NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Drew Brees is arguably playing better than he ever has. The New Orleans Saints cannot say the same as a team, and that’s becoming a source of consternation in the locker room.
Losing is bad enough. Squandering that most precious of NFL commodities – elite quarterback play – makes it worse, particularly when the quarterback is 37 years old and under contract for only one more season after this.
Brees became the first to pass for more than 300 yards in a game 100 times in an NFL career during last weekend’s loss at Kansas City, which dropped the Saints to 2-4 and into third place in the NFC South. It doesn’t get any easier this Sunday, when NFC West-leading Seattle (4-1-1) visits the Superdome.
“When you have accolades, accomplishments or records broken with a loss, it kind of takes that joy away,” Saints receiver Brandin Cooks said of Brees’ performances this season. “Knowing him, he would rather win in those situations than anything, so you just want to help him get a win so he can enjoy those.”
The Saints haven’t been to the playoffs since 2013, when they were eliminated by a Super Bowl-bound Seahawks squad featuring many of the same players invading the Superdome on Sunday. New Orleans has finished below .500 since. Brees seems to be doing everything he can to right the ship, passing for a league-high 350.2 yards per game, which puts him on pace to break Peyton Manning’s 2013 single-season record of 5,477 yards by more than 100 yards. Brees’ 17 TDs put him on pace to threaten his own career high of 46 in 2011.
What does Brees think of all this?
“At this stage in my career, I really do not care about anything else other than how do you find ways to win, get in the playoffs and put ourselves in position to win a championship,” Brees said. “At the end of the day, that’s how I’m going to measure myself. That’s what I am focused on.”
Whetever Brees’ focus, the Seahawks expect their sixth-ranked defense to face one of its most challenging tests as they try to stop Brees from connecting with flourishing young receivers Cooks, Willie Snead and Michael Thomas.
“They are getting a lot of explosive plays. They are getting the ball down the field and scoring points,” Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. “It is going to be really tough.”
Some other things to know about Seahawks-Saints:
GRAHAM’S RETURN: The game marks the first time Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham will play against the team that drafted him in 2010 and developed him into a star before trading him in 2015 to Seattle for center Max Unger and first-round draft choice (used to select linebacker Stephone Anthony). Graham was a fan favorite in the Superdome, where he often jumped into the crowd after his touchdowns.
“I’m sure he’s going to be pretty amped up to be back, but I know our fan base loved him and loved what he did for New Orleans and did for our team,” Brees said. “There is a lot of love there.”
CHANGE OF SCENERY: Brees said the Seahawks’ defense of recent seasons might be the best he has ever faced in his nearly 16-year career. Certainly, the Seahawks were able to shut down Brees in regular season and playoff games played in Seattle in 2013. But the Superdome is where Brees has been his best. The crowd lets him communicate. The field is fast and dry and there are no weather conditions to compromise his renowned accuracy. Twice this season, Brees has passed for more than 400 yards at home.
SACK SURGE: Led by Cliff Avril, the Seahawks are finding ways to get to the quarterback. Avril has 6 ½ sacks, tied for the NFC lead, most of them coming in the past three games. Avril had two sacks against Atlanta two weeks ago and 2 ½ sacks of Arizona’s Carson Palmer last week. Seattle has 20 sacks through six games, tied for third in the NFL.
TAKING THE BLAME: Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro says New Orleans’ defense must accept responsibility for Brees’ squandered production.
“We’ve been in the bottom of the league,” Vaccaro said, referring to his unit’s ranking of 31st the past two seasons and 29th this season. “We’ve got to play better. If we were just in the middle of the league, we’d be in the playoffs every year.”
RUN SOMEWHERE: Seattle’s run game is shockingly still at the bottom of the NFL. The Seahawks rank 27th, averaging 82.7 yards per game rushing. They have one 100-yard rusher this season, Christine Michael in Week 3. Wilson has not been a threat to run because he’s been hampered by knee and ankle injuries. Maybe playing New Orleans will help. The Saints rank 23rd against the run, giving up almost 117 yards per game.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.
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