picked up the first road playoff win in their franchise’s history Saturday – here’s how they got it done:

Flipped the script
During the regular season the Philadelphia Eagles were the most productive running team in the NFL at 160.4 yards per game. The Saints held them to half their average at an even 80 yards. The Saints defense held LeSean McCoy to 2.9 yards per rush between the tackles, his second-lowest average this season and the lowest allowed by the Saints. The Eagles lost all three games this season when McCoy averaged 3.0 yards per rush or fewer between the tackles.

New Orleans, meanwhile, averaged 92.1 yards per game on the ground, but exploded for 185 on Saturday. That’s good for second-most in Saints playoff history.

Mark Ingram filled in for the injured Pierre Thomas and rushed for 97 yards and a score. The 97 yards are the second-most Ingram has racked up in any game in his pro career. Ingram ran for 73 yards on designed rushes to the right, including his 4-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

Brees bounces back from rough first half
Drew Brees was 10-18 for 98 yards and two interceptions in the first half. Brees’ teams had been 0-3 all-time in games in which he had thrown a pick. But Brees bucked that trend by bouncing back in the second half – completing 10 of 12 passes for 152 yards and a score.

At the end of the first half, Brees' QBR was 12.9. In the second half, it was 93.5.

ESPN Stats & Information

Limited Foles’ downfield opportunities
Nick Foles led the NFL with 9.1 yards per pass attempt during the regular season. Saturday he averaged 5.9 yards per attempt.

The Saints held the Eagles to one play of 25 yards or more, tied for the fewest by the Eagles in a game this season. The Eagles led the NFL with 62 such plays during the regular season.

That one play was a 40-yard catch by Desean Jackson, who was otherwise neutralized. Other than that big play he had two catches for 13 yards.

Matchups to watch: Saints at Eagles

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
10:51
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The New Orleans Saints travel north to take on the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night. If Drew Brees and the Saints hope to return to the Super Bowl, they will have to win three consecutive road games.

The Saints were winless in three road games against playoff teams during the regular season.

For the Saints to keep up with the fast-paced Eagles offense, New Orleans will need another elite performance from their top playmaker.

Jimmy Graham vs. Eagles coverage

Jimmy Graham’s dominance this season raises several questions for the Philadelphia defense. Graham led the NFL with 16 touchdown receptions this season, the second-most by a tight end in a season and only the third time a tight end has led the league in touchdown receptions.

The Eagles had been about league-average defending tight ends this season prior to Sunday night, when Jason Witten hauled in 12 catches for 135 yards. Both numbers were easily the most the Eagles allowed to an opposing tight end this season.

Expect the Eagles to rotate linebackers and defensive backs into coverage responsibilities against Graham. Graham’s 26 receptions and 358 yards when split out wide were the most by a tight end in a season since 2008.

Eagles offensive line vs. Saints front seven

Lost among the great performances by LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles and DeSean Jackson has been the dominance of the Eagles offensive line this season. The Eagles averaged a league-best 3.6 yards before contact per rush. No other team finished with an average above 3.2 this season.

The Saints allowed 4.6 yards per rush, the fifth-most in the league this season. New Orleans particularly struggled against the zone read, allowing 5.6 yards per rush on such plays. The Eagles had nearly twice as many zone-read runs (304) as any other team during the regular season.

Saints running backs vs. Eagles linebackers

While the big guys up front help lead the way for the Eagles on offense, the Saints rely on two of their smallest offensive players to run past opposing defenses.

The Saints incorporate their running backs into the passing game as much as any team in the league. Led by Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, New Orleans totaled the most receptions and yards after the catch by a team’s running backs since 2006.

A lot of the credit belongs to Thomas, who filled in for an injured Sproles to post career highs in receptions (77) and receiving yards (513). In fact, Thomas led all running backs in receptions this season.

Either Thomas or Sproles has led the league in running back receptions each of the last three seasons.

The Eagles held opposing running backs to one receiving touchdown this season, tied for the fewest in the league. Over the final five weeks of the regular season, only the Lions allowed fewer receptions to opposing running backs.

Charles in charge after the catch

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
9:34
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Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsJamaal Charles set personal and franchise records against the Raiders on Sunday.
The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Oakland Raiders 56-31 on Sunday, and Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles did a number on both the franchise and NFL record books, and did so while only playing three quarters.

Charles’ final line – 195 receiving yards, four touchdowns catches, 20 rush yards, one rushing touchdown – was remarkable for a number of reasons. Charles became the first player in NFL history to have four touchdown receptions and a touchdown run in a single game, and also became the first running back in NFL history with four touchdown receptions in a game.

Charles became the fifth player in the last 50 seasons with five touchdowns and 200 yards from scrimmage in a game, joining Gale Sayers (1965), Jerry Rice (1990), Shaun Alexander (2002) and Clinton Portis (2003). He is also the second player in Chiefs franchise history to score five touchdowns in a game against the Raiders, joining Abner Haynes in 1961, when the franchise was known as the Texans.

Charles set a career-high for receiving yards with 195, the most by a running back in a game since Week 16 of 1999, when Marshall Faulk tallied 204. That mark was achieved thanks in large part to his work after the catch. His 172 yards are the most since the start of 2006, and 48 more than any other player in a game this season.

Charles is the first player this season with three touchdowns of at least 35 yards. He joins Doug Martin, Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson as players with three rushing or receiving touchdowns at that length since the start of 2001. From a fantasy perspective, Charles’ 51 points in ESPN standard leagues is tied for the sixth-most in a game since 1960 according to Tristan H. Cockcroft, tying Doug Martin from last season and Corey Dillon in 1997.

It wasn’t all Charles, though. Alex Smith set a career-high with five touchdown passes, the third quarterback in Chiefs history with a five-touchdown, zero-interception game, joining Len Dawson (1967) and Trent Green (2002).

Smith also became third quarterback since 2000 to complete 85 percent of his passes while also throwing for five touchdowns in a game, joining Tom Brady and Drew Brees, the latter of whom did so twice. Smith is also the only quarterback to throw three 35-yard touchdown passes in a game this season. Not surprisingly, Charles caught the ball all eight times he was targeted by his quarterback.

Bigger picture; The Chiefs as a team clinched a playoff spot, and became the third team in NFL history to win 11 games a season after winning two or fewer. The 56 points scored is tied for the second-most in Chiefs franchise history, while the 56 points allowed is a new franchise record for the Raiders.

Matchups to watch: Panthers vs Saints

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
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What are the key statistical matchups in the Sunday night clash between the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints? We'll give you one for each quarterback, as well as an under-the radar noteworthy matchup on special teams.

Cam Newton vs the blitz
Cam Newton has faced five or more pass rushers on 42 percent of his dropbacks this season, the highest rate in the NFL.

But he’s handled that pressure very well during the Panthers eight-game winning streak. He’s completed 64 percent of his throws against it, with seven touchdowns, two interceptions and only eight sacks. His Total QBR against pass rushes of five or more was 11.1 in the first four games of the season, but 90.0 during the winning streak.

The Saints have sacked opposing quarterbacks on 8.5 percent of dropbacks, the second-highest percentage in the NFL (trailing only the Buffalo Bills, 8.7 percent).

Newton has been a little shaky in the two games in which the Panthers have played a winning team on the road (the opponents being the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals). His Total QBR is 10.4

Panthers secondary vs. Drew Brees deep throws
Drew Brees has excelled on throws at least 15 yards downfield, but last week against the Seahawks, he struggled significantly with them, going 0 for 8.

Brees had completed at least three such throws in every other game this season, and had completed at least half of those passes in each of his previous five games. For the season, he has 13 touchdowns and two interceptions on throws of that length, the plus-11 differential tied with Nick Foles for the best in the league.

It would be unlike Brees to have two bad games in a row on these throws, but the Panthers are well equipped to stop him.

The Panthers have the highest rate of interceptions per attempt on throws at least 15 yards downfield (11 percent). They’ve picked off nine throws of that length this season, including at least one in four of the last five games. And they’ve only allowed three touchdowns.

Also of note for the Panthers with regards to stopping Jimmy Graham: Panthers opponents have completed 68 percent of their passes when targeting tight ends. That's a high success rate-- the 10th-highest against any team in the NFL.

Under-the-Radar Key: Thomas Morstead vs Ted Ginn Jr.
Saints punter Thomas Morstead and his coverage team will face a challenge this week in Ted Ginn Jr., who ranks sixth in the NFL at 12.2 yards per punt return.

The Saints have netted an average of 43 yards per punt this season, the second-highest average in the NFL. Opponents have had an average post-punt field position of the 23-yard line. Only two teams have put their opponents in a tougher position.

Ginn has four punt returns of at least 20 yards this season. The Saints are one of four teams to not allow a return of 20 yards or longer.

Keys to victory: Seahawks 34, Saints 7

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
12:14
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What were the biggest keys to the Seattle Seahawks' rout of the New Orleans Saints 34-7 on "Monday Night Football"?

Difference-maker: The deep ball
Drew Brees has made his money on being a great deep passer, but Russell Wilson was far better than he was in this game.

Wilson was 5-for-8 for 185 yards on throws that traveled at least 15 yards downfield. Though he didn’t have any touchdowns, he had a couple of notable throws to set up scores, including the 60-yarder to tight end Zach Miller.

Brees was 0-for-8 on throws of that length. He had completed at least three passes of 15 yards or longer downfield in every game this season.

That’s one of the reasons why Brees’ streak of 43 straight games throwing for at least 200 yards came to an end. He came within two games of Dan Fouts’ record-long 200-yard streak.

The Saints finished with 188 yards of offense, their fewest in a game since Week 3 of the 2003 season, when they had 188 against the Tennessee Titans.

Rob Ryan’s blitz didn’t work
Wilson made the Saints look bad when they chose to blitz. Wilson was 22-for-30 for 310 yards and three touchdowns overall. He was 8-for-9 for 170 yards and two touchdowns against pass rushes of five or more men. He completed all three of his pass attempts when one of those rushers was a defensive back.

Wilson now has 22 touchdown passes this season. He’s the fourth player in NFL history with at least 20 TD passes in each of his first two seasons (Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and Andy Dalton).

The number 22 is also significant for Wilson in this regard: His 22 wins as a starting quarterback match the most by any quarterback in his first two seasons, among those who debuted since the merger. The other quarterback with 22 is Ben Roethlisberger.

Did you know?: Monday Night streaks
The Seahawks don’t just have a 14-game home winning streak. They have an eight-game winning streak on "Monday Night Football," including last year’s controversial win over the Green Bay Packers.

The Saints had their nine-game "Monday Night Football" winning streak snapped.

Matchups to watch: Saints vs. Seahawks

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
10:59
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Getty ImagesSeahawks assistant Dan Quinn (left) might have the right personnel to contend with Jimmy Graham.
A Seattle Seahawks win on Monday night stamps Seattle’s ticket to the playoffs, but the implications of Monday night’s showdown are much bigger.

A Seattle win Monday puts the Seahawks two games ahead of everyone else in the race for home-field advantage in the NFC, while the New Orleans Saints could make the last four weeks interesting by handing Wilson his first home loss.

Both teams excel at home -- Russell Wilson is 13-0 at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, while the Saints are 14-0 in the Superdome in the last two seasons with Sean Payton as head coach (not including 2012, when Payton was suspended).

What do the Saints look like on the road? Let’s take a look, along with three other statistical matchups to watch on Monday night.

The Saints vs CenturyLink Field
The Saints’ point differential at home (+104) is 99 points higher than their road differential (+5), the third-biggest disparity in the league.

New Orleans has held opposing quarterbacks to a Total QBR under 20 in four of the six games played at the Superdome. The Saints’ Total QBR allowed jumps from 29 at home to 51 in road games.

There’s also a noticeable dip in Drew Brees' performance on the road. Any quarterback would rather play at home, but Brees’ completion percentage at home leads the league. His completion percentage in road games ranks 12th.

CenturyLink Field is no ordinary road venue, either. Since it opened in 2002, Seahawks opponents have been flagged for 208 delay of game or false start penalties in Seattle, the most of any venue.

The Seahawks’ point margin is 937 points higher at home (+635) than on the road (-302), the second-biggest disparity in the league.

Jimmy Graham vs Dan Quinn
Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is tasked with coming up with a plan to stop Jimmy Graham, who leads tight ends in targets, catches, yards and touchdowns.

Graham hasn’t been a particularly versatile tight end, running a pass route on almost two-thirds of his snaps (65 percent). Graham has run 254 routes lined up as a receiver (either slot or outside) compared to 63 lined up as a traditional tight end.

Graham’s worst game of the season came in Week 6 against the Patriots, who used cornerback Aqib Talib on Graham instead of a linebacker. Brees completed more passes to Talib than Graham, finishing 0-for-6 with an interception targeting the tight end.

Richard Sherman (6’3, 195 pounds) could play a similar style as the 6’1, 205-pound Talib did on Graham. If Quinn uses Sherman on Graham, Sherman’s length and physicality could give Graham fits and limit Brees’ most effective weapon.

Russell Wilson vs Saints’ pass rush
No one has a better completion percentage, yards per attempt average or Total QBR on throws at least 15 yards downfield than Wilson. Those routes typically take time to develop, and so far in his career Wilson has had the necessary time.

In his rookie year, Wilson averaged 4.08 seconds before throwing a pass, the highest average among quarterbacks by 0.29 seconds.

In his second season, Wilson has been quicker to release the ball. Wilson’s 3.86 seconds before pass is “only” seventh slowest in the league. Thirty one percent of Wilson’s passes have taken longer than four seconds to release, a higher percentage than 23 quarterbacks and a problem given this week’s opponent.

The Saints defense has 24 sacks in four seconds or less this season, tied with the Ravens for most in the league. New Orleans’ defense has sacked opposing quarterbacks on nine percent of dropbacks in its first year with Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator, the highest rate in the league.

Seahawks LBs vs Saints’ screen game
Brees has thrown 45 screen passes this season, third most in the league. Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles rank first and second in receiving yards on screen passes since Sproles signed with the Saints in 2011. During that same span, no one has defended screens better than the Seahawks.

Seattle has allowed 4.5 yards per screen attempt, best in the league and over a yard and a half fewer per attempt than the league average. Seattle is one of two teams that hasn’t allowed a screen-pass touchdown in the last three seasons along with the Green Bay Packers.

Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are the two most likely candidates tasked with slowing Thomas and Sproles, who missed last Thursday’s game against the Falcons with an ankle injury.

Keys to victory: Saints 17, Falcons 13

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
12:23
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What were the keys to victory for the New Orleans Saints in their 17-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons?

For the Saints, it was a matter of just following up on everything that they’ve done all season.

Brees on play-action
Drew Brees was 7 for 11 for 100 yards when utilizing a play-action fake. Both of his touchdowns in this game came via play action, giving him 10 such touchdown passes for the season. That’s one shy of Peyton Manning for the most in the NFL.

Brees picked on the right team. Entering Thursday, the Falcons had allowed a 91.5 Total QBR on play-action passes, the worst defensive rating in the NFL.

Graham’s record-tying day
Tight end Jimmy Graham had one of those play-action touchdowns, a 44-yard reception. Graham finished with exactly 100 receiving yards, giving him six 100-yard games this season. That tied Tony Gonzalez’s NFL record for most 100-yard games in a season by a tight end (done in both 2000 and 2004).

Those six games are tied with A.J. Green for the most in the NFL by any player this season

He now has six touchdowns on throws 15 or more yards downfield this season, and four receiving touchdowns of 40 yards or longer (combining yards on and after the catch), the most in the league.

Graham also had a career-high 26 yards after contact.

The Saints defense did its job
Matt Ryan may have completed 30 of 39 passes, but he also took a season high five sacks.

The Saints have sacked opposing quarterbacks on 9.0 percent of dropbacks. That is tied with the Rams for the highest rate in the league.

Cameron Jordan had a season-high 2.5 sacks, giving him 9.5 this season, the most he's had in any season of his career.

Entering Thursday, Ryan had been sacked on 4.4 percent of his dropbacks, the fourth lowest rate among NFL quarterbacks.

The Saints also forced their 12th fumble of the season. They had a total of 11 forced fumbles in 2013.

Brees rolls over records, Dolphins

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
1:08
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Drew Brees had another dominant Monday Night Football game for the New Orleans Saints.

Let’s run through all the accolades of his ninth straight Monday Night win, a rout of the Miami Dolphins.

Brees had his 21st game with at least four touchdown passes, tying Dan Marino for the third-most all-time. Only Peyton Manning (24) and Brett Favre (23) have more.

Brees had his 10th game with at least 400 passing yards. The only quarterback with more is Marino, who has 13. All 10 of those games came since joining the Saints in 2006. No other quarterback has more than five 400-yard games in that span.

It was also Brees’ ninth straight game with at least 300 passing yards. That ties the NFL record for the longest such streak, a mark he set in 2011 and 2012. No other NFL quarterback has had more than six straight.

Brees has five games on Monday Night Football with at least four touchdown passes, tied with Marino for the most all-time.

The 400-yard, four-touchdown combo on Monday Night Football is a special one. It’s been done by five quarterbacks: Marino in 1983, Randall Cunningham in 1998, Manning in 2000, Tom Brady in 2011 and now Brees.

Lastly, the nine-game winning streak on Monday nights is impressive too. It’s tied with Joe Montana for the third-best ever, trailing only Ken Stabler (11 straight) and Steve Young (10).

How he dominated
Brees won this game with long and mid-range throws. He was 8-for-10 for 201 yards and two touchdowns on passes traveling more than 10 yards downfield.

The supporting cast
Darren Sproles had both his first rushing and receiving touchdowns of the season and cleared 100 yards receiving by the end of the first half. He’s the fourth player to have at least 100 receiving yards, a touchdown catch and touchdown run in a Monday Night Football game. The other three are Tony Galbreath (1979), Jerry Rice (1994) and Marshall Faulk (2000).

Jimmy Graham caught two touchdown passes and now has a touchdown catch in five straight games dating back to last season (only Wes Welker, with six straight, has a longer active streak).

Graham joined Antonio Gates (2010) as the only tight ends with six touchdown catches in his first four games of a season.

Top things to know: Dolphins at Saints

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
1:47
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Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsSean Payton (left) and Drew Brees (right) look to start 4-0 for the 1st time since 2009.
The Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints meet tonight on Monday Night Football (8:25 ET/ESPN). This will be the Dolphins' 79th appearance on Monday Night Football, the most all-time since the series began in 1970 (the Dallas Cowboys are next with 74 appearances). The Dolphins are 40-38 on Monday Night Football.

Here are five stats Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden might touch on tonight during the telecast.

1. This is the first time that two teams will meet on Monday Night Football with records of 3-0 or better since Oct. 5, 1998, when the 4-0 Vikings defeated the 4-0 Packers, 37-24, at Lambeau Field, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Dolphins are looking to become the fifth franchise to have at least seven 4-0 starts since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, joining the Rams (nine), Vikings (eight), Colts (seven) and Cowboys (seven).

The Saints are looking to start 4-0 for the fourth time in franchise history and first since starting 13-0 in 2009 when they went on to win the Super Bowl.

2. Drew Brees has won eight straight starts on Monday Night Football, with 24 touchdown passes and five interceptions. Brees is 10-2 on Monday night since joining the Saints in 2006.

Ken Stabler (11 from 1975-80), Steve Young (10 from 1995-99) and Joe Montana (nine from 1988-94) are the only starting quarterbacks with longer win streaks on Monday Night Football.

3. The Saints' defense has made remarkable strides under new coordinator Rob Ryan. They rank fourth this season with 295.7 yards allowed per game after allowing a league-record 7,042 yards (440.1 per game) in 2012.

In addition, the defense has surrendered 17 points or fewer in all three games after allowing just over 28 points per game in 2012.

4. The Dolphins will be without pass rusher Cameron Wake, who's expected to miss two to three weeks with a sprained left MCL. Since the start of 2010, Wake has 40 sacks, third in the NFL behind DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen.

As a team, Miami has sacked or put the opposing quarterback under duress on 35 percent of dropbacks this season, the best mark in the league.

5. Jimmy Graham caught nine passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints' win against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, combined with his 179-yard performance in Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Graham has recorded the highest yardage total (313) by a tight end in two consecutive games since 1996, when Shannon Sharpe posted games of 153 and 161 yards for the Denver Broncos (314 total).

Pats hope Amendola replaces Welker in slot

July, 29, 2013
7/29/13
7:14
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AP PhotosDanny Amendola, left, will likely be the top target for Tom Brady this season.
The 2013 New England Patriots have experienced a great deal of turnover from last season. Let's evaluate the top questions facing them as the new season approaches.

How significant are the personnel losses?
Including Rob Gronkowski, who is currently on the physically unable to perform list, the Patriots are likely without each of their top five receivers from last season to begin the season. Those five players (Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead) represent more than 84 percent of Tom Brady’s completions last season.

Should Gronkowski miss Week 1, the Patriots would likely become the first team since the 1997 New Orleans Saints to start a season without their five leaders in receiving yards from the previous season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Who will Brady rely on?
The Patriots will be relying on Danny Amendola to help offset the loss of Welker. Amendola’s 2012 season was strikingly similar to Welker’s in his first season prior to joining the Patriots, with Welker catching just four more passes and Amendola catching two more touchdowns.

Brady hopes to replicate the success he had with Welker with Amendola this season, particularly out of the slot. Although Welker is regarded as perhaps the league’s best slot receiver, Amendola ranked second last season in receptions per game out of the slot behind Welker.

New England is now especially thin at tight end, but Jake Ballard could be a potential solution after missing the entire 2012 season. In 2011, he emerged as Eli Manning’s favorite red zone target, leading the New York Giants with eight red zone receptions.

What's at stake for Brady?
Brady continues to climb in the record books, and this season he has a chance to gain some more headway on other legends.

Brady (136-39 career record) needs 11 wins to tie Dan Marino for the fourth-most wins by a starting quarterback in NFL history and 12 to tie John Elway for third-most.

In his sixth game of the season, Brady could tie Drew Brees’ NFL record for consecutive games with a passing touchdown (54).

Brady (334) could pass Fran Tarkenton (342) for the fourth-most passing touchdowns in league history.

More important than any statistic, Brady and the Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl in nine years. Since winning his first 10 career playoff games, Brady is 7-7 in the postseason.

Cowboys look to rebound from tough finish

July, 26, 2013
7/26/13
9:49
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AP Photo/Gus RuelasThe pressure is on Jason Garrett despite a vote of confidence from Jerry Jones
The Dallas Cowboys opened their 25th training camp under the ownership of Jerry Jones on July 20. SportsCenter is at Cowboys camp on Friday and will try to answer some of their most important offseason questions.

Is the problem Jason Garrett or Jerry Jones?
Jason Garrett is 21-19 as the Cowboys head coach since taking over in the middle of the 2010 season.

The Cowboys have finished in third place in each of the last three seasons in the NFC East. Dallas has never finished outside the top two in their division in four straight seasons since the NFL split its conferences into divisions in 1967.

In each of the last two seasons, the Cowboys have started 8-6 before losing their final two games to finish 8-8. Dallas has lost a Week 17 “win-and-in” game in each of these past two years.

Is Tony Romo worth his new contract?
Dallas signed Tony Romo to a six-year extension on April 1 that includes $55 million in guaranteed money, tied with Drew Brees for the third-most in any active NFL contract (Matt Ryan reportedly signed a new deal on July 25 that guarantees $59 million; while Tom Brady is guaranteed $57 million on his deal).

Romo has been the Cowboys starting QB for two full seasons under Garrett, ranking among the top four QBs in completion percentage and pass yards in that span.

However, Romo threw 19 interceptions (tied for the most in the NFL) and led the league with eight interceptions when under duress last season.

Can Dez Bryant back up his breakout season?
Over the last seven weeks of last season, Dez Bryant led the NFL in receiving touchdowns (nine) and ranked third in receiving yards per game (113.1).

Bryant finished with 1,382 receiving yards and 12 TDs last season, joining Terrell Owens in 2007 as the only players with 1,300 receiving yards and 12 TDs in a season in team history.

Will the Cowboys fix their running game?
Dallas ranked 31st in the NFL in rush yards per game last season at 79.1, the lowest rate in team history. In fact, the team finished in the bottom six in yards per rush (30th, at 3.6), yards after contact (30th, with 522) and rush TD (T-27th with eight).

Tailback DeMarco Murray has shown flashes but has battled injuries in his two seasons. Murray missed six games with a foot injury last season and a hamstring injury caused him to miss parts of Cowboys OTAs this offseason.

Since Murray’s breakout game (253 rush yards) in Week 7 of 2011, he ranks among the top eight in the league in rushing yards per game and yards per rush.

What changes will Monte Kiffin make?
Rob Ryan was fired after two seasons as the Cowboys coordinator and replaced by Monte Kiffin, who is expected to change the Cowboys to a 4-3 defensive scheme.

Kiffin has spent 26 years as an NFL defensive assistant, including 15 as defensive coordinator. Kiffin, the architect of the “Tampa 2” defense, spent 13 years as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator, helping lead the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title after the 2002 season.

Dallas was exposed downfield last season, allowing a league-worst 96.9 Total QBR on throws more than 10 yards downfield.

Mannings finish regular season strong

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
9:22
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US PresswireBoth Mannings played well Sunday, but only Peyton is playoff bound.

It is only fitting that Peyton Manning finished the regular season with his highest single-game Total QBR in the last five seasons. Manning posted a 98.7 Total QBR in the Denver Broncos win over the Kansas City Chiefs, his ninth game this season with a 90+ Total QBR. No other player has more than five such games.

Manning finished the season with an 84.1 Total QBR, the second-highest single-season Total QBR since 2008. Peyton now has three of the top five single-season Total QBRs over the past five years.

It’s worth noting that since 2008 every player that finished the regular season with the highest Total QBR went on to win the MVP award.

Peyton’s little brother was no slouch himself in Week 17.

Eli Manning posted a 99.6 Total QBR in Sunday's win over the Philadelphia Eagles, the highest single-game Total QBR this season and third-highest rating over the past five seasons. Manning's Total QBR never fell below 99.5 the entire game as the New York Giants built an early lead that they did not relinquish.

Eli Manning was 6-of-7 for 116 yards and three touchdowns on the Giants' first three drives to take a 21-0 lead. After the Giants' third touchdown, their win probability jumped to 94.5 percent and never fell below 90 percent for the rest of the game.

Sanchez struggles again
Mark Sanchez
Sanchez
On the other end of the spectrum is Mark Sanchez. He posted a 9.3 Total QBR in the New York Jets loss to the Buffalo Bills. It was his sixth game this season with a Total QBR of 10 or lower, three more than any other player. Among qualifying QBs, no player had a lower Total QBR than Sanchez this season.

To put it into perspective using QB points above average (QB PAA), Mark Sanchez contributed 50.2 fewer points to his team than what an average QB would contribute in the same number of action plays. In other words, an average QB would have contributed 3.4 more points per game than Sanchez in the 15 games that he played.

Total QBR and winning

Looking back to previous years, the team with the higher Total QBR has won 86 percent of regular season games since 2008 (as far back as Total QBR goes). That is higher than the comparable mark for teams with the advantage in total yardage, turnover differential and NFL passer rating.

Peterson didn't reach record, but others did

December, 30, 2012
12/30/12
10:47
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Andy Clayton King/Getty ImagesAdrian Peterson came close, but ends up with the second-biggest single-season rushing total of all-time.

Here’s a quick runthrough of the various NFL marks reached or nearly reached on Sunday:

• Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson finished with 2,097 rushing yards, which stands as the second-best single-season total in NFL history, eight yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s record.

Peterson did become the first player in our four seasons of video-tracking to clear 1,000 yards in yards after contact. His 1,019 were 336 better than the player who had the second-most in 2012 (Doug Martin).

Peterson finished with 199 rushing yards Sunday, his seventh game with 150 or more. The Elias Sports Bureau noted that matched the most in a season, previously done by Earl Campbell in 1980.

• Peterson’s teammate Blair Walsh, in addition to kicking the field goal that put the Vikings into the NFL playoffs, extended his own record with his 10th made field goal of 50 yards or longer.

• Calvin Johnson finished his record-setting season with 1,964 receiving yards, the most in NFL history. His quarterback, Matthew Stafford, shattered Drew Bledose’s mark for pass attempts in a single season. His 727 attempts are 36 more than Bledsoe had for the New England Patriots in 1994

• Peyton Manning set the NFL record for most games with three or more touchdown passes, with his 73rd such game, passing the mark he shared with Brett Favre.

Manning finished with 37 touchdowns, the most in a season by a quarterback who was age 36 or older.

Manning also had a record of his broken and another one tied by some of the younger NFL quarterbacks. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson tied Manning’s rookie record of 26 touchdown passes. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton surpassed his mark for most passing yards in his first two seasons.

• Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for four touchdowns in defeat, and finished his second straight season with 30 more touchdowns than interceptions. The only other quarterback with multiple plus-30s is Tom Brady.

• Brady extended his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 48, passing Johnny Unitas for the second-longest streak behind Drew Brees.

Brady also became the first NFL quarterback to throw a touchdown pass in all 16 regular-season games in three straight seasons

• Brees became the first quarterback to throw 5,000 yards in a season three times in his career in the loss to the Panthers.

But on the down side, the Saints broke the record for most total yards allowed in a single season, surpassing a record held for quite some time by the 1981 Baltimore Colts.

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