Unless it’s Tom Brady on the other sideline, every game Drew Brees quarterbacks now is against someone younger.
It was that way Sunday of course, as that young whippet Kyle Allen was throwing and scrambling all over the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, driving his Carolina Panthers to comeback after comeback against Brees and the Saints.
To be honest, Brees’ right arm isn’t what it once was. Not that it was ever a Krupp cannon. And no, not because of the thumb injury he suffered in Week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams. It’s because he is 40. And when you reach your 40s, you tell your body to do certain things and it may just reply, “No, a nap on the couch sounds like a better idea.”
But mentally? Well, Brees is still sharp enough to etch glass. And though there were times Sunday when it looked like Allen was outpassing him, the passing grade came in the game’s final moments with everything on the line.
Let us review:
The Panthers tied it 31-31 after Brees hung one up and was intercepted in tight coverage at the 50. The Saints got the ball back and rather desperately went for it on fourth-and-1 at their 45 with just under seven minutes to go. The result was a 2-yard loss.
Carolina drove down to the 3 after a successful challenge on a pass interference call with just over two minutes left. It looked iffy, but it’s the kind of challenge now allowed in the wake of the NFC Championship Game no-call fiasco that still has Saints fans throwing rotten fruit every time a flag goes against their blessed boys.
But the defense finally stiffened and forced a 28-yard field-goal attempt by Joey Slye. Wide right. It was his third missed kick of the day. No word whether his boarding pass just happened to not scan properly while the rest of the team flew back to Charlotte.
So there the Saints were, potential disaster averted, but still needing to travel from their 20 to somewhere near the Panthers’ 40 to try to allow Will Lutz a game-winning kick. That’s where he made a 58-yarder to beat Houston 30-28 in Week 1.
Forty yards-plus. One minute, 56 seconds left. Drew Brees with the ball and one time out.
The result was about as predictable as this previously unpredictable game could be.
In similar situations in practice, Saints defensive end Cam Jordan said the defensive players give coach Sean Payton grief for basically making it too easy for Brees and the offense to convert.
“That’s like the perfect two-minute drill, right?” Jordan said. “Give the ball to Drew Brees and great things happen.”
Brees got sacked to start for minus-6 yards, but he was just clearing his throat. He responded with five straight completions, one of them a gotta-have-it 24-yarder to Michael Thomas to the Saints' sideline on third-and-6 from the NOLA 36.
He missed a wide-open Ted Ginn Jr. near the goal line, but then Brees threw a cunning little screen in the right flat to Alvin Kamara, who broke off 16 yards before stepping out at the 24 to kill the clock with 26 seconds left (Saints were out of time outs by then, just to make it sporting). Then Kamara ran for nine to the 15, Drew strolled to the line like he was getting in a quick nine holes before dark, spiked it with :03 left and let Lutz do his game-winning thing from 33 yards as time expired.
“The same thing it’s been like my entire nine years here,” Jordan said. The man speaks truth about power.
The playwright David Mamet had a delightfully acerbic line for times like this: “Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.” Brees may be nearer the end than the beginning of his career, but he has books of experience on the shelves of his mind that will take a youngster like Allen decades to digest if he started cramming now.
How good is Brees in these situations? Everyone acknowledges Peyton’s offensive brilliance. But at times like the end of Sunday’s game he’s like the skipper of one of those massive cargo ships on the Mississippi, entrusting his vessel to the expertise of a river pilot whose job it is to get his very expensive boat safely to the Gulf.
“We’ve got various packages,” Brees explained. “Sean allows me to call the offense, call the plays, get to certain things, check to certain things that are favorable. Two minutes, that’s what I do.
“If we encounter certain situations, third downs mainly, he’ll pipe in with a thought. But at the end of the day he gives me the opportunity to call those.”
It’s called autonomy. And it’s only given to those who have demonstrated they can do, not those who merely show that they might.
“It’s doing the stuff you know you’re good at,” Brees said. “Stuff you make quick decisions with. It’s all muscle memory. It’s all that myelin built up around the nerve fibers.”
“I know I’m getting kind of scientific on you,” Brees said, a bit apologetically.
No. Scientific is what he got on the Panthers in the final two minutes. Dissecting them like a lab experiment. And there were no apologies needed for that at all.
MORE SAINTS CONTENT: