Saints quarterback Drew Brees has sought to squash any notion that he’s preoccupied by his impending career yards milestone.
“For me, this isn’t a time for reflection,” Brees said when asked about the likelihood of surpassing Peyton Manning’s all-time mark of 71,940 yards on Monday night, when New Orleans hosts Washington.
“For me, it’s focusing on the game, focusing on what to do to win the game, doing my job, being the best decision-maker that I can be, putting us in the best position to succeed and put us in a position to win the game,” added Brees, who needs 201 yards passing to break the record.
“When my career is all said and done, I’ll have a chance to really reflect and really reach out and thank those who have had such a strong impact on my career and my life as a result.”
His recent form suggests that day could be further off than conventional wisdom would indicate, and that he’ll wind up shattering numerous NFL records before his career is done.
Unlike when Manning and Favre surpassed the 71,000-yard mark, it’s tough to estimate how much longer Brees might play.
Manning was struggling with the fallout from a neck injury late in his career, and although he was good enough to win a Super Bowl with Denver, his decline was evident and his retirement predictable after the 2015 season, when he played in just 10 games and passed for a career-low 2,249 yards.
Favre didn’t even wait until the end of the 2010 season to announce that he was unwilling to subject himself to the punishment of another season.
Although Brees is 39 and in his 18th NFL season, his production indicates he has a lot more left than the one season remaining on his contract.
He’s averaging 323.8 yards per game, which ranks firmly in the top 10 in the NFL. His completion rate of 75.8 percent leads the NFL, and, if sustained for the entire season, would break the record of 72 percent Brees set just last season.
Brees had a major injury, too — a seemingly career-threatening throwing shoulder injury. But that was at the end of the 2005 season, and Brees has only gotten better since then. The Saints have invested heavily in the offensive line that protects their star QB, and Brees’ combination of spatial awareness, decent mobility and a knack for getting rid of the ball quickly has helped him minimize exposure to crushing hits.
Earlier this season, Brees surpassed Favre as the NFL’s all-time completion leader — now 6,344 and counting.
When it comes to how much longer Brees might sustain his elite play, veteran tight end Ben Watson — who also played with New England’s Tom Brady — expressed the cautious optimism of someone who’s seen his share of pleasant surprises and unanticipated disappointments.
“You never know. You take advantage of every day. You don’t know if an injury creeps up. You don’t know what’s going to happen,” Watson said. “But looking at him now, I would say obviously from a skillset and energy standpoint, from an accuracy standpoint, from a mental capacity, he’s as much, from the outside looking in, in his prime as he ever was.”
Redskins coach Jay Gruden watched Brees lead a stunning, multi-touchdown comeback against Washington in the last half of the fourth quarter last season, and has his defense bracing for the same type of clutch quarterback play in Monday night’s rematch.
“He has not changed one bit,” Gruden said. “He is very good in the pocket, he can move in the pocket.
“He has great anticipation, unbelievable accuracy,” Gruden continued. “We can cover guys all across the board, but he’ll find the window. He’ll throw it back shoulder. … He’ll move around to give the receiver or tight end or the back just the time that they need to get open.”
Brees was 34 when Saints left tackle Terron Armstead was a rookie. It would have been reasonable for Armstead to assume he’d play with more than one quarterback during his career, but now that’s harder for him to say.
Armstead he was sitting with Brees in the cafeteria at team headquarters during offseason training when he decided to ask Brees how much longer the quarterback thought he had left.
“He told me as long as he can, and that was it,” Armstead recalled. “I thought he was going to get into details, maybe give me a timeframe. But it was just: As long as he possibly can.”
Armstead asserted that “it wouldn’t be crazy,” to envision Brees playing five more years, particularly in light of all the times Brees has defied his doubters since he was lightly recruited out of high school as an undersized quarterback and wound up leading Purdue to the Rose Bowl.
“He’s a 6-foot quarterback. Everything’s been stacked against him anyway,” Armstead said. “He’s not tall enough to play the position, and then he’s about to own all the records. You can’t put a cap on someone like that.”
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