Drew Brees had a vested interest in watching the Ravens defense's implosion and subsequent vindication in the team's 34-28 overtime win against the Houston Texans Monday night. His reaction was slightly different from the alarmed response Ravens fans have been emitting.
"I don't buy too much into that," the New Orleans Saints quarterback said during a conference call with Baltimore media Wednesday afternoon, "just because they had a 28-7 lead, and so it seemed like it was a lot of prevent [defense], pretty conservative. The Texans have a great offense, and they were able to move the ball in two-minute situations and stuff at the end of the game. But I have a lot of respect for that defense. I always have. So I just kind of see that as a little bit of an aberration."
Brees' diplomatic approach to Sunday's game between the Ravens and the Saints runs counter to what several observers suggest could happen. After all, when a defense surrenders 489 yards of total offense — including 393 yards on 31-of-62 passing and three touchdowns to Texans quarterback Matt Schaub — what's in store when the Most Valuable Player of the 2010 Super Bowl comes to town?
Comparing Brees to the New England Patriots' Tom Brady and the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning, Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said, "Well, in my eyes, he's better. Maybe it could be my personal vendetta against the other guys, but he's definitely one of the premier quarterbacks in this league, and he's got the numbers to prove it. And not only that, he's got the hardware to prove it."
Brees has been off-and-on against the Ravens in the past. His first meeting occurred when he was with the San Diego Chargers and threw for 270 yards but no touchdowns and three interceptions in a 24-10 Ravens victory on Sept. 21, 2003.
In his first season in New Orleans, Brees passed for 383 yards and three touchdowns, but the Ravens returned two interceptions for touchdowns in a 35-22 win on Oct. 29, 2006.
Those numbers meant little to Ravens cornerback Chris Carr.
"We expect his best at all times," Carr said. "I don't think we're going to intimidate him or fool him. … He's just very accurate. He's a good player, and you just know that you're going to have to be very close to his receivers or he's going to find them."
Brees is just 145 passing yards shy of a 4,000-yard campaign, which would be his fifth consecutive. He and Manning, who just registered his fifth straight 4,000-yard season, are the only quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for 4,000 yards in four consecutive years.
What makes his achievement more remarkable is that Brees, like Manning, has had to shoulder the offensive burden because of the lack of a consistent ground game. Running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush have missed a combined 17 games this season due to injury, and Christopher Ivory, who appeared to find his rhythm as the featured tailback, injured his hamstring in the team's 31-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams last Sunday.
Still, the Saints rank sixth in the NFL, averaging 25.4 points per game under Brees' direction.
"I try not to look at it like that," Brees said of leading the offense. "I feel like whenever a guy goes down, other guys step up and you've got to pick up the slack somewhere. Obviously, having those guys hurt early on, we had to make some adjustments."
Brees' 362 passing attempts trail only Manning's 378, and perhaps not coincidentally, Brees has been intercepted 18 times, which already ties a career low.
But Brees also ranks second in the league in touchdowns (28) and completion percentage (69.0) and third in passing yards (3,855). New Orleans coach Sean Payton said Brees continues to make adjustments to his game.
"He's got a very high bar, and he's probably as hard on himself as anyone," Payton said. "So he's very competitive, he pays a ton of attention to things he wants to improve on season to season, and one of the reasons he's been so successful is that attention to detail and his commitment to becoming better each year. He's been in this offense. This is his fifth year now, we've all been together, and he's got a real good grasp as to the protections, a good grasp as to what we're doing within the running game."
Brees also has a knack for avoiding the pass rush. Among quarterbacks who have started every game this season, Brees has been sacked just 18 times, which trails only the New York Giants' Eli Manning (13) and Peyton Manning (14).
"He's very accurate, moves around there and can kind of escape a rush and find a guy," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He just can make some uncanny plays. I think he's got a great understanding of defenses."
Brees will use every body part to help the Saints earn a win and keep pace with the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons. But if he has to use this right arm 40 times, Brees said he's up to the task.
"I think in a perfect world, we always talk about being balanced and being able to mix and match the run and the pass," he said. "But [there will be] games in the future where we might run it 40 times and then there are games where we might throw it 50 times. You just never know, but you're always prepared to have to execute very well in the passing game in order to win."