Drew Brees Key for New Orleans Saints in Playoff March
NEW ORLEANS - Being two-years-old in 1973, I can only imagine what it was like watching the first 2,000-yard rushing season squandered when O.J. Simpson's Buffalo Bills didn't make the playoffs.
Brees continued his push toward winning the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award in Monday night's 51-29 rout of visiting Green Bay. He tossed four touchdowns against one of the NFL's top pass defenses. He posted a near-perfect quarterback rating of 157.5. He completed 20 of 26 passes for 323 yards, putting him on pace for an NFL-record 5,199-yard season.
"He's been playing awesome for us," Saints running back Deuce McAllister said. "He's hot. We're going to ride it until we can't anymore."
The trip may be over in five weeks.
Despite Monday's outcome, Green Bay (5-6) is actually in better position to make the playoffs than New Orleans (6-5). The Packers are just one game out of first place in the NFC North. The Saints are last in the NFC South and behind four teams in the wild-card race. A loss Sunday at Tampa Bay (8-3) would severely damage any chance for a postseason berth.
"Every good team, especially the ones that go to the playoffs, is making runs now and winning a number of games in a row," Brees said. "That's what we're trying to do."
Brees gives them a shot. Despite his team's leaky pass defense. Despite the possible four-game suspensions of McAllister and starting defensive end Will Smith for alleged drug-policy violations. Despite a shaky kicking game.
Brees is just that good.
His skills were on display again Monday as New Orleans tied the franchise's single-game scoring record. After an incompletion on his first pass, Brees connected on 13 consecutive throws—and that wasn't even his longest string of the season (he nailed 16 straight last month against Oakland).
"They did a great job beating us in man, zone or whatever (coverage) we were in," Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. "They made the plays. It's just that simple."
Brees picked apart Green Bay with short to intermediate passes, one of which wide receiver Lance Moore turned into a 70-yard touchdown. Brees also had success deep, connecting with receiver Marques Colston on another 70-yard score that gave New Orleans a commanding 45-21 lead late in the third quarter. He wasn't intercepted or sacked, the result of outstanding protection and Brees' mobility.
"It didn't seem to matter where we got the ball," Brees said. "Whether it was good field position or backed up, we were hitting it. For as many points as we scored, we only had eight third downs. A lot of these drives were just chunks and chunks and chunks (of yardage)."
Brees has accumulated chunks of passing yards this season—3,574 to be exact—despite injuries that have sidelined dangerous receiving targets like Colston, running back Reggie Bush and tight end Jeremy Shockey. In comparison, former Miami quarterback Dan Marino had 3,340 yards after 11 games en route to his record 5,084-yard campaign in 1984.
Bolstering his chances of topping Marino, Brees will enjoy favorable playing conditions down the stretch. The only potential winter-weather game is Dec. 11 at Chicago. Three of the remaining five contests—including home matchups against division rivals Carolina (8-3) and Atlanta (7-4)—are inside domes.
The Saints may need to win them all for a playoff berth.
New Orleans is in this position because of a 1-4 road record that includes losses to the Panthers and Falcons. The pass defense is the main culprit. Even after a strong Monday night effort that included three interceptions of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Saints' secondary is still ranked 24th in the NFL. New Orleans also is tied for the third-highest number of touchdowns allowed (18).
Brees throws passes. He can't defend them as well.
"We know the work that's ahead of us," Brees said. "Nobody is paying attention to personal accolades or anything else. It's all business."
While the 1973 Bills fell short of the playoffs at 9-5, Simpson could take solace in being named the NFL's MVP. Nobody from a non-playoff team has captured the honor since.
With as well as he has played, it would be a shame if Brees becomes the player to break that streak. But unless Monday night was a true breakthrough performance for his entire team, that's how such a magnificent season may be ending.
This article originally published on FOXSports.com.
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