Good for Drew Brees, good for the Sean Payton, good for the Saints ... and good for Dan Marino.
From the day Brees walked into the Saints' lives almost six years ago, he's been a godsend. He steadied the ship post-Katrina, he made sure every player in the organization felt valued, and he became the most civic-minded athlete in a ravaged city that needed so much help. As a quarterback, he was the perfect captain for Payton's ship. He's as accurate as any quarterback ever to play football. He understands Payton's scheme so well, as Payton once told me, "that I don't think anyone could run it as well, and I mean even the other great ones playing today.'' He understands how he has to get everyone involved every week, because then when you need a guy at the end of a big game, every player in the route will be ready.
The best thing I can say about Brees as a player is I'm stunned when he misses an open receiver. On the first series of the game against the Giants a month ago, he had Lance Moore down the middle near the end zone. Moore had beaten two sandwiching Giant defenders and had a yard on each, and Brees let it fly ... and missed him by a foot or two. The throw went off the leaping Moore's left hand. I remember thinking, after a throw that traveled 28 yards in the air and was maybe 18 inches off: That's something you never see -- Brees missing an open receiver. I just don't see him do it, so I notice when he's off by even a smidge.
There are moments in the history of a franchise that can define it for the next 20 years. Bill Walsh drafting Joe Montana in the third round in 1979. Ron Wolf trading for Brett Favre in 1992. Bill Belichick drafting Tom Brady in the sixth round in 2000. Same with the Saints choosing to pay Brees $60 million over six years in 2006, even though he was just weeks into rehab after major shoulder surgery and didn't know for sure that he'd be the same player he was before wrecking the shoulder in San Diego on the last play of his Charger career. He wasn't the same, as it turns out. He's been better. Lots better. The marriage of Payton's scheme and Brees' talent will make the Saints Super Bowl contenders every year they're both still in their prime.
As for Marino: I worked with him for five years doing the HBO's Inside the NFL show, and I believe he feels deep down the way real people feel when something they did that was wonderful is eclipsed. He's not happy about it. (That's my gut feeling, folks. I haven't asked him about it.) Marino is proud of what he accomplished in the game, and when you're proud of something, why would you root for someone to do it better than you did? But having said that, I can also tell you Marino had the utmost respect for players who played the game the right way, and put the team first, and were great team players. So I can tell you when he congratulates Brees, which he did on Twitter last night, he means it. Brees is the kind of player Marino loves.
Finally, this bit about getting the record when your team is up by 22 with three minutes left against a rival you might tick off by doing it: A coach is always going to do what is best for his team. And Sean Payton didn't want this record hanging over his head for another week. As Brees told me last week, the record was the 800-pound gorilla in the locker room, and he was excited about getting it -- but also excited about getting it over with so the team could get on with regular football. Payton had a way, through his playcalling, to get the record over with so the Saints could prepare for their final game and the playoffs without the distraction of the Marino record. I have no problem with it, because I think it was done with the team, and a player the organization loves, in mind.
Now onto your email:
AN MVP TAKE FROM CHEESELAND. "Regarding the MVP race, if you adjust for the number of attempts Brees has versus Rodgers, Aaron's numbers through 583 attempts (Brees through game 14) would look like this: 5392 yards, 52 touchdowns, seven interceptions. By the end of the season, Brees will have played, by attempts, the equivalent of three-plus games over Rodgers, which speaks to the remarkable efficiency of the Green Bay offense, specifically Rodgers, when looking at scoring offense. Additionally, Brees will have played 11 dome games versus Rodgers' three. Furthermore, the only game Brees played that could be considered poor weather is in Tennessee. Last note, Marino set the record in 564 attempts.''-- Josh, of Milwaukee
All interesting points. The number of throws is reflected most accurately in yards per attempt, a great and far underutilized stat. Rodgers is almost lapping the field this year, with 9.25 yards per attempt. Brees' is 8.18. That shows, obviously, Rodgers has done more than anyone with efficiency and downfield productivity. As far as domes go, you play where you play. Just as I wouldn't penalize a dome punter if he was far superior to an outdoor one, I won't penalize Brees for playing indoors.
BREES, IN A LANDSLIDE. "You blew it in 2009 when you voted Peyton Manning over Drew Brees for MVP, despite the fact Brees killed him in every statistic that mattered. And you're blowing it again this year, making the case for Aaron Rodgers over Drew in a year when he breaks the biggest single-season record for quarterbacks. I don't get it. Why don't you give Brees the credit he deserves?''-- Martin, of Biloxi, Miss.
I feel for Brees, because he's been the best quarterback by almost any measure since his career with the Saints began in 2006. And he could well win it this year. I still may vote for him, though if I had to vote today it would Rodgers. The problem he's faced is when he's been great, another player or two has been great too. This year, I understand if you think Brees should win, and it certainly wouldn't be wrong if he did. But as I detailed in MMQB, the year Rodgers is having is also spectacular, with the fact that he's been slightly more efficient and has lost only once. If Brees wins, I'd understand.
YOU'RE RIGHT. I BLEW IT. "No mention of Marshawn Lynch ending two long streaks of a historically good run defense? He stopped the 49ers from going a full season without allowing a rushing a touchdown as he scored in his eleventh straight game (not accomplished since 2004). I thought maybe Lynch would be listed as one of your Offensive Players of the Week, but no mention whatsoever in your column? I feel his performance certainly deserved one.''-- Cassidy Kelly, of San Francisco
A few things I fell short on in Monday's column, including Lynch's performance against a historically good run defense and more on the Lions making the playoffs for the first time since the Coolidge Administration. (Or so it seems.) Sorry. My mistake. I applaud Lynch for giving Pete Carroll what the Seahawks have needed desperately -- a runner who is equally effective bulling inside, getting around the corner, and breaking tackles in the open field.
BECAUSE THEY DON'T LIKE MIKE BROWN. "Love the column, keep up the great work! Why do you think the Bengals can't fill their stadium in the midst of a playoff run? You spent time in Cincy - do the fans just not care that much for Bengals football? I vaguely remember in the late 80's it was a very difficult place to play, the jungle and all. The stadium is in a great spot on the river...are the fans just gone given how bad the nineties were to them? Seems odd compared to a city like Detroit who went through a similar dry spell and are now packing their stadium.''-- Josh, of Chicago
My gut feeling is they have Mike Brown fatigue. The fans don't trust Brown is doing everything he can to build a winner (Carson Palmer didn't either), and many are staying away in protest until Brown sells the team. Which, by the way, will happen on the 12th of Never.
WAYNE DOESN'T LIKE MY LOGIC. "Peter, there are some reasonable points to be made against having an 18-game schedule in the NFL, but you didn't mention any of them. The arguments you mentioned are specious. First, you say we are all enjoying this season. Later you list many of the key injuries. If injuries to players reduce our enjoyment of the games (implied), why are we enjoying this season? Because it's 16 games and not 18? Your analysis of injuries fails to consider that many of the injuries occur either in the beginning, or in the middle (as well as in the last) third of the season. All of the injuries to players this season would still have occurred if the season were 18 games. Would there be injuries in the last two games? Undoubtedly. More than in any other game? Remains to be seen. One good reason not to increase the season to 18 games is the (remote) chance the league will reduce the meaning of individual games and, by extension, fan interest. On the other hand, how intense do you think fan interest would be in the final two games of an 18-gaime season this year in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, New England, Philadelphia, Oakland, New Orleans and New York?''-- Wayne, of Bull Valley, Ill.
We would enjoy the season regardless of how long it is. So should we make the season 24 games, because the NFL would get monster ratings and make far more money? You'd probably say no, as would most thinking people. Point is, we're talking about week after week, losing the marquee players and the contributing players and the marginal players in a great game. Is a Texans fan still going to watch a Houston playoff game even if the team's top three or four players are hurt? Of course. But the reason the league shouldn't go beyond 16 is pretty simple, to me. Too many players get hurt over 16 games, and there's no good or compelling reason, other than greed, to go to 18.
GOTTA DRAW THE LINE SOMEWHERE, JAKE. "In your MMQB you listed the top deep threats in the NFL this season, only you set an arbitrary qualifier of the WR needing to have 60 catches to be included. Perhaps it was coincidental or perhaps it was intended but if you had just lowered that qualifier down to 59 catches, then tops on your list of deep threats would be Jordy Nelson, who has 59 catches for 1,101 yards and 12 touchdowns. That comes to 18.7 ypc, which is almost a full yard more per catch then Steve Smith. It's your column and you can set the qualifiers where you want but I think it's misleading and unfair to not include Jordy Nelson and the season he's put up this year in a discussion of the best deep threats for the year.''-- Jake, of Madison, Wis.
If I had said, "Here's a list of deep threats in the NFL, minimum 59 catches and 15.0 yards per catch,'' what would any thinking person say? Not sure, but I think it'd be something like, "Why'd you gerrymander this list just to get Jordy Nelson in it?''