METAIRIE, La. (AP) Drew Brees is tied for second in the NFL in interceptions and even heard rare boos after a turnover during his most recent game in the Superdome.
On social media and on talk radio, a popular topic among fans is whether the New Orleans Saints' 35-year-old franchise quarterback is showing the first signs of decline.
''I'm not worried,'' Brees said Wednesday. ''I'm certainly not perfect. I know what wins and know what loses and there's nobody that's harder on themselves than me.
''I also feel like I have the ability to bounce back,'' Brees added. ''I am extremely positive - annoyingly optimistic and confident. I've been told many times by teammates.''
Annoyed as teammates may be at times by Brees' propensity to put positive spins on some of a season's biggest disappointments, they're even more bothered by the question: ''What's wrong with Brees?''
''I hear people say stupid things about him all the time,'' right tackle Zach Strief said. ''Is he declining? No. You watch games when he plays well; can you explain that? There's a lot of things that go into it. There's protection, there's routes, separation. There's timing. ... The reality is, nobody understands that stuff completely, and that guy's fine.''
Brees has refined his training techniques throughout his career with the intent of enhancing his longevity, and even said during this past training camp that he wouldn't rule out playing 10 more years.
Right now, though, his critics are focused more on his 10 interceptions, two of which he threw in a 27-24 overtime loss to San Francisco. Brees also fumbled on a sack in overtime, setting up the Niners' winning field goal.
Brees can remember having worse spells earlier in his career when no one was talking about his age - even during his mostly charmed nine-year stint with New Orleans.
He was 28 years old in 2007, when he threw nine interceptions and passed for only one touchdown during the first four games of that season. Brees is quick to point out that he responded by throwing 27 touchdown passes and only nine more interceptions during the next 12 games.
Even this season, Brees is again among the league leaders in a number of key statistics. His 312.9 yards per game rank third in the NFL, behind only Andrew Luck (342.8) and Peyton Manning. (323.6). Brees' completion rate of 68.4 also ranks third, behind Tony Romo (68.8) and Ben Roethlisberger (68.5).
Brees' 18 touchdowns are tied for seventh league-wide, while the offense he runs ranks second in yards per game (435) and sixth in points game (27.9).
Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette, who routinely interacts with fans on social media, calls the criticism of Brees, ''crazy.''
''He's playing at a high level,'' Galette said. ''You can't ask for more as a defense.''
Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis, whose team will have to figure out how to stop Brees on Sunday, laughed out loud when told about fans criticizing and booing Brees last weekend.
''I don't see a guy with declining skills at all,'' Lewis said, adding that he has encouraged his own quarterback Andy Dalton, to emulate Brees' approach to practice and leadership. ''He's what you want.''
Similarly, Saints coach Sean Payton pinned some of Brees' recent lowlights on a combination of failures including pass protection and imprecise route-running.
He also pointed out that Brees has completed a number of remarkable passes this season, the latest being a touchdown to Jimmy Graham in which he spun away from two blitzers before quickly zipping an accurate throw to his star tight end.
''Shoot. Each week there are plays that come up and you just shake your head at that are outstanding,'' Payton said.
Last Sunday, Brees overthrew Stills when the receiver was open deep. That only added fuel to the quarterback's critics, who were already hammering him for an interception on a pass intended for Graham with three defenders in the area.
''We're not perfect. Every once in a while, I'm going to drop a ball and he's going to miss a throw,'' Stills said. ''We live in such a critical world right now that if you're not winning, everybody's going to come down hard on you and I think that's what's happening.''
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro added: ''People don't understand how valuable a franchise quarterback like him is. Every team wants that and a lot don't have that. If we didn't have him, we wouldn't even be 4-5.''
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