Brees, Saints rest after a promising, memorable start

AP

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  • New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) celebrates after he broke the NFL all-time passing yards record in the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in New Orleans, Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

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    New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) reacts after a completion in the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in New Orleans, Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

  • New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) celebrates after he broke the NFL all-time passing yards record in the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in New Orleans, Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

  • 1

    New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) reacts after a completion in the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in New Orleans, Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Drew Brees, perhaps only half joking, explains that fatherhood and having a son who is highly critical of his living room passing accuracy, is what has kept the Saints' record-setting quarterback sharp as he's approached his 40th birthday.

"My kids are what make me be better," Brees began, describing how his son, Callen, likes to make diving catches on the couch. "He always tells me I am not throwing it in the right place. ... He wants like the outstretched catch on the corner of the couch. They are my toughest critics. They keep me honest."

And accurate.

When Brees became the NFL's all-time leader in yards passing (now 72,103 and counting) during Monday night's 43-19 victory over the Washington Redskins , he also posted the best single-game completion percentage of his career. He connected on 26 of 29 passes (89.7 percent) for 363 yards and three touchdowns — and still has not thrown an interception this season.

Yet this week, Brees is bound to find himself exposed to his heaviest dose of criticism all season; the Saints are on their bye, meaning more time to throw to the kids. He'll return next week to a Saints squad riding a four-game winning streak, sitting atop the NFC South at 4-1 and looking to maintain one of the NFL's best offenses while building on the recent improvement of a defense that got off to a shaky start.

There do not appear to be many problems to keep coach Sean Payton up at night during the week off. Certainly, his 39-year-old quarterback is the least of his worries.

"The thing that is inspiring the most is knowing what is most important to him and that common goal that we have relative to winning another championship," Payton said of Brees.

When the Saints snapped a three-year playoff drought last season, Brees threw for his fewest yards in his 12 full seasons as a Saint: 4,334, which happened to be the fourth-highest total in the league in 2017. But that was because the Saints had one of the better running games in the NFL and used it effectively to protect leads. Brees was accurate as ever, setting the NFL single-season record for completion rate at 72 percent.

This season, he's at 77.9 percent through five games. And with physical running back Mark Ingram opening the season on a four-game suspension, he has been throwing more, averaging 331 yards per game. That would put him on pace for his sixth 5,000-yard season.

Earlier this season, Brees eclipsed Brett Favre's completions record of 6,300, and he is on pace to break Manning's career touchdowns mark of 539 next season — although he'd have to outpace New England's Tom Brady to take over first place all-time. Brady has 500 and Brees 499.

Payton raved recently about how in every game, Brees inevitably makes throws that demonstrate "great vision and anticipation," in addition to still having the arm talent to deliver the ball where and when he sees fit.

With a healthy and fresh Ingram back now, Payton could start calling more run plays again. But that's no given because of the emergence of some new players in the receiving corps. Free-agent acquisition Cameron Meredith had a team-high five receptions for 71 yards against Washington, including a 46-yarder on a deep route down the left side of the field. Rookie Tre'Quan Smith did more than catch the 62-yard touchdown pass on which Brees broke Peyton Manning's previous record of 71,940 career yards. Smith also had a 35-yard touchdown catch and totaled 111 yards on three receptions.

"This kid can really help, can be a big part of our offense," Brees said of Smith. "We've also got some other pieces as well. We've got Mark Ingram II back, Cameron Meredith is coming along, and so we feel like we have a lot of weapons and feel we have a lot of ways to spread the ball around and be really productive."

If that's the case, the Saints could be increasingly tough to beat over their final 11 games — and Brees' yards passing record could be downright untouchable by the time he's done. Manning needed 18 seasons to set the previous mark and his skills were in obvious decline because of health issues when he did it. Brees has yet to show signs of slowing down and says he wants to play as long as possible.

Every one of Brees' teammates, from young receivers to veteran All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordon — sound awe-struck when they talk about their quarterback.

"I see the work he puts in. I see how meticulous he is at practice. You see his perseverance through any adversity," Jordan said. "He has always stayed constant in the ups and downs of a football season. He is clearly the greatest of all time."

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