Someone asked New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees how excited he was to play a Carolina Panthers secondary full of rookies.
Brees tried his best not to gloat after his team’s 41-38 home victory Sunday.
“You just play what you see and you don’t get overly aggressive,” Brees said. “In some cases, when you have young guys in a secondary, it might be, ‘Hey we’ll put (a safety) on top and keep the plays in front of us.’
“You just play what you see. I’ve played long enough to trust my instincts.”
Those instincts were dominant Sunday. Brees completed 34 of 49 pass attempts for 465 yards and four touchdowns. The topper is this: In 49 pass attempts, Brees was sacked just once, for a 5-yard loss.
Brees has always been expert at getting the ball out fast, but he certainly wasn’t throwing under the coverage. His first-half touchdown completion to Brandin Cooks covered 87 yards. His third-quarter touchdown throw to tight end Coby Fleener covered 50 yards.
Neither of those throws decided the game. Instead, Brees completed passes to five receivers, moving the ball from the New Orleans 25 to the Carolina 34 to set up Wil Lutz’s winning field goal with 11 seconds left.
Brees figured all along it would come down to something like this. The Saints have been in close games all season in starting 2-3.
“We knew this was going to be a fourth-quarter deal, even when we were up 21-0,” in the first half, Brees said. “We know what they’re capable of on the other side of the ball. They’re a capable group. Just glad we got the last opportunity.”
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton forced the best from Brees when he crossed the goal line in the fourth quarter, then threw to Devin Funchess for a two-point conversion to tie the game at 38-38 with just under three minutes remaining.
That left plenty of time for Brees to push the Saints across midfield. It actually became a situation where the Panthers were calling timeout to try to conserve what time they’d have after Lutz’s field-goal attempt.
This is how a Super Bowl participant devolves into a 1-5 team: The Panthers never got significant pressure on Brees and that made it easy to pick on an inexperienced secondary. Rookie cornerback Zack Sanchez was burned on Cooks’ long touchdown catch, being fooled badly by a double move.
“We set it up nicely. We stayed patient,” said Cooks, adding of Brees, “He’s special. He’s so on task. Seems the D-linemen can’t get to him because the ball is already out.”
To which Brees added, “If you hit Cooks in stride, I don’t think there’s anybody who’s about to catch him.”
The Panthers have a bye week coming up, and the secondary certainly needs a break. Another rookie cornerback, Daryl Worley, was diagnosed with second-half concussion Sunday.
This was the 15th time Brees has thrown for 400 or more yards. That’s an NFL record, one more than Peyton Manning’s total.
Brees said 400-yard passing games are more a function of circumstance than anything else: For instance, it’s about the other team’s offense keeping pace to force you to keep throwing.
“So many times in this game it comes down to the fourth quarter,” Brees said. “Depending on the ebb and flow of the game it causes you to be more aggressive or less aggressive. But I think you’ve always got to keep your foot on the gas.”
What did Brees like best about Sunday’s performance? Completing passes to 10 teammates.
“Who do you key on as a defense when you’re able to spread it around to so many guys?” Brees asked.
The Panthers never came up with that answer.