Unapologetically Me

Drew Brees – A First Ballot HOF Career Like No Other

Writing about sports comes easy for me. I am passionate about it. I enjoy it. I love sitting back and seeing where I am right and where I am wrong. For the record, I am wrong more often than I would like to admit. One thing I am not wrong about often is the Saints. I feel I have a good pulse on them more than maybe anything else in sports because I have followed them my entire life.

Normally, this would be the part where I say I told you so. Today, it doesn’t feel right doing that. Even though, it is exactly what I should be doing to what has become a deplorable fan base of squirrels. If you don’t understand that reference in regards to that Who Dat Nation, then you’re not as big of a fan as you thought.

The Saints lost 30-20 at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in what was likely the last game of Drew Brees’ Hall of Fame career. It didn’t end well. It didn’t have the storybook ending like another QB that New Orleans knows well…Peyton Manning. Brees didn’t get that ride off into the sunset moment.

The Scapegoat

While we can all point to defining moments of most of the playoff losses in Brees’ career, Jared Cook’s fumble being the scapegoat for Sunday. I want to point out a very real and very hard take about the Saints and Drew Brees. They should have won more and they didn’t because of strategy. We saw it unfold again in another playoff performance.

The Reality

The Saints got PASS HAPPY, with a quarterback who just isn’t THAT good anymore.

The Saints began the second half with a 10 play 75 yard drive for a touchdown. They did it by imposing their will on the Bucs defense running the ball. They utilized extra blockers including an extra offensive lineman (James Hurst 74), who you saw motioning often. They went run heavy feeding Kamara. Brees capped the drive with a dime to Tre’quan Smith who made a great play on the ball.

The next drive, they open up with passing which goes incomplete. They get a 20 yard PI gifted to them on 3rd and 8. They respond by going deep on 1st down after failing to move the ball much with consecutive passes. Two plays later Jared Cook coughs it up. Tampa drives and scores. Tie ball game.

How do they respond? If you guessed throwing the shit out the ball, you guessed right. They open with three straight passes and are once again gifted a first down thanks to a defensive penalty. They run for a 1 yard gain on first and then pass on the next two before punting away. Tampa marches down and kicks a FG taking a 3 point lead.

The next drive, they mixed it up again. On 2nd and 8, Brees and Kamara can’t find each other on a play downfield. Not sure who got their wires crossed on the play. Kamara was streaking and Brees threw it expecting him to turn and instead found a defender. At this point, the offense had no momentum, no rhythm and no flow. Tampa once again takes advantage puts them on ice with a touchdown.

The Saints did great for 2.5 quarters despite not capitalizing on two redzone trips early. They played into their elite defense’s hands. They managed the clock. They controlled the line of scrimmage….

Until they decided not to as per status quo. It resulted in another playoff loss.

I am not here to walk on egg shells about it. The weak link on the Saints in 2020 was Drew Brees by a mile. He didn’t age well. He played timid throwing downfield because he can’t anymore. The years of throwing 650 passes caught up to him. For the last 3 years or so, we have seen his play get progressively worse as the season wore on. We have seen him play closer and closer to the line of scrimmage, not being able to stretch the field vertically.

Yes, it was just reported that he played with multiple injuries. It still doesn’t change the narrative.

He finished 5th lowest in air yards per attempt in 2018 at 7.1. He was dead last in 2019 finishing at 6.4 intended air yards per attempt. This year he finished 2nd to last at 6.0, only beating out Alex Smith. Meanwhile, the 43 year old Tom Brady led the league in 9.1 air yards per attempt.

It was only a matter of time before the gas ran out. In 2020, it finally did. How did the Saints respond? By doing what they always do. Try to throw their way to victory, only failing to get a victory. All it took was 12 passes to 6 runs to send shockwaves into a perfectly played game with a liability at quarterback.

The Ugly Truth

Since 2017, the Saints have had their playoff hopes crushed in this same fashion. Some may say bad luck because of the Minnesota Miracle, No Call, Minnesota pUsH oFF and Jared Cook fumble. All these games have that other thing in common. They get greedy with the pass. They live and die by the arm of Brees. When they try that method, they failed more often than not. Even in the wins, there have been some major flaws.

Brees in Playoff Losses (4) since 2017

  • Points Per Game: 21.8
  • Completions / Attempts: 96/147
  • Average Comp/Att: 24/37
  • Comp Percentage: 65.3%
  • Yards: 885
  • Average Yards Per Attempt: 6.0
  • Yards Per Game: 221.3
  • Touchdowns: 7
  • Interceptions: 7
  • 3rd Down Conversions: 18/45 (40%)
  • Redzone Trips: 14
  • Redzone TDs: 8
  • Redzone FGs: 5
  • Redzone Scoring (TDs only): 57%

The Losses: Vikings 2017, Rams 2018, Vikings 2019, Bucs 2020

In 2017, the Saints were down 17-0 at half. Brees was 9/19 for 146 yards and 2 Interceptions in the 1st half. Prior to the final drive of the half which accounted for 4 completions and 62 yards, Brees was sitting at 5/13 for 84 yards and 2 interceptions. The Saints were very much balanced in the first half up until that final drive finishing with 21 pass to 11 rush. Brees was the weakest link.

In 2018, the Saints were not able to capitalize on redzone attempts. They finished the 1st quarter with 3 trips and only one touchdown. One of those drives started on the Rams 16 after an interception by Demario Davis. They would only score 10 points in the remaining 3 quarters plus OT. By halftime, the Saints were unbalanced at 21 to 8 on passing versus rushing. It didn’t get much better in the 2nd half with 21 to 12. One of the biggest conundrums of this game that no one talks about due to the no call is Brees’ decision to audible on 1st and 10 two plays before. Payton called a run and Brees killed it. He called the right play because he had Michael Thomas wide open on the slant. Brees fucked it up and threw it at his feet. If he completes it, probably a touchdown. If they run it, Rams burn their 2nd timeout. Run it again, Rams burn the 3rd. That leaves about 1:46 left on the clock. You run it on 3rd again before kicking the field goal. The Rams get the ball back with under a minute to play and no timeouts, instead of 1:41 with a timeout to burn. I like my chances on Jared Goff not getting downfield there.

In 2019, Saints once again under perform in the 1st half with 10 points on the board. The Vikings defensive line went full Nascar, pinned their ears back and attacked the middle of the Saints offensive line. But when you don’t have to account for the run, you can do that. The defense opens the game with a turnover giving the Saints the ball in Viking territory. The Saints couldn’t punch it in despite getting inside the 10. Brees turned around and handed the ball off 12 times through more than 4 quarters. Oooof.

In 2020, you already read that above.

Brees in Playoff Wins (3) since 2017

  • Points Per Game: 24.0
  • Completions / Attempts: 79/110
  • Average Comp/Att: 26/36
  • Comp Percentage: 71.8%
  • Yards: 942
  • Average Yards Per Attempt: 8.6
  • Yards Per Game: 314
  • Touchdowns: 6
  • Interceptions: 2
  • 3rd Down Conversions: 21/40 (52.5%)
  • Redzone Trips: 9
  • Redzone TDs: 8
  • Redzone FGs: 0
  • Redzone Scoring (TDs only): 89%

The Wins: Panthers 2017, Eagles 2018, Bears 2020

In 2017, both the offense and defense did their part against the Panthers. The defense didn’t allow a touchdown until the 4th quarter. Brees threw for 376 yards on 33 passes in this one.

In 2018, the Saints got down into a 14-0 hole in the first and never looked back. The defense gave up 250 total yards. The offense controlled the clock keeping the ball for 37 minutes with 31 rushing attempts to 38 passes.

In 2020, the Saints blueprint was nearly identical to 2018 minus the two score hole. The playcalling was 35 rush to 39 pass. They controlled the line of scrimmage with a 38 minute time of possession.

Aside from one playoff game in the last 4 years, the wins aren’t necessarily attributed to Brees’ arm.

The Drew Brees Conundrum

Drew Brees retires as a top 5-7 quarterback of all-time. There is absolutely no denial there. He is going to Canton as a First Ballot Hall of Famer. He will forever be remembered as one of the league’s most prolific passers.

He led the league in passing six times. He has the most 5,000 yard seasons by a mile with 5. In 7 seasons where he either led the league or reached 5,000 yards, only two produced a winning record.

The obvious response is his supporting cast and defense. In the modern era, you don’t need good defenses to win.

When you break down the Saints by DEF DVOA since 2006, which accounts for the cohesion between your offense and defense, the Saints haven’t been as bad as the narrative I hear. For example, Tampa Bay had the 5th ranked defense in 2019 because DVOA accounts for the turnovers committed by Jameis Winston. They were top 5 in nearly every other category minus points and yards including 3rd downs, redzone, yards per play, etc.

As we have evolved into the modern era of football, defenses matter less and less. Not to say you don’t improve your odds with a better defense. However, your offense is more likely getting you to the grand finale. Hell, the Saints only Super Bowl team had a defensive DVOA rank of 23.

Ironically, per DVOA since 2006, here are the top 10 defenses Brees has had compared to Manning, Rodgers and Brady.

  • Brees – 7
  • Manning – 6
  • Brady – 5
  • Rodgers – 3

Some of Brees’ bad defenses were historically bad including 2012 and 2015 based on their DVOA. Brady won with bad defenses because the offense inflated some of the numbers like points per game, same with Rodgers.

One thing Brees has had that none of these guys had the luxury of having is an offensive line that has ranked in the top 10 in both pass AND run blocking every year since 2006. Yet, the Saints have failed more often than not to utilize their run game, which masks bad defense.

This is forever going to be the MO of the Saints with Brees. They managed to throw themselves out of games, sacrificing wins for stats. He is going to be the only top 10 QB in history who loses almost as much as he wins. Hell, he is going to be the only truly ELITE QB of this era who loses almost as much as he wins.

All Timers and Recent Greats – Winning Seasons / Losing Seasons (8-8 counts as losing)

  • Drew Brees – 11/8
  • Tom Brady – 19/0
  • Peyton Manning – 15/2
  • Brett Favre – 14/4
  • Aaron Rodgers – 11/2
  • Russell Wilson – 9/0
  • Joe Montana – 11/2
  • Steve Young – 7/2
  • Dan Marino – 11/5
  • John Elway – 12/3

The Conclusion on Brees

It will forever bother me that the Saints didn’t win more, both in the postseason and regular season, because historically speaking, they should have. You shouldn’t lose this much with a first ballot HOF quarterback.

Maybe he doesn’t have the wins and hardware as some of the other greats. We should absolutely keep that in mind when we judge him by his on the field accolades.

One thing he does have is a city that will forever hold him near and dear to their hearts. After all, they give him a pass for his failures because of everything he did for this city. Maybe they should. I certainly won’t.

I will never forget the story he told in his book about Sean Payton taking him through the 9th Ward by accident when visiting during free agency. He saw the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. It was here or Miami. Like he said in his book, it seemed like a no brainer. But, something called him to New Orleans.

Not only was this guy supposed to turn around a broken franchise, he had to turn around a broken fucking city. New Orleans embraced him as a beacon of hope.

For as long as I live, I will never forget the night of Monday, September 25th, 2006…Saints versus Falcons for the reopening. Oh Boy! That night was more than a rebirth. It was a goddamn reckoning for the city of New Orleans.

I spent many Sundays and a few Mondays watching the Saints in the Superdome with my dad. We had been season ticket holders for a couple of years at this point. It was a different vibe that night. You could feel the electricity, excitement and raw emotion. I have never heard the dome that loud since that night.

Prior to the game, Green Day and U2 performed while pictures and videos from Katrina played on the jumbotrons. I remember being at my seat bawling as Green Day played Wake Me Up When September Ends. Then of course came U2 and the two bands performed House of the Rising Sun which transitioned into the Saints are Coming. I just couldn’t believe that I was back in the dome. So many great moments that night including the Steve Gleason block on the opening possession. You just knew it was going to be a great season.

Then came the magical 2009 season where Brees talked about destiny. He believed it. The team believed it. The fans believed it. I believed it. Much like 2006, there was just something so different about that season. I remember they opened the season running roughshod on Detroit. They followed it up beating the piss out of the Eagles in Philly. It only took two weeks for me to start thinking Super Bowl. By week 6 or 7, myself nor my friends had any doubts about it.

I, of course, witnessed Garrett Hartley kick the field goal to send the Saints to their first Super Bowl. What a fucking moment that was. Everyone in my section including me in tears high fiving and hugging.

That call is easily one of my favorite play-by-play calls in sports history, executed by the great Jim Henderson…

“Snap. Placement. Kick by Hartley. And it is…it’s good! It’s good! It’s goooooo-huh-ooood! HA HA HAA! *voice cracks* PIGS HAVE FLOWN! HELL HAS FROZEN OVER! THE SAINTS ARE ON THEIR WAY TO THE SUPER BOWL!”

Then it was the magical game against Peyton Manning and the Colts.

Payton lays his balls on the table with the onside kick, the Lance Moore two point conversion and then of course the Tracy Porter pick 6 to seal it all.

All these things were possible because of Drew Brees. So maybe he didn’t win as much as he should have. He certainly gave Saints fans the best run in franchise history. I can at least share some of the amazing moments and stories with my kids and my future grandkids.

Perhaps my favorite moment is what happened following the loss to Tampa Bay. Tom Brady and Drew Brees embracing one another as Brees is surrounded by his family. Brady throwing a touchdown to one of Brees’ sons. Just two old GOATs sharing a great moment.

His blueprint of success is unique and like no other. The relationship between Brees and the city of New Orleans is like no other. There’s one thing that can be said in the 15 years he’s been in The Big Easy…it’s home. Here’s to one last WHO DAT chant for the GOAT of the WHO DAT Nation…Thank you, Drew.


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