Drew Brees is a study in precision
BY RICK TELANDER Staff Columnist October 7, 2013 10:15AM
Updated: November 8, 2013 6:26AM
It’s not about individual statistics. Heard that one before?
Consider that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees came into the game on Sunday against the Bears having passed for over 300 yards in his last nine games.
Then, in perfect conditions at Soldier Field, he did not. Moreover, his counterpart, Bears QB Jay Cutler, had statistically one of his best games ever — 358 yards passing, two touchdowns, no interceptions, a stunning 128.1 passer rating.
Brees and Co., 26-18.
And why did the Saints win? Because they had a plan that they followed almost to perfection, and it didn’t include starting the first offensive series of the game with a quarterback pitch and fumble or the first play of the second series with a quarterback sack and lost fumble. That, sadly, is how the Bears and Cutler started.
Those things don’t show up in passer ratings, don’t get calculated into anything much at all except the textbook chapter entitled, ‘‘How To Lose Games You Could Win.’’
So what did Brees do to win?
Let’s start by saying his stats weren’t too shabby — 29-for-35 for 288 yards, two TDs, no interceptions and a stellar 120.0 rating. He completed passes to six receivers, and it would have been seven if a perfect late toss to Kenny Stills hadn’t clanged off the receiver’s hands.
He connected with the shockingly tall, strong, and agile tight end Jimmy Graham 10 times for 135 yards, including consecutive passes of 29 yards and 38 yards in the second quarter, leading to the game’s first touchdown and a 13-0 Saints lead.
But this all happened while the Bears’ offense was sputtering around, trying to determine which direction to go. Cutler played well overall, but there is something about the start of games that the Bears’ ‘‘O’’ just hasn’t mastered. Jitters? Confusion? Tightness? It’s hard to say. But it’s real.
Brees comes out for every game as calm and collected as James Bond at a martini bar.
He completed his first five passes, then had a streak of eight completions and finished the half 17-for-20 for 195 yards and two TDs. That’s crazy good. Crazy safe. If we’re going with passer ratings, Brees had a 140.6.
But the main thing is he had no turnovers, no truly risky plays. When you throw deep against a cornerback, with a safety coming over, it’s not risky if the ball is going to the 6-7, 265-pound former college basketball player Graham. This guy is something, folks. His circle of receiving possibilities is like an oval from the ground to about two feet above the rim.
But it’s Brees, who stayed right with coach Sean Payton’s game plan, highlighted by ‘‘ball protection,’’ who deserves the main credit.
‘‘The formula coming into this game was to remain patient, to run the ball effectively, to be very efficient in the passing game, and to take care of the football,’’ Brees said. “We were able to do all those things.’’
‘‘He made smart decisions,’’ Payton said.
This is not to imply Cutler made dumb decisions. But Brees, the 34-year-old, 13-year vet who stands just 6 feet tall, is a genius at gamesmanship and precision, even when he ratchets down. Don’t forget that consecutive 300-yard passing streak, a terrific thing. He had to be going after that, extending it, right?
‘‘No. No,’’ he said at his locker, after fixing his dark tie to go with his light purple shirt. ‘‘Those stats do not matter one bit — in this game, especially. This was all about efficiency in the passing game. Thinking about just moving the chains, continuing drives, possessing the ball. We had it for 36 minutes [to the Bears’ 24], and no turnovers. You do that, you’re gonna win a lot of football games.’’
So Brees was cool with throwing for just 95 yards in the second half, handing the ball off late, preserving the lead. Cutler, meanwhile, was forced into the bombs-away thing because the Bears were always behind.
‘‘No. 9 has such great touch, such great timing, so many different throws — like when he’s trying to loop it over a linebacker, or zip it in on a slant route,’’ Graham said. ‘‘I’m blessed to have him.’’
Brees found out later that the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady failed to pass for a TD in what would have been his 53rd consecutive game. So the NFL record — 54 in a row — still belongs to Brees.
‘‘In my mind, I just assumed he was going to break it,’’ said Brees, whose Saints are 5-0. ‘‘It’s a crazy game.’’
And stats are for others. Except the W’s.