METAIRIE, La. — Drew Brees didn’t just know it was coming. He knew when it was coming, and how Sean Payton was going to do it.
After losing consecutive games to start the 2017 season, a Saints team with minimal expectations went on an absolute tear. And seven games into what would become an eight-game winning streak, Brees could feel his teammates’ confidence starting to boil over and the buzz around the team growing strong enough to draw national attention. Payton, as a result, was growing antsy—and that could only mean one thing.
“You win a few games in a row, you sense the team is feeling good about themselves, and letting some things slide maybe they shouldn’t,” Brees said, smirking, in a quiet moment after practice on Wednesday. “And so I’m going to walk into the facility, and I’m going to expect to see mousetraps.
“And the message is going to be don’t eat the cheese—‘Hey, the media and your family and all these people are telling you how great you are, don’t eat it, that’s a trap. We still have a lot to prove, a lot of things to work on, we’ve got a bull’s eye on our chest, this is one of those games.’”
Sure enough, the mousetraps—one of Payton’s motivational tactics—were in the Saints’ practice facility that week.
Going into his 13th year as the Saints quarterback, Brees is well beyond the old cliché of being able to finish Payton’s sentences. At this point, he can basically anticipate and begin them, if he wants to. And the same goes the other way for a coach who bought relatively low on a quarterback with a blown out throwing shoulder in March 2006, and has reaped incredible benefits since.
“[As] a first-time coach, … you get that three-year period to have success and make a difference, and [Brees has] been—shoot—it couldn’t have worked out better,” Payton told me. “To have a guy who you know who is not only going to play at his level but lead at his level, be here before anyone and leave after everyone …”
Payton shook his head, maybe realizing just how valuable it is to have his best player represent all he wants in his program.
“No doubt,” Payton continued. “And if your best aren’t that way, it becomes more challenging.”
It’s facilitated a few rebuilds and restarts for Payton and the Saints over the last 13 years, the latest of which has the two going forward into what feels like a new beginning in New Orleans, Brees’s age (40 years old in January) be damned.
In this week’s MMQB, we’ll give you a look at Ryan Tannehill’s pressure points with the Dolphins, kick the tires on the trade market, get Mike Vrabel’s view on being a first-time head coach so soon after getting into the profession and much, much more.
We’re starting here, though, with something that hit me the other day—Brees and Payton have been together for just as long now as Dan Marino and Don Shula were in Miami, and for three years longer than the 10 seasons Joe Montana and Bill Walsh teamed up in San Francisco. In fact, if you look at the 11 Hall of Fame QBs to come into the NFL post-merger, just one has had a run like Brees has with Payton.
Here’s a look at those 11, and the head coach he played with for the longest …
Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll: 14 years
John Elway and Dan Reeves: 10 years
Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren: Seven years
Dan Fouts and Don Coryell: Nine years
Jim Kelly and Marv Levy: 11 years
Dan Marino and Don Shula: 13 years
Joe Montana and Bill Walsh: 10 years
Warren Moon and Jerry Glanville: Five years
Ken Stabler and John Madden: Nine years
Kurt Warner and Mike Martz: Four years
Steve Young and George Seifert: Eight years
Peyton Manning did play with offensive coordinator Tom Moore for 14 years, but never had one head coach for more than seven. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have been together for 18 years, and Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin together for 12, but both Belichick and Tomlin are defensive coaches. So it’s hard to find a marriage of offensive guru and quarterbacking prodigy as enduring—Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy in Green Bay would qualify here—as the one Payton and Brees have cultivated.
“It’s outstanding,” Payton said. “I’ll say this’it doesn’t feel like 13, it feels like seven. But then, [Brees’s] children were here today and I’ll look over, and be like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how much Baylen’s grown or how much Bowen’s changed.’ And so I feel like we see age more in our children. When [my son] Connor comes to practice, Drew looks over, and her