Monday, December 26, 2011

Brees Extends Legacy, Saints' Winning Streak

NOTE: The Onside Kick has been on "political reserve" most of the 2011 NFL Season due to time spent running for office and recovering from that exercise. Postings for the remainder of this season will likely be sporadic.

Brees Extends Legacy, Saints’ Winning Streak

It’s now called the Drew Brees record.

At least for this week.

There was much excitement and anxiety in the stands of the Mercedes Benz Superdome on Monday night and it had little to do with the Saints winning their division.

The Black and Gold had the game put away in the third quarter and their hold on the NFC South was secure, the question that was on everyone’s mind was whether quarterback Drew Brees would finally break the Dan Marino passing record that eluded him on the final play in the 2008 season.

Appropriately enough, it came on Brees’s final pass of the game. Even more appropriately enough, the record-breaking throw was for a touchdown to fellow San Diego Chargers castaway Darren Sproles.

And then the dome erupted with joy comparable to Garrett Hartley’s NFC Championship game winning field goal.

While it seemed after the first half the Marino passing record of 5,084 passing yards would be easily shattered in the third quarter, an interception, a big kickoff return by Darren Sproles, a clock eating Atlanta offense and a stiffening Atlanta defense that forced two punts made it appear that it would not happen until the season finale.

But with just over five minutes left on the clock, the Saints defense forced the Atlanta offense off the field at the Dirty Birds’ own 33 yard line. Brees needed just over two dozen yards at the beginning of that drive to do it.

Head coach Sean Payton helped facilitate Brees’s pursuit by calling four straight pass plays after a one yard gain by running back Pierre Thomas.

With this latest milestone, Brees further increased his already legendary status in the Crescent City while also making a greater case for league MVP and later enshrinement in Canton.

Winning a second Super Bowl would virtually guarantee him a golden jacket, though continuing his prolific passing on top of what he has already accomplished should be enough for a balloter who is not stuck in a major media market mindset.

With the history-making Brees-to-Sproles touchdown pass, the Black and Gold polished off a 45-16 drubbing of the NFC rival whom the Saints may host again in two weeks during the playoffs in the event Atlanta goes to the post-season and New Orleans is unable to secure the second seed and first-round bye.

In order for the Black and Gold to grab the second seed, the Saints would need to defeat the Carolina Panthers next Sunday and the 2-13 Saint Louis Rams would need to defeat the 13-2 San Francisco Forty-Niners on New Year’s Day.

Though the Rams are playing at home, the Niners will be a heavy favorite and highly motivated, especially with post-season positioning on the line.

Payton will have to make a decision whether to risk his playing starters next weekend as he did with terrible consequences last season when he was in a similar situation.

Also worth considering is that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has racked up 4,897 passing yards this season and is in striking distance of the Dan Marino Drew Brees record.

I would imagine the Saints head coach will have an eye on which quarterback takes the field for the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sunday before deciding how long or if he lets Brees amend his own mark in the gridiron history books.

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