Drew Brees has been around long enough to know there’s no point to trying to replicate days like last Sunday.
A day like the 505-yard, seven-touchdown, record-tying performance Brees turned in against New York last week is more like a comet, brilliant and fast and hard to predict when it might come around the next time.
Brees, even in an era of passing in the NFL, realizes how rare a performance like that comes for an NFL quarterback.
“I mean there are a lot of things that have to come together for that to happen,” Brees said. “Look how much football we have all played, and that’s only happened very few times.”
The best way to follow a brilliant performance is much more simple than trying to put up big numbers again.
“Win,” right tackle Zach Strief said. “I don’t think yards and touchdowns has anything to do with the encore. The encore is turning in another good performance — and at the end of the day, we needed all of those to win, so we’ve got to find a way to find whatever it is we need to win this week.”
But the 52-49 win over the Giants highlighted a Saints offense that is starting to find its identity during the Saints’ run of four wins in their last five outings.
Brees has been sacked just three times in those three games — perhaps a combination of an offensive line that’s starting to get healthy and a quarterback who has done a good job climbing the pocket when he has to and getting rid of it quickly elsewhere.
“We are starting to become more efficient,” Brees said. “We are honing in on our bread and butter and forming an identity, which we didn’t have I’d say four or five games ago. All those things are really positive.”
With more time in the pocket, New Orleans is also producing more big plays. The Saints have completed 40 passes of 20 or more yards this season, a mark that’s tops in the league.
And the big plays are coming from more than just burner Brandin Cooks. Willie Snead can make plays down the sideline and in the 15- to 20-yard range, Ben Watson has proven he can still stretch the field over the middle, and C.J. Spiller puts pressure on a defense horizontally.
Brees, though, hasn’t focused on hitting big plays to get to that number. He believes the big plays are a product of the rest of the offense’s growth.
“I think there are more important things: protecting the football and being good in third-down or red-zone situations,” Brees said. “Big plays are one of those things where you’re anticipating to drive the ball then, all of a sudden, you break a tackle or they try to blitz you, you just hit a big one and the guy takes it to the house and you’re like alright, that was nice. I think what you talk about is just the opportunity for them. When we have the opportunity for them, we’re going to be ready to make those plays.”
But Brees says he also sees room for improvement — room that might be hard for most people to believe, given last week’s aerial display.
This week, New Orleans faces a Tennessee team whose defense isn’t much better than that of the Giants. Working with a much better pass rush — the Titans have double the Giants’ sacks this season, and they’ve done it in one fewer game — the Titans rank third in the NFL in passing yards allowed.
Knowing that, Brees approached this week by taking a hard look at the Giants game. And he found some things he believes can get better.
“You take some things we did well in this game, and you say we can build on that for sure, and then there were plenty of things we can get better at,” Brees said. “There really was.”