METAIRIE, La. — Drew Brees needs 142 passing yards on Sunday to reach 5,000 for the fifth time in his career.
No other quarterback has ever done it more than once. And no other QB is on pace to reach that milestone this season.
Yet Brees’ prolific numbers with the New Orleans Saints have become so mundane that they barely even cause a ripple anymore. He also ranks second in the NFL with 34 touchdown passes but didn’t even make the Pro Bowl.
Brees knows the score, though.
He knows that such accolades come with winning — which he said is the statistic that matters most to him. And the Saints haven’t been doing enough of that lately, with 7-9, 7-9 and 7-8 records over the past three seasons.
“Yeah, yeah, it is (rewarding to have such a good season at age 37),” said Brees, who is arguably playing his best football since 2011 after battling some minor injuries over the past two years. “But at the same time, I’m very much focused on the process to get to the result. The result is I want to be winning, making the playoffs and having a chance at winning a championship.
“So while I feel like there were a lot of good things this year, I feel like we can do even better next year. And certainly, I can do even better next year to get us to where we need to go.”
Brees said it’s his goal to get better with age.
“That’s my goal every year is to get better in some way, to evaluate my performance from the year before during the offseason and try to make improvements wherever I can,” Brees said. “And that might be just a little tweak of my routine. That might be trying something new in regards to my preparation. It might be doing something different in regards to my recovery. There’s a lot of things that I feel like I’ve tried to implement every offseason to prepare myself to play my best during the season, and so that’s always my goal, is to improve and get better.”
Brees has never lacked for confidence, so he didn’t need a season like this for personal validation.
But remember, Brees’ longevity was a big topic of conversation this past offseason while he and the Saints were negotiating over a long-term contract extension. And the Saints wound up only signing him to a one-year extension worth $24.25 million in new money through 2017.
Now Brees will once again be heading into the final season of his contract next year. If anything, he has only increased his value.
“I’m not surprised,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, who talked about Brees’ training habits and work ethic, which Payton has always lauded. “It’s never taken for granted. Certainly we’ve changed as the years have gone by maybe in what we’ve tried to do and how many balls he’ll throw early in the week. But he’s as much in tune to that as anyone, and I think he does a great job adjusting and adapting to the schedules and then getting himself both mentally and physically ready to play each week.”
Payton also said the Saints have had more success around Brees this season.
“I think that in some regards, part of what we’re doing now with our running game and what we’re doing now with our protections and how those guys up front are playing are helping in allowing him to have that overall success that you’re wanting to have,” Payton said. “It’s not just that we’re throwing the football. I think it’s important that we’re scoring, our third-down numbers are strong, our red-zone numbers are strong. And I think that balance that we’ve talked about in these last few offseasons, we’ve seen that more now this year. And that’s something we’ve gotta continue to build on.”
Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn — whose team will host Brees on Sunday — certainly has a great appreciation for how long Brees has been able to maintain his elite level of play.
“There’s probably a number of us that would consider Drew as a hell of a coach if he wanted to be,” Quinn said with a laugh. “He has a very clear understanding of where to go with the ball. The anticipation, ‘I want this coverage, I want to go here against this route, I like this matchup’ — those are the things that come with the 10 or 11 years of experience (together with Payton in New Orleans).
“So I would say it’s pretty rare in our day and age to get a quarterback and head coach that are together for 11 years. And I think that’s quite a story that we don’t all talk about on a national level very often. I don’t know how often that happens but it would seem to me, and I’m totally guessing, that it’s pretty rare.
“I think it’s the amount of reps in a system that you can have — think about the old Bruce Lee line, ‘Don’t worry about the man with 10,000 kicks, worry about the man who has one kick 10,000 times.’ I’d say over 10 or 11 years, that’s a hell of a lot of kicks.”