New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees has one eye on victory, one on record

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune December 24, 2008 5:30PM

It will take a perfect storm in the Superdome on Sunday for the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees to accomplish both of their objectives against the Carolina Panthers, which they have clearly ranked as:

1. Win the game.
2. Throw for 402 yards.

That agenda would seem absurdly difficult on the surface, considering the Panthers are 11-4 and shut down the Saints’ passing game 10 weeks ago. But the Saints have captured this kind of lightning in a bottle before.
Last season Brees threw for 445 yards in a 41-24 rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars — a playoff-bound team that couldn’t be considered a pushover.

The season before that, Brees threw for 384 yards at Dallas, leading New Orleans to a 42-17 romp that remains one of the signature victories of their current era.

Brees, who needs 402 yards to break Dan Marino’s NFL record for yards passing in a season (5,084, in 1984), has made it clear that the win is the most important goal for him this week.

But he also has made no bones about his desire to accomplish both.

“Absolutely, ” said Brees, who could become the second quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards if he throws for a more manageable 317 yards. “The win is more important than the record, but I think any competitive person, you get this close to a record like that, of course you want to break it.

“I think if we could have both, what that record would mean to this organization and our team and this city and everything. I had 10 people come up to me on the street Monday, just going out to eat (at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse). And every single one of them said nothing other than, ‘We hope you break the record.’ So obviously people are thinking about it. Obviously it means something to people. So if it happens, then great, because they deserve it.”

Teammates, too, said they want to go for the record this week, along with the victory. Receiver Marques Colston said it would be special to be a part of NFL history, and guard Jahri Evans said Brees has been playing so well this season that he deserves it.

But it won’t come easy — especially because the Saints don’t have the element of surprise on their side.

The Panthers are well aware of Brees’ record chase.

“Well, I think the numbers are 400-plus yards or 402 yards. It would be pretty tough to get that against our secondary, ” said Carolina Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jon Beason, who said the record has been mentioned this week but that he doesn’t expect the Saints to change what they do to get it.

“I mean, if they’re going to play for a record vs. the game, I don’t think that’s a good recipe to win, ” he said. “And they’ve got a young guy in the backfield, Pierre (Thomas), you’ve got to get him the ball if you’re going to be successful.”

Even last week against the struggling Detroit defense, the Saints stayed balanced throughout the game, with Brees throwing for 351 yards. His teammates ran for 184 yards (not counting Brees’ three kneel-downs at the end of the game).

“They throw the ball a good bit anyways, ” Carolina Coach John Fox said. “I think they are going to have a game plan just like they do every week, and we’re going to have a game plan. That’s part of the art of all this. We’ll have to figure out when they are going to run or going to pass.”

The Panthers had perhaps the best game plan all season to shut down Brees and the Saints’ versatile offense in their 30-7 victory at Carolina in Week 7.

They held Brees to 231 yards, no touchdowns and forced one interception, bringing consistent pressure and aggressively jumping in front of the receivers’ anticipated routes to bat balls away.

Brees wasn’t giving away any secrets when he suggested the best way to get to 400-plus yards Sunday would be to do everything the right way on offense.

“I can’t be thinking about (the record). I’ve got to figure out ways to move the football, ” Brees said. “And in my mind, the more that we have the ball, the more that we have the opportunity to do that.

“So how do we keep the ball? We do well on first down, you’re not taking sacks, you convert on third down, you’re scoring points and keeping the defense off the field so they’re rested and they get you the ball back. All those things. So I guess to figure out how to do it, you go back to step one, and that’s what we’ve tried to do all year.”

Brees has thrown for 400 or more yards four times in his career — all of them with the Saints. Aside from the Jacksonville victory, he lost the other three games, which isn’t surprising since most of the yards came in frantic catch-up mode.

He threw for 422 yards in a loss at Atlanta this season in Week 10 and 421 yards in a Week 3 loss at Denver. In 2006, he threw for 510 yards in a home loss to Cincinnati. He threw for 398 yards in a loss at Pittsburgh that season.

Perhaps the task wouldn’t be so monumental this week if Carolina had beaten the New York Giants last Sunday to lock up the No. 1 seed in the NFC and clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Then they might choose to rest some of their starters or play a more vanilla game plan.

Instead, the Panthers need a victory to ensure that they win the NFC South title and earn a first-round bye.

“I wouldn’t want to have it any other way, ” Brees said. “They’re going to come in, and obviously they have a lot to play for, just like we do. So it should be a heck of a game.”

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